Ciara Reynolds and two of her sisters recently moved back in with their parents in Eslin Bridge, Co Leitrim, part of a wave of people who have headed west, their life plans changed or at least accelerated by the pandemic.
Ciara (36), an architect, left Leitrim at 17 when she went to college in Belfast and since then has lived in London, Glasgow and Dublin where her employers, Mola Architects, are based.
Her sister Fiona, a pharmacist, relocated from Dublin to Leitrim during the summer and now works in Drumshanbo. Their other sister Áine, a primary school teacher, recently returned from Abu Dhabi.
“We might have rented a place together but there is nothing there,” said Ciara, who is now in the process of buying a house in Carrick-on-Shannon town centre.
“I have a lot of friends who have moved back because of house prices in Dublin.” Many of them, who hope to ultimately buy properties closer to home – but who are finding there is very little available – have moved back in with their parents on a temporary basis, she said.
Having been raised in a family of six, three girls and three boys, Ciara is enjoying the experience of being back in the family home with her sisters – and jokes that she thinks her parents are happy with the turn of events too.
“I think Mam is delighted. I don’t think she ever thought we’d be back.”
When Ciara decided to make the move in September there were just two properties for rent in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Before the pandemic she had been toying with the idea of buying a home in Stoneybatter in Dublin "but then everything changed". Covid underlined the importance of space and gardens and, given her interest in stand-up paddleboarding, the Leitrim woman says she is very lucky to be surrounded by lakes now.
Until last year when remote working became the norm, she never thought of relocating.
"I was pretty happy in Dublin. And I didn't think it was an option." When she eventually suggested to her employers that it would be as feasible to work remotely in Leitrim as Killester or Clontarf they didn't argue, "and now they are getting clients in the midlands so having me here is good".
‘Very little available’
John Butler (33) is an architect also based in The Hive remote working hub in Carrick-on-Shannon. A cousin of Reynolds, he recently moved from Dublin where he had lived for six years, working with Aughey O'Flaherty Architects. He has now set up his own company, "something I would not have done without lockdown".
Butler is back living on the family farm and, with properties to rent or buy almost impossible to find in Leitrim, he is lucky that his ultimate goal is to renovate an old dwelling on his parents’ land.
“In an ideal world I would rent in the meantime but there is very little available,” he said.
While in Dublin, Butler had always returned home at weekends to work on the family farm so he decided to move back in March 2020, when he realised he would not be able to leave the city during lockdown.
Eventually he gave up his Dublin base which was costing €750 a month in rent. Through his work he has met others who have made similar life changes.
“In my line of work young couples are my bread and butter so I have a few clients who are extending family properties, maybe doing up their grandparents’ homes,” he said. Planning permission for one-off housing is difficult to get in Leitrim but some are hoping to build new homes. “These are people who moved back during lockdown, and I would not have had these clients if it wasn’t for Covid.”
‘Way beyond references’
Because Dubliner Paul Dunne was planning his move for two years he is very conscious of how prices have increased in Leitrim, Longford and Roscommon during that period. "The rents have risen by 30 per cent in two years," said the founder of Amployees, a company based in Carrick. He says houses costing €850 to rent two years ago are now up at €1,150.
Dunne is lucky in that he is paying €1,150 a month for a comfortable four bedroom house with good broadband in Longford while renting out his Dublin home for “considerably more”.
Through his work he has met many people interested in relocating, some with family connections in the region and some with no links.
"Now that hybrid working is looking like the norm I think there will be less people thinking of working from places like Barbados but they will look at Carrick and Longford where it is feasible to go to Dublin for one or two days a week."
With landlords now in a position to choose from several potential tenants, he is shocked by the level of information including details about income, that some are demanding. “It goes way beyond references. I feel sorry for people who don’t tick all the right boxes.”