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Life On The Emerald Isle
Last year was the 13th anniversary of my move from Baltimore, Maryland to Waterford, Ireland. When I made it, I had already covered this live and invest overseas beat for 13 years. I thought I knew what I was doing.
Lief and I arrived with our family and our business, expecting to plug into the kind of infrastructure we were used to in the States. We thought things like opening a bank account, finding office space, and posting staff ads would be simple, everyday tasks to accomplish in a short amount of time. They weren’t and to get them completely accomplished, we came to realize, depended not only on how you approach things, but also to a large extent on who you knew.
At first we couldn’t even decipher the Property For Rent ads in the local papers. Some places were advertised as having “All Mod Cons.” Finally, a broker explained, with pride, that houses and apartments with all the modern facilities were the ones that had all the modern conveniences, things like central heating. We were also surprised to find that the banks closed for lunch and the whole town shut down at 5pm
We needed to buy a car, but dealerships were only open weekdays and, again, only until 5pm. When did we have to go car shopping? We had a business to run. We felt like we were continually banging our heads against a collective Irish wall.
Employment contracts had to allow for tea breaks. The plumbers and electricians we hired to help renovate the house we ended up buying would disappear for days on end and then return to continue their work as if nothing unusual had happened. Staff didn’t just get four weeks of vacation every year by law, they took it! These things were impossible for us hard charging, Type A Americans to process. How did anyone get anything done in this place, we found ourselves asking every day.
Finally, frustrated and confused, we had to admit that we were not going to change how the Irish lived and did business. We should go along. And we did. Begrudgingly. We lived in Ireland for almost seven years.
We bought a 200 year old Georgian farmhouse and restored it. We bought another 200-year-old house in the city and converted it into office space. We hired dozens of employees. We finally managed to open bank accounts and buy cars. We’ve created our own infrastructure for things like paying bills, shopping for furniture, complying with local tax codes.
I gave birth to our son at Waterford Regional Hospital. He and his sister attended school, made friends, went to birthday parties. Lief and I also made friends. Some of our dearest friends today are Waterfordians. They write regularly to keep us in touch with life in this part of the world. And, as the years go by, I find that the Irish amaze me again. They make me homesick. E-mails and letters from those in Ireland with whom we were fortunate enough to forge long-lasting relationships help me to re-evaluate life in this country.
Lief and I arrived in Waterford with a clear agenda. We were there to do business. And, in this context, we sometimes found the Irish as crazy as we have sometimes found the Nicaraguans, the Belizeans, the Ecuadorians over the years.
Now, with age and time, my perspective changes. One day, after we had lived in Waterford for maybe three years, a couple of readers stopped by the office. They were Indians, in the country to explore the possibilities of moving their software company from India to Ireland. Did I have any advice for them, they wanted to know.
This was the contradiction of the day. The Celtic Tiger roared loudly, attracting investors (like us) from far and wide, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs looking for opportunity. But we were all failures. Ireland had great opportunities, but not of the kind we were in the market at that time. That young Indian couple was confused when I warned them away. “Don’t come to Ireland to run an efficient business,” I told them. “You’re being made crazy.” I would stand by that advice today. But I would add something to it. If your agenda is business, you have much better options. But if your agenda is something different, you can take a closer look at this small emerald island.
We lived here in the peak of the Celtic Tiger, which generated vast amounts of wealth, more money than this island had ever known. I would say that, as a result, the Irish then, like us, were distracted from what was right for them. They were busy covering their old green land with suburban houses, shopping malls and fast food franchises. We saw how pubs were replaced by nightclubs and because, yes, finally, car dealers kept Saturday business hours and banks stayed open through the afternoon. Ireland was so keen to compete on the global business stage. I would say it failed completely in this regard.
But, today, when I get an email from one of our friends in Waterford, the things that come to mind have nothing to do with business. Today, when I think of our time in Ireland, I think of the owner of the corner store across the street from our office. How he and his wife sent us a little gift when Jack was born and how they both asked Jack and his older sister Kaitlin every time we saw them.
I still think of the cabinet maker who helped restore our grand old Georgian house to its original glory, hatch by hatch, plank by plank… I think of the castles and the gardens we spent the weekend with Kaitlin and Jack exploring. I remember the few times we braved the beaches at Tramore, sat on the sand in sweaters, shivering and shaking our heads, while, out in the cold Irish Sea, the Irish swam and surfed.
I think of cows on the roads and sheep in the fields. Of Kaitlin learning to ride a horse in our front paddock and of Jack learning to walk in our forever muddy backyard… I think of these things more often as time goes on, remember them and appreciate them. And, as a result, they also value Ireland more, the Ireland beyond the legendary Celtic Tiger and the current economic disaster.
The Ireland that is more affordable to own now than it has been in a decade and that, if the predictions of our local friends are on target, could become as affordable again as it was when we arrived on the scene over 13 years ago . As property prices continue to drop, my renewed interest continues to expand…
Publisher Live and Invest Overseas
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