Monday, April 27, 2009

You Can't Fit a Round Peg into a Square Box

I recently read a quick plea for help from an American who is soon planning to move to Ireland. In the message, she states that she and her husband are moving to Cork; that she wants to bring her outdoor grill, but isn't sure if her 'propane tank' will work over here; and she signs off, 'Also, I have this fear that there will be "something" that I should have brought and can't find there. Any suggestions?'

Well, let me see. First about the propane. Don't bother bringing it along, was my reply. The fittings in America are different from the fittings here. 'Bottled Gas', as it's called in Ireland, comes in a variety of bottle sizes, and with a variety of fittings. The best thing to do is get new 'propane' when you get to this side of the Pond. Besides, it might explode in transport, if you brought it along. That's the sort of excitement that you might not want to experience.

Things are Different Over Here So Get Used To It
But what really got my interest was her query regarding what else she should bring, that 'something' that she mentions. Initially, I should have thought that she might bring a million bucks or so and I would have gladly helped her spend it. But there are some things that the earstwhile traveller to Ireland should know about before coming here:
  • You're Visiting Ireland, Not Antarctica - we have almost everything you can think of over here these days: from the latest technology to the most humdrum hair accessory. That's a pleasant change from when I first came here. Back in 1982, there were so many things that simply weren't available: from peanut butter to working telephone systems, the country was somewhat hard pressed back then. But remember that now, in the post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, this country is still one of the most prosperous in the world. Even if it's not quite as prosperous as it used to be. And it has a wide range of almost anything you can possibly think of to make your stay comfortable.

  • It's a Different Voltage System so Leave Your Electronics Behind - Ireland runs on 220 volts. America runs on 110 volts. If you bring along your hair dryer and plug it into a 220 volt system, you'll get more than curls in your hair let me tell you. And while I'm discussing electronics, and if you insist on bringing over those latest bits of technology, don't forget to bring a plug converter. We use 3 pin plugs over here. 2 pin into 3 pin just doesn't go. Most laptops allow charging with both 220 and 110 volt systems, so your laptop should work just fine in Ireland.

  • Food - remember that you're moving or visiting a different country and culture. Things are different here. And that's part of the charm. But I must admit that even after so many years away from home, I still miss certain bits of American foodstuffs: Bisquick (yes, they have pancake mix over here, but it's not the same), maple syrup, peanut butter (I can get it now, but it's not quite the same as my old Jiff), bread and butter pickles...the list goes on and on. Of course, if I REALLY miss something that bad, I simply pick it up when I'm home visiting Dad.

  • Don't Forget to Bring Your US Driver's License and Your Car Insurance Policy - if you're going to live here, you're going to want to drive here. And to drive here you need a licence and insurance. Car insurance in Ireland is expensive. But if you can bring proof that you have driven for 5 years or more without a claim on your policy, you can reduce your insurance premium by well over 50 percent. It's called a 'No Claims Bonus' and you'd do well to look into it. So before you jump on the plane, make sure you contact your car insurance company for a letter that categorically states that you've never had an accident.

Do the above and you'll have a much better time when you get here. But do also remember that you're coming to a different country, with a different people and a different way of life. No, Ireland will not be the same as the US or any other country, come to think of it. And that's what's special about Ireland. So rather than worry that you might have forgotten something, just come on over and experience Ireland like the Irish do.

Do that and you'll have a wonderful time. Frustrating, perhaps, but it's a joyous experience that you'll not soon forget.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thinking of Visiting Ireland? Now's the Time!

I just read an article about visiting Ireland. The headline, 'The Emerald Isle - Ireland - is calling to You,' written by one Joy Crutchfield, was published in the McAlester News-Capital, apparently one of the only US newspapers still being published (they must still do their reading in Southeast Oklahoma - for a complete copy of the article, click here).

Joan makes a great case for the ever-increasing value of visiting Ireland right now. Hotels, restaurants, and almost everything else that's tourist related are tripping over themselves to do some deals. And that means that prices are falling like a brick.

For instance, Joan quotes a self-drive package that seems to include hotel stays in Waterford, Killarney, Limerick, Galway and Dublin for a mere $789. Mind you, and because it's a self-drive package, and if you're from the States, you'll have to get used to driving on the other side of the road. But that's another matter.

However, play it really smart and you could enjoy a few days in Ireland for a very few bucks. With any luck, the summer sun will decide to show its head, which means that you'll avoid being rained on.

