‘I came to Ireland in 2016. If I came in 2024 I wouldn’t survive because now the rents are like €3,000’

New to the Parish: Shirly Pon Xavier had never really travelled anywhere outside of India before she came to Ireland in 2016

Shirly Pan Xavier moved to Ireland from India with her family in 2016. She feels she gets awarded a sense of privacy here that she did not receive in her home country. Photograph: Alan Betson

Shirly Pon Xavier was in India, pregnant with her daughter, when she applied for a nursing job in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin in 2016.

She had never really travelled anywhere outside of India and did not want to have any regrets.

But when she was offered the job, she was surprised.

“I thought they were going to reject me, but they did not,” Xavier says, “I said to my husband, they didn’t reject me, and then I got the job and I had delivered my baby by then, and she was three months old, and they were still okay to have me.”


So, she moved to Ireland in September 2016 and the minute she landed, she noticed how much green surrounded her.

“It’s just beautiful, it’s what I dreamt of, I love nature, I love birds, I love walks. I didn’t live near beaches, so I have this big craving for going to the beachside and spending time there,” Xavier says.

Shirly Pon Xavier and her family live in Bettystown, Co Meath, having moved there roughly a year and a half ago, choosing the location largely based on its proximity to the beach. Photograph: Alan Betson

The closest beach to her hometown in India was a four-hour drive away and they could only go once or twice a year, so she was surprised when she moved to Shankill in south Co Dublin.

“I asked one of the Irish women there, how do I get to the beach? Could you tell me the bus number, the train, or something, and she goes, just walk this road, and don’t walk too much because you’ll be in the sea,” Xavier laughs.

“I was so delighted, and I said I just thank God, I just feel so blessed, and ever since then, every day [I] walk to the beaches whenever I’m free, it just clears my head out and it’s really very peaceful and has a positive energy.”

The family lives in Bettystown, Co Meath, having moved there roughly a year and a half ago, choosing the location largely based on its proximity to the beach.

Xavier’s children are now aged seven and 14, and her husband is working in Drogheda, also in the health service.

Xavier’s qualifications in critical care from India were validated by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, which meant that she is equally qualified in Ireland as she is in India.

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“I worked in Vincent’s ICU for six years as a full-time nurse, and after that I just fancied a change because I’ve already done a critical care master’s . . . So, at the moment I’m working in anaesthesia and post-anaesthesia care in the theatre department and I’m doing my postgrad,” she says.

Xavier loves the landscape in Ireland and says that the Cliffs of Moher were like nothing she had ever seen in her life.

“The people are so friendly, they’re very open. If you ask questions, they are always ready to answer, they wouldn’t know you at all, but they are willing to give you a helping hand which is great,” she says.

“I also love making the full Irish breakfast for the kids on Saturday mornings, I love cooking, so that’s another thing I like in Ireland. Except for the weather, everything else is beautiful here, honestly, it’s a blessing.”

“You do have struggles every day in life, it’s not that it’s a bed of roses laid out for you, life is meant to be difficult. I’m a person who believes in Jesus, and God is telling us that life is going to be difficult for you, but he has overcome the world so I’m going to try to do my best and stay positive.”

I came to Ireland when I was 31 and I just fell in love here, so I said I’m not moving to any more countries

Although she loves Ireland, Xavier still misses home.

“We do have tough days, it’s hard when family is sick back home when you can’t meet them immediately and you’re tied up to your work, and even if at work they will tell you that you can take off two weeks, who’s going to mind the kids?” she says.

“It’s very hard to leave kids and family here and just go back to your parents or something. That’s another part of it which kind of wavers my mind sometimes.”

But through it all, Xavier remains positive.

“Apart from that, I’m really blessed, I can FaceTime my parents, the WhatsApp calls, the video calls, and all of that. And after five years, I’m going to India this year. Because of Covid, we couldn’t really go, but we’re going this year. Hopefully, it will be a good one,” she says.

One of Xavier’s friends encouraged her to join swimming lessons, while another friend in work motivated her to get her Irish driving licence when she found out Xavier was relying on her husband to pick her up from work.

“She was like, why won’t you drive? Why are you so dependent on your husband? Come on, you start driving, and she kept on motivating me every month, coming back to me and asking me, have you started your lessons?”

Throughout it all, Xavier says, her husband has been supportive, helping her to learn how to drive on Irish roads while practising for her driving test – which she sat four times before passing.

However, if her family had moved to Ireland in 2024 instead of 2016, Xavier says she does not think they would have been able to afford housing. When she first moved, her rent was about €1,475 for a two-bedroom and two-bathroom apartment.

“I escaped [the high rents], but I used to wake up, to be honest with you, in the middle of the night and think would I be able to pay these high rents? Rents were horrendous, but I thank God I came in 2016. If I came in 2024, I wouldn’t survive, because now the rents are like €3,000,” she says.

However, the family outgrew the two-bedroom apartment, as with her children getting older, Xavier felt they deserved their own bedrooms instead of sharing.

“If we didn’t find this house, we would have ended up taking the livingroom and giving the two rooms to the kids and wouldn’t be able to save anything for the mortgage and all of that, so that was a big struggle finding a house to rent and thinking whether they will ask you to move out in the next two, three months,” she says.

“We [would have had to] just move out, change the kid’s schools, find a new community, a new church, it’s very difficult. But we never had that situation, but it would be the biggest negative, I would say.”

“That could be the reason why many girls, even Indian girls, are moving to Australia because they find the life is better there and the pay is better, and whatever way it works, everything is much better,” Xavier says.

Regardless though, Xavier will not be moving from Ireland anytime soon.

“I came to Ireland when I was 31 and I just fell in love here, so I said I’m not moving to any more countries, I’m just staying here. Whatever comes, I’m facing it here,” she says.

“It was very hard to move from one country to another and adjust to the culture, not just that, but the psychological language of people, like when they say ‘what’s the craic’ and ‘how’s it going’ and things like that – I didn’t understand those things initially.

“It’s very hard to understand the cultural language, and I somehow made it, and I don’t want to get out of my comfort zone now and leave to another country,” Xavier says.

Since moving to Ireland, Xavier has become accustomed to more western breakfast patterns.

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“The overnight oats, I just can’t live without them, and I cannot eat anything else other than cereal for breakfast, or toast and eggs. I can’t have an Indian breakfast, it makes me too full,” she laughs, adding that for dinner, she makes Irish meals with potatoes and Italian meals with pasta, alongside traditional Indian curries from time to time.

She feels she also gets awarded a sense of privacy she did not receive in her home country.

“People don’t question you too much here, about like, what’s your finances? What’s this? What’s that? What curry did you make today in the house?” she says.

“Even my Indian colleagues, like the new girls who come from India, I just feel I’m too foreign for them, because the way they talk is very different from my perceptions, they have changed totally about everything,” she says.

Irish people are more active, Xavier adds, saying that it has inspired her to incorporate physical activity in her own lifestyle – only outside when it is above 10 degrees, of course, because “I still have the Indian brown skin, so I don’t really do well in cold weather”, she laughs.

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish