In our regular series following the lives of expats, we find out what it’s like to raise a family in another country.
We thought moving to Ireland was a pipe dream, but now I’ve swapped coffees and baby music for strong tea and farm talk!”
Until just over a year ago, Clare and Ian Clevett lived in Banstead, Surrey – well within the M25, and in easy reach of central London and all its urban diversions. But in 2013 they upped sticks and moved to County Westmeath, in the Republic of Ireland. They’re now living slap bang in the middle of this very rural country – and about as far from the metropolitan commuter belt way of life as you can get.
“My step mum is Irish, and she and my dad live in Galway,” says Clare. “In 2012 we stayed with them during the summer holidays and fell in love with the relaxed lifestyle. We considered moving over, but we didn’t really think that it would happen.”
Clare and Ian came home from holiday, and went back to their ordinary lives. However, later the same year a coincidence happened – Ian was headhunted for a job in Dublin. What had seemed like a distant fantasy suddenly became a real possibility.
Though they’d already harboured dreams of moving to the Emerald Isle, Clare and Ian gave the potential move a lot of thought before coming to a decision. “We spent a long time going back and forth. The pros were the more relaxed lifestyle, lots of space, cheaper housing, and being able to enjoy more family time. The cons were that we’d miss all of our family and friends in the UK, the differences in education for the children, and country life being a massive change. Eventually, though, we decided to go for it.” Ian moved over to start work in January 2013, and Clare and the children were to follow in the April.
The family’s Irish adventure got off to a bit of a rocky start. Clare and Ian had four children at the time of the move, and Clare was pregnant with their fifth; but this did not prevent them from believing that they could handle an international removal without professional help. “It was horrific,” says Clare. “We loaded up four children, two of whom had chicken pox, into our Ford Galaxy, packed the majority of our possessions into a transit van and hit the road.”
“I stayed with the children at my dad’s house in Galway while Ian drove back for the rest of our belongings. Sadly, a lot of things that were important to me got dumped or left behind because of poor communication and space issues. Never again would I trust us to move ourselves – the money we saved was in no way worth the arguments and stress!”
To make things worse, Clare had a sick child to deal with. “The first day we were in Ireland I had to take Amelie to hospital with a vomiting bug. Ian was driving back to the UK to get our stuff, so I was on my own. We were sitting in Galway Hospital A&E and Amelie was crying. I just wanted to join in with her. I felt very lonely.”
Once the whole family began to settle into their new home, though, things started to look up. “When we’d all arrived, and our things were in the house, it was more exciting. I loved walking around our village and exploring the area, as well as getting to know everyone.”
Fortunately, with four children in tow, joining in with village life wasn’t too difficult. “The automatic social life that you get when you have children at school has helped, as has the routine that it gives us. The boys are at school and Amelie’s at preschool. We have a regular mother and toddler group that we attend, and sports clubs and visiting grandparents fill in the gaps.”
Though they’d found their feet socially, when baby number five arrived Clare and Ian were caught out by their rural location. “Having previously lived only ten minutes from both Epsom and St Helier hospitals, we somewhat underestimated the time it would take for an ambulance to get to our house in the middle of nowhere. The paramedics arrived 40 minutes after our initial call for help, to find me in shock on the sofa, and Ian holding a tiny baby!”
[pull_quote_center]When we’d all arrived, and our things were in the house, it was more exciting. I loved walking around our village and exploring the area, as well as getting to know everyone.”[/pull_quote_center]
Accidental home births aside, the Clevett family are loving their new rural lifestyle. “We love the scenery, and the wide open space – and, more than anything, the better quality family time that we’re getting here. We’re more relaxed as parents, and our children are ten times happier. I love how helpful and friendly people are, too – the morning that Cora was born we were inundated with cooked meals and offers of help from people we didn’t even know.”
As well as appreciating the helpfulness of her neighbours, Clare feels that Ireland is generally more child-friendly than Britain. “There is a real attitude of children being a blessing, and being cherished – which is a given, of course – but that attitude seems more prevalent here than at home. My dad’s local pub know my children well, and even have colouring books ready for their arrival. Our large family isn’t so uncommon here, either, which is something that I love!”
The laid-back Irish lifestyle does have the occasional disadvantage, and Clare admits to missing a few of the luxuries that we take for granted in south east England. “Our nickname in the village is ‘city slickers’, which just goes to show what a culture change it’s been for us. I miss coffee shops – I loved doing the school run and going for a coffee. There isn’t that ‘school run mum’ culture here – most mums work, or if they don’t they are off home to help on the farm or cook and clean. I also miss Waitrose, here I have to shop around between Lidl and Aldi, our two closest supermarkets, and local greengrocers and butchers. The nearest Tesco is a 40 minute drive. Our rural location also means that shopping online either incurs a large delivery charge, or plain won’t happen. And we’re not so keen on the slow pace of life when it takes three weeks to fix a broken telephone line!”
For now, though, the wide open space and quality family time seems to be beating the lure of Waitrose and Costa Coffee. “We feel totally settled.
We’re renovating our dream house, and we hope to buy some land in the future, as an investment for the children. We haven’t ruled out moving again one day, but for now we’re happy here.” ✿
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