Getting Here
Depending on where you live, you might first check with your local travel agent in that 'packaged' holidays are becoming less and less expensive. Which means, of course, that travel to and from Ireland is thrown in as part of the total cost. The downside, of course, is that your idea of what you'd like to see must exactly match someone else's itinerary. If you're more adventurous, however, you might decide on a DIY holiday strategy. So check out a couple of airlines for direct (or almost direct) flights into Ireland from the United States and much of the rest of Europe. These include, but are not limited to, Aer Lingus, Swiss Air, American Airlines, US Airways, Continental, Delta, and many many more. (For a complete list of airlines that fly to/from Ireland, and various accommodation strategies, see A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland).

Then Stay Here Inexpensively
Want to sample some real Irish living? This country has thousands of inexpensive - yet delightful - bed & breakfasts. They're dotted all over the country, and many proprietors will even provide you with a welcoming cup of tea. For a comprehsnvie list of B&Bs, check out the following websites:

Prices run from about €35 per person sharing (much less expensive than even a year ago), but those prices are influenced by season, location, and B&B quality. As the name says, breakfast is included in the price, however. And Irish breakfasts are something that you'll never forget: Irish sausages, back rasher, mushrooms, beans, an egg, toast, brown bread, and the scrumptious pot of tea. Enough to keep you going for most of the day, and just yummy!

Renting a Car
While Ireland has a fairly decent (if expensive) bus and rail service, you'll want to rent a car to travel to places off the beaten path. If you're of a mind, try your hand at driving on the left hand side of the road by renting your own powered transport. Most international car rental companies are located in Ireland (Avis, Hertz, Budget and similar), but just Google 'Car Rental Ireland' for comprehensive lists. Car rental costs have plummeted in Ireland. For instance, Budget Rent a Car is advertising an economy 2 door for 1 week at €79, not including insurance. Petrol (or diesel, depending on your car) is expensive here: about 3 to 4 times the cost of a gallon of US gasoline. But Ireland is a small country, so you're not going to break the bank.

Where to Go
Now that completely depends on your sense of adventure, and what turns you on. I'm a nature and seaside freak, so my favourite ports of call include Counties Cork, Galway, Sligo, Mayo, and Donegal. Each of these counties has something special to offer: exceptional vistas, wonderful towns, great people, and some extraordinary memories when you get home from it all.

I particularly enjoy the Aran Islands. Located off the coast of County Galway, these three islands (Inis Mor, Inis Meain, Inis Oirr) are simply heavenly: cliffs, landscapes of rock, and a hale and hearty people that are simply delightful. While you're there, you'll perhaps pick up a few words of Gaelic (spoken by the locals). Mind you, it's a tough language - after 27 years living here, I think I can say 'Teacher, milk, water, and sugar' in the Irish. And that's about it.

To get to the Aran Islands, go to Galway City and keep heading west. Drive on to Rossaveal (still in County Galway, and not quite yet to Connemara), and look for the ferry signs. For more information on the Aran Islands go to And for more information on visiting Ireland, try the Bord Failte website:


Monday, April 20, 2009

Gardening Irish Style

Okay, I admit it. I'm getting to that age where the thoughts of spending a day tending the garden (or "yard" as my American father describes it) rather thrills me. While I might have thought otherwise a few years ago, these days getting down and dirty in the Irish muck is rather comforting. It's a twist that suits my balding head and failing ego, I'm sure.

Gardening anywhere in the world has its good points and bad. But gardening in Ireland is a no-brainer. Usually, the process goes something like this:

  • Go to the Garden Centre

  • Buy Assorted Plants

  • Dig hole in Garden

  • Push in Plants

  • Water

And voila! The darned things grow. It must have to do with the rich soil over here, but it seems that I have to work at it to kill anything. And this from a guy who didn't know his petunia from his iris only a few years ago.

Planted in a Nourishing Land
Come to think of it, growing almost anything in this country is a pleasure. From plants to relationships to personal growth, it seems that Ireland is a place that nourishes those transplanted from afar.

Right near to where I live, situated along the Boyne River, grows a mighty redwood tree. Redwoods are not, of course, indiginous to this country. But this fellow - well over 100 feet tall I expect - grows here anyway. Its tall majesty stands surely along the gently flowing river, and if I grow weary of living as an ex-patriate in this country, I venture down to see that tree.

It has had time to root firmly into the soil, and its great limbs act as a home for a whole range of critters: everything from assorted insects to squirrels. When I'm feeling lousy - and ex-patriates do now and again: it's part of the process of being so far away from home - I'll walk down to that huge North American immigrant and know that if it can survive here for so long, then perhaps I can too. I'll take shelter under its welcoming form, and for a moment look out along the Boyne and listen to the river's strength, and know that the tree rooted there for a reason, knowing perhaps that Ireland would nourish it for an entire lifetime.

And in that moment, I know that I have let Ireland re-nourish me too. And I'll pat the trunk of the tree, and nod in the direction of the whispering river, and go home refreshed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Haunting Stillness of Ireland

Every year, or more often depending on my disposition and bank account, I'll travel back to the United States to visit my father. He lives in the Tampa area, and I'm always astonished by the transition from one geography to another. Obviously, the sun is a welcome sight (I'm always astonished by that small warm orb due to the fact that I haven't seen it in months), and it's always nice to slouch around a swimming pool with an ice-cold glass of tipple in my hand. I should explain that in Ireland, most establishments don't serve drinks with ice. Or if they do, the bar-keep will place exactly one cube in the glass, as if ice were as valuable as gold bullion, and look astonished when I ask for more. So I'll sit at the side of a sun-kissed swimming pool, tinkling my ice fondly between sips, and wondering why I left America in the first place.

But then I'll hear it. The noise. It will infiltrate over the hedge surrounding the pool, and make its way to my sun-soaked ears: the noise of traffic from the far-off super-highway; the noise of aircraft descending into Tampa International; the noise of wailing sirens, piercing my somewhat drunken reverie and waking me to the reality of living here.
And I'll remember what I have in Ireland, and what it offers: of the peace that is there for the taking, and which is absolutely free of charge every day that I choose to stay here.

That Haunting Peace
Sitting in that Tampa sun chair, choosing to ignore the frantic sounds of close-by civilisation, I'll think back to the walks that I've taken in Ireland and the places that I've been and the quiet people that I've met. I'll think back to the time that I stood alone on a golden Donegal beach, a cooling breeze kissing my cheek, gazing out on a deserted landscape. The sea lapped quietly nearby, and the only other sounds were the far-off haunting cries of hunting sea birds, and the thin whistling of the wind as it shifted through tall sand grasses.

I remember that time, only a few years ago, as a time of hardship: my mother had passed only months earlier. But in the beautiful silence of that place, I could easily remember her. I could remember her smile and gentle laugh and glittering eyes and the song that would come so easily to her lips, and my memories were uninterrupted by the frantic sounds of what we so often call living.

White cumulus dotted the sky above me, driven inland off the sea as I stood there. And for a moment it rained, the drops cold on my cheek, washing away my tears with their gentleness. I remember sighing then and feeling somehow cleansed, and thanking God for the memory of my mother and for the haunting stillness that surrounded me and that gave me the space to remember her.

Back in Tampa, my eyes opened as I heard the renewed wailing of a siren, and the memory was shattered. I finished my drink, threw the ice into the grass, and walked back to my father's home.

But as I walked, the memory of that haunting Irish silence came back to visit me, and gave me peace, and I thanked my stars that soon I would go back to Ireland, and to the silence that is so freely given to all of us who live here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It Rains in Ireland. Honest!

A number of years ago, my good Irish wife and I were on a short holiday out to the West of this country. As I remember, we ended up in County Donegal, amid rolling hills and breathtaking mountains, and when - after a long stroll - it began to rain, we decided to take shelter in a local hostelry.

'Let's duck in here,' I said to my wife. 'We'll get out of the wet and have a pint at the same time.' She was more than agreeable, so that's precisely what we did.

The small bar room was packed with tourists, as it turned out. And most of those tourists happened to be fellow Americans. I sidled up to the bar and bought a couple of pints. Then as I waited for my Guinness to settle, a woman from California made her way up to me. She was soaked to the skin; her hair was a matted mess. Water dripped down her face. I handed her a bar towel.

'Do you live here?' she asked me as she dried her face.

'Well, I live on the other side of the country, out in County Meath. That's about 200 miles from here.'

She eyed me suspiciously for a moment. 'You don't sound Irish.' 'I'm not,' I said. 'I'm an American. But I've lived here for some time now.'

'You have?' Pretty eyes rolled in her head. 'But why? We've been here for ten days. Look at it outside.'

I looked. It was raining. Torrenting. A true wash-out as the wet pelted from the Irish Heavens.

'It's raining,' I said, matter-of-factly.

'I can't stand this!' she stated. 'It rains all the time here. It's rained every day since we came over. Doesn't it ever clear up? How can you possibly stand it?'

I sighed. 'You know how Ireland is green?' I asked. She nodded. 'Well, if it weren't for the rain, it wouldn't be green.'

She didn't accept this as an explanation. Instead, she turned on her heel and marched from the bar, undoubtedly to try to book an early flight home.

It Rains in Ireland
If you're thinking of coming to live here, or stay for a prolonged visit, you might as well get your head around one simple fact: it rains in Ireland. It does not rain all the time (contrary to some people's misconceptions) but it rains enough, let me tell you.

It rains in big drops, little drops, and drops in between. It rains in fine mist. It rains in torrential downpours. It rains in the morning, the afternoon, and at night. Being on the western seaboard of the European Continent, with only the Atlantic beyond, Ireland gets its fair share of lousy weather. Huge storms, little storms, gales, deep low pressure areas, and swaths of grey grimness can make their way across the sea and sweep Ireland into a wet obscurity.

But take heart. All is not lost. For one thing, there's nothing finer than to take a long walk on a nice soft day. By 'soft', the Irish mean a day full of gentle misting wetness, when the world seems swathed in damp cotton and sound travels hardly at all. On days like this, I wrap up tight, put on my UCLA baseball cap, and walk along the Boyne River, near where I live.

It is so quiet! Just the dripping of the wet from the leaves of the tall trees. Swathes of dark clouds hunker down over the world, and for a moment I feel alone and comforted, as if I was held by a Being much larger and more interesting than I will ever be.

I walk slowly through the quiet taking everything in: the dark swooshing of the big river that flows next to me; the ducks and swans that nest along its edge; the wet sponginess of moss covered trees; the soft rain trickling down on my upturned face, tickling me as it wends its way down my neck. And for a moment I am alive and at peace.

It rains in Ireland, that's for sure. But rain is also life, and in its soft majesty - and if you listen to the silence - you too just might find peace.

But if you can't, then you can pack your bags, book an early flight, and go home just like the lady from California did. God bless her.

(For more stories on living and surviving in Ireland, see my book - A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's Older than the Pyramids?

So when I arrived here, well over twenty-five years ago, I was walking through the small village of Navan where I called (and still call) home, soaked to the skin with Irish rain. Being an American, I had never been terribly interested in things of antiquity: in the States anything older than a Beatles LP is considered beyond redemption and immediately burned to the ground or - as the famous lyrics state - turned into a parking lot. Consequently, most Yanks think that the far side of 'old' might just be the age of their grandparents. But they're dead and gone, which proves that 'old' doesn't have much going for it.

Or so I thought. My first impressions of Ireland - back in 1982 - didn't exactly do much to change my opinion of 'old'. At that time, my small village was sadly in need of extensive repair. The entire town needed a fresh coat of paint, as well as a visit by any Road Repair Crew that needed a challenge, so poor were the potholed roadways.

Of course, being an ignorant newly arrived immigrant, I did what any fool would do. I opened my mouth and immediately put my foot in it.

'These buildings,' I said to a local, 'isn't somebody going to do something about them? Knock them down, perhaps, or at least put them out of their misery?'

'What's wrong with the buildings?' the local replied, doing his best not to lash out with both clenched fists, thereby putting one poor American out of his misery. 'Do you think they look poorly?'

'Sure,' I replied. 'It's just that they're so old!'

And he laughed. 'Lad, this is nothing. If you want to see old, and I mean very, very, very old, take your car to Newgrange. Now that's old.' And he turned on his heel and left.

The Truly Magnificent Old
Intrigued, I took the fellow's advice. I climbed into my car, drove about ten miles east of Navan, and beheld something almost beyond description.

Newgrange is a megalithic tomb, or so many describe it. But it is more...much, much more. Older than the Pyramids, it was built well over 5000 years ago. At the time, the engineers and builders in question didn't have the benefit of state of the art technologies. Nor did they have diggers with giant diesel engines in them. Instead, they had a vision of the spirtual and the astrological that is awesome to behold. And they had assorted people of the same mind who all had strong arms, and so they did what most people used to do: they got stuck in and built it. And what they acheived ranks right up there with the best examples of human endeavor.

Visit Newgrange and see for yourself: it's thousands of pearl white quartz stones cover one side of what looks like a Monty Python-esque image of a flying saucer. Intricate carvings cover many of the precisely placed stones that form the perimeter of the Monument. The alignment of the entire site is unusual in its links to the astral seasons: the Roof Box points precisely to the rising sun of the Winter Solstice; the welcoming rays of light - the light of the shortest day of the year - infiltrates down through the Roof Box, lighting an internal chamber, thereby signifying the hope of longer days to come.

It is old. Older than anything that I had ever laid eyes on. Certainly older than my grandparents.

If you're in Ireland, make certain that you put Newgrange - as well as the rest of the Boyne Valley - on your itinerary. The Irish have a different view of old. Just because it's old doesn't mean it has to be knocked down. Not yet, anyway. Which is one of the joys of living in Ireland:

Just because something is old, doesn't mean it's past its sell-buy date.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland - New Edition Available!

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write what I hope is a fun, interesting, and fairly informative book on living in Ireland. The book, A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland, has done rather well, I'm proud to say.
The Revision is now available! So to all of you who desire to live, work, or visit here, I hope that this book (now well over 80,000 words) might prove of interest. It's available by clicking this link: 

By the way: any feedback very much appreciated!

And a Quick Summary of what you'll find in the Book:

Major Topics

In A Survivor’s Guide to Living in Ireland, author Tom Richards outlines the real facts about moving to and living in this country including:

The Cost of Living HereIreland’s ever-changing housing industry: where and what to buy. When Richards moved there, he bought a house for just over $15,000. While housing costs had increased substantially during the Celtic Tiger years, they are now falling fast and are less expensive now than they have been in years. Perhaps you too can own a thatched cottage within earshot of a babbling brook. Richards shows you how.

Work PermitsThat elusive work permit: how to get one. Did you know that you will have to get your hands on a work permit to be allowed to work? Richards lets you in on the secrets of obtaining one for yourself.

Getting a JobMaking a living in Ireland: unless you have a rich Uncle, you probably have to work for a living. Celtic Tiger Ireland added an entrepreneurial spirit to this country, and small businesses drive Ireland’s economy. Richards gives an on the ground analyse of and the opportunities that are available in its modern, fast-paced economy, even in current market conditions.

A Health System to Die For
The virtually free Medical System: Ireland has socialised medicine, one that won’t strip away your retirement nest egg if you happen to get sick. Richards gives you some examples of its incredible entitlements.

The High Quality of EducationA School and University system to die for: the author’s three children have all grown up with the benefit of a system with which Richards has fallen in love. His glowing but realistic account illustrates how your offspring can also benefit from what he considers to be one of the best school systems anywhere.

The Wonders of Living in Ireland and the
Reality of Being an Immigrant
Few expats write of the sometimes-difficult transition faced by immigrants. But Richards does. As he says, “…move here and the odds are that you’ll never go back. I say this because it’s something to think about before you choose the path of immigration, and it’s an issue that I find is rarely discussed. ‘Immigrating is hard work. It can be an emotional roller coaster out of which few emerge unscathed.

But something magical happens when a person moves here. Despite all of the difficulties of immigrating to this country, Ireland seems to root itself into the very fabric of your being. And once the roots have become established it’s very difficult to shake yourself loose.”

Due to ever-increasing demand for this E-Book, A Survivor’s Guide to Living in Ireland has been substantially revised and expanded. This 2009 edition is now bigger, more entertaining, and more valuable than ever before. With well over 200 pages of humour and insights, this book also includes important and up-to-date Internet references to help with further research, as well as Richards’ personal (and funny!) Dictionary of Irish Slang and Phrases to help you to talk like the Irish do.

Loaded with facts, anecdotes, and lessons learned by a fellow American from Chicago – a regular guy just like you – A Survivor’s Guide to Living in Ireland is necessary reading for those who are thinking of either visiting this country for a prolonged stay, or those determined enough to move here permanently.The picture that Tom Richards provides in this book is much clearer and experiential than those written only from a perspective of rose-colored poetry.

A Survivor’s Guide to Living in Ireland provides factual information written in a style that travel writer Bill Bryson would appreciate, and illustrates what a move to Ireland requires…and captivates the reader by explaining exactly what living in Ireland is really like.

Tom Richards' wouldn't leave Ireland on a bet. Written without any punches pulled, this is the book to read if you've ever thought about moving to that marvellous country.

A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2014 Kindle Edition Available Now
Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 

No Victoria, Ireland Isn't Inexpensive

Ireland is Inexpensive, Isn't It?

Recently, I received an Email from an erstwhile American living in Maryland who is determined to move to Ireland with her Irish husband. As part of her Email, she stated that it was her understanding that Ireland is a relatively cheap place to live. Her exact comment was: "But I hear I don't need as much money to live well."

Ummm - unfortunately, that's just not true at all. For a whole lot of reasons, Ireland can be a very expensive place to live. So, let me share what I wrote back to her.

Dear Diane,

Look, let me give you some straight-shootin' facts:

* Up until about 18 months ago, Ireland had one of the fastest growing economies in the world

* During that time period, we became one of the wealthiest countries in theEuropean Union. Per capita income was flying!

* But the downside was a significant increase in the cost of living. As of 2007 (and the latest figures available), Ireland became the most expensive country to live in the EU. We outpaced even Finland for that dubious honour.

* Everything - well not quite everything - rocketed in price: housing (we had a vicious housing bubble), groceries, petrol, you name it became more and more expensive.

* The 'good news' is that - because everyone was spending money - there was finally a bit of competition over here. So certain things - white goods, TVsets, etc - came down a bit in price. Compared to 1982 when I moved here, many of these items are less expensive now.

* In a previous Email, you mentioned that your Hubby was from the North. Areyou planning to live up there? The cost of living is less in the North than in the Republic. If, however, you're living in the Republic and being paid in Euro, many Irish people are going across the border to shop. This is due not only to the relatively low cost of many items, but also due to the current weakness of the Pound Sterling compared to the Euro - our euro's go just that much further right now in Northern Ireland.

* The other bit of good news is that the housing bubble has burst: right now, buying a house here is much less expensive than it used to be - by about a third, depending on the type of house and its location. And, because of the current recession, the cost of many items is falling drastically: from clothing to food to cars, things are becoming less expensive here.

* And this will continue for one simple reason: the government - only yesterday - announced a so-called 'Mini-Budget'. This had the effect of increasing taxes on almost everybody's salary by about (and on average) 4 percent. So that's more money that's being taken away from us (and out of the economy), which will force prices down even more, as retailers and manufacturers struggle to encourage people to buy.

Hopefully, the book (A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland) will give you a few tips on what to bring and what not to bring. But the important thing is this (and in reference to your thoughts on how 'cheap' it is to live here): Ireland is NOT inexpensive. While it is not as expensive as London or certain cities in the US (Washington DC, LA, and NY come to mind), Ireland is expensive. And that, I'm afraid, is just the way it is. But if you shop around, and learn to 'shop like the Irish do', you should do okay here (assuming you can find that elusive job.) Good luck!


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Job's the Thing

Getting a Job in Ireland has Never Been as Tough
...But with a Little Gumption You Still Can

I feel like I'm experiencing Deja Vue: when I came to this country 27 years ago, the Irish economy was a mess: unemployment was almost 20 percent. Interest rates were approaching that same frightening figure. And there I was, a newly-arrived Yank married to an Irish woman, our first child tucked under my arm, and with only a few hundred bucks between us and perdition.

At that point in my life, I was only 26 years old. I had no real experience. I had very little to offer - or so I thought. Having arrived here, I fully believed that we were going to starve.

Fortunately, however, things worked out. I got a job. Then another job. Then I started my own business. And while in the intervening years things occasionally grew hairy, things have also worked out fairly well. And thank God for that, let me tell you!

The Worm Turns
But back to my recent feelings of Deja Vue. As I write this, unemployment has spiked to 11 percent and is expected to go much higher. Interest rates, thank God, are on the floor. But a hairshirt budget released by the Irish government only yesterday means that many people will find their paycheques significantly reduced, which means that many of us will be living on air.

And if you're an American facing relocation to Ireland, you're going to find it mighty tough to get a job. So what do you do? You could, of course, learn to plant potatoes and hope to fend off starvation that way. You could start your own business (see my seperate article on Starting Your Own Business). Or... you could get a job. If that's your hope, then here are some suggestions.

Getting that Job - Some Resources
  • Networking - it works just like the United States in that who you know is often much more effective than what you know, and no-where is that more true than in Ireland. Because of its small size Ireland is a veritable village in which everyone seems to know each other (or knows somebody who knows somebody). If you're trying to find a job here, do what the Irish do: talk to anybody that will listen, even complete strangers, about your aspirations. Then keep it up. Bug the hell out of people. Tell them that you're a poor Yank who is simply trying to survive. The Irish, God Bless 'em, have a huge propensity to help, particularly if they think you're stuck. And if you're lucky, your pleas for help will result in an interview.

  • Your Resume - called a CV over here is your tool to success. Make certain that you construct it to emphasise your skills. If you don't have a mobile phone buy one to make certain that prospective employers can contact you. Ask Irish people that you meet for copies of their CVs so that you understand the formatting - it's different over here compared to an American resume.

  • Don't Come Across All 'American' - my country people can be - and I hate to say it - a bit full of themselves. They believe that because they come from the States, the cornerstone of capitalism, that they know it all. When you come here, do remember that the Irish know a thing or two, too. Until recently, this country has been a hotbed of entrepreneurship. So be humble! Emphasise your skills and what you can bring to the table. Remember that many Irish companies are much smaller than equivalent US businesses. That means that many of us working here are capable of providing a number of skills within different areas of expertise. Emphasise your flexibility, your willingness to learn, and how you might be able to contribute to the bottom line.

  • Then Start the Search - Ireland has many, many resources that will help you find a job. Just a couple are,,, and Also, try the major Irish newspapers including The Irish Times, the Independent, and the Irish Sunday edition of 'The Times'. Remember that Ireland is in recession right now, so it's going to take a lot of looking.

  • Now Contact Them - in my experience it is best to telephone the prospective employer to confirm that they really do have a job. If so, post in a cover letter and your CV. Then bug the hell out of them. Half the time, and if you don't follow up, you'll never receive a reply - not even a peep - to an unsolicited CV (remember that those prospective employers are receiving hundreds and hundreds of job queries). To be heard within the unemployment tumult, you'll have to make some noise. So don't be afraid to (nicely and professionally) contact them. This approach also demonstrates your enthusiasm and energy.

But Most Jobs are Never Advertised
Which also means that networking is probably the most effective method of landing a job within a market that is continuing to contract.

So if you're hell-bent on coming here, and want a job, be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time getting one. Be positive, be humble, but also be persistent!

For much more information on getting a job in Ireland, see A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why I Love Ireland

Ah, the Irish Stars!
Alright. It's true. Living in Ireland can be a pain in the ass particularly if you're an American. Why? Well, it's different, that's why. The people talk funny (mind you, they tell me that I'm the one who talks funny). They drive on the other side of the road. They don't speak proper English (they call a sidewalk a path, for Godsake; and a hood a bonnet, whatever that is.) They don't even know how to eat properly (trying to get a blackberry pie over here is impossible. And the coffee - while much improved - can still be horrible).

So what is it about Ireland? It's not the government (those guys should all be sentenced to hard labour somewhere north of Siberia). It's not the weather (it rains all the time. I grew up in Seattle, so you'd think I'd be used to it. But it rains constantly). It's not even the Guinness (though is wonderful stuff, let me tell you. See, you have to know how to pour it just right...But that's another story).

So what is it about Ireland that is so bloody wonderful that it's kept me imprisoned here for over 27 years? I'll tell you what it is: it's the stars.

Starry, Starry Nights
If you're as lucky as I am, you live near the country. Which means that you can wander down a country road and in no time be out in the middle of no where. And by no where, I mean precisely that. You could be on the dark side of the Moon, let me tell you. But the wonderful thing about that is simple: there aren't any lights.

So you'll drive down this incredibly out of the way lane, and all of a sudden find yourself out in the middle of no where. You'll pull to the side of the road and turn out the car lights. And what happens next is magic: the entire universe seems to plunge into magical darkness.

So you'll get out of the car. You'll take a breath of air that is filled with the wonders of nature: of cow manure and fertiliser; of the smell of peat smoke coming from a nearby farmhouse; the sharp texture of a recent rain, and the pungent odour of blooming heather that filters its way to you over the nearby bogs.

You'll stand outside your car and smell all of that, and your olfactory senses will be on overtime because they're the only senses that seem to work, it's so dark. It's darker than your bedroom closet when you close the door. It's darker than the last day of winter when you know that it just has to become Spring. It's even darker than the blackest pint of Guinness.

At least you think it's dark.

Until You Look Up...

And behold the hand of God that has strewn a thousand billion stars across the sky. At first, you feel like an insect, so small are you compared to the majesty that seems just out of reach. But then, looking up, you feel that you're part of it all. That you are that majesty, or at least a true part of it.

And for a moment - despite the fact that you live thousands of miles from your homeland - you are one. One with what, I'm not quite sure. But you are, and you can count on that. And in that moment, you are not lonely, not even from yourself.

I've never felt that way anywhere. Not in Seattle or in Chicago or in New York or LA or all the other places that I've lived. I feel this way in Ireland, with the stars above my head, glittering in their cool magic.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I stay. The stars.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are the Irish Bigoted?

Today I was reading a thread on an expatriate website, Expat Exchange. One poor guy living in the States is interested in moving from the States to Ireland: he hopes to do so sometime next year, and wants to set up a restaurant here. As a bye-the-bye, he happened to mention that he was married to a woman of African-American descent. And then he asked something like: will my inter-racial marriage be accepted in Ireland?

The replies to his querry were thick and furious. One fellow who identified himself as an Hispanic stated that the question of race is still a big problem in this country. Others defended Ireland and its lack of bigotry.

So what's the truth? Do the Irish have a streak of begrudgin' bigotry in their blood?

The Problem with a Homogenous Society
First, you gotta understand that until fairly recently, Ireland was populated by pretty much a single group of people: White Catholics. There were - and still are - a few Protestants around, but White Catholics make up the vast majority of this country and have so for years and years. Homogeneity has its good sides of course: everyone knows what you're talking about. But it has its bad sides too: any type of change is difficult.

When my children were young, only 20 years ago or so, we had almost no 'foreigners' or people of a different skin persuasion. As a Yank here, I was one of a very small minority. And on the few occasions when my children did see someone with a darker skin tone, they were amazed. 'Did they put shoe polish on their face?' one of my daughters once asked. 'Nope,' I said. 'That's how he was born.' Her face turned to wonder at the strangeness of it all.

But that didn't mean that she was bigotted. Far from it. What it did mean was that she wasn't used to things different. Just like many people here. And in my experience, when people are confronted by the different, they aren't quite sure how to react.

But is Ireland Bigoted?
In my experience, and I'm side-stepping things slightly, they are and they aren't. That is to say, and just like any country, the vast majority of Irish welcome people of all different skin types, nationalities, and religions. In fact, many are positively intrigued by the new and different.

They sure welcomed me, is all I can say. And even though I don't have a skin colour much different from their own, I sure talked and acted differently than the Irish, at least when I arrived here. Which means that I stuck out like a sore thumb. But most people accepted me for who and what I am (and was). And that's all that counted.

But there's always the vocal minority. And some of those people can be absolute slobs. That vocal minority is present here and in the States and everywhere in the world, as far as I can tell. And most of the time, they're idiots.

Here in Ireland, that vocal, idiotic minority does its best to resist change. And if you happen to have a darker coloured skin than most, you can be the brunt of some slagging and rudeness, let me tell you.

For instance, and when the Celtic Tiger was in its heyday here, this small country attracted immigrants from all over the world: Polish, Russians, Lithuanians, Nigerians: all wanted a little bit of the Irish economic miracle. So they came here in droves. The majority of the Irish welcomed them with open arms, knowing that these people would provide the wherewithall to drive the Irish economy further toward wealth and riches.

But the vocal minority - those idiots didn't like them one little bit. They were convinced that these immigrants were depriving the Irish of jobs (even though new jobs were being created all the time); they begrudged them any sort of success (even though these new arrivals worked their asses off); and now that the Celtic Tiger is dead, they bemoan the fact that the 'immigrant cowards' are running away from Ireland in order to seek better lives.

Are the Irish bigoted? In my opinion, and in general, the answer is a resounding No. Does a vocal minority of idiots exist here (as in the rest of the world) who are bigoted and who take delight in expressing that bigotry? Damned right, I'm afraid.

The Irish are people, just like anywhere else. And like any society, they have their fair share of idiots. And that's just the way it is.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Educating Rita (or Jane, Joe, or Bob) in Ireland

Ireland's Universities are First Rate
Every now and then, someone from the States asks me about the quality of higher education here. The un-asked question is 'Are Ireland's colleges and universities any good in that my son, daughter, cousin, friend wants to go to school there.' So I go through my usual blather of why I like the place, what I'd do if I were them, and what it is about many Irish colleges and universities that is so special. But hell, I'm biased. I sent my three kids to university in Ireland. What do you think I'd say?

But if you're one of those who is considering coming to Ireland for a year of higher education, let me tell you, this place offers some of the best colleges and universities around. And here's why:

Such a Choice!
Okay, Ireland isn't the United States. We don't have over 300 million people here, so we simply don't need the thousands of colleges and universities that are available in America. Ireland (for those of you who don't know) has a population of about 4 million - but we have an exemplary selection of schools, providing a choice of excellence.

Want to live and learn in Dublin? Then check out Trinity College, University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University (DCU) or the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM). Each has something special to offer.
I'm biased in that I do some guest lecturing at NUIM. That's the university pictured above. It's a great place: a smaller campus, great staff, excellent lecturers (what did you think I'd say?), and some amazing opportunities for those of you who want to find it. There's something about NUIM that is sort of 'like home' - an intimacy that I've not found in a long time.

But the other universities are super too. Go to Trinity and you're on almost hallowed ground. Trinity is proud to display the Book of Kells on a permanent basis. So if you want to see an illustrated manuscript that's hundreds of years old, and get a great education in Ireland's bustling capital, then Trinity is for you.
Outside of Dublin
Want to get out of the Dublin area, explore and live in an area outside the Pale, but still get a wonderful educational experience? Then look into universities in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Belfast. Cork has a great school, UCC (University College Cork). Great academics, and a wonderful place to live. In Galway, try NUI Galway (NUIG). My daughter did her BSc in Marine Science there, and she found it wonderful. Not only is the quality of education great, but Galway offers something special: a small intimate city populated by some incredibly fun people; a gateway to Connemara, and some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. Go to Galway and you'll participate in some almighty Craic that you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Limerick offers the University of Limerick. This esteemed university is renouned for the quality of its sciences. Or if you desire to go north, check out Queen's University Belfast, a superlative institution, and allowing you to live - and experience - the wonderful life of our Northern Irish cousins.
This, of course, is only a small sampling of what Ireland has to offer. But to answer the question: does Ireland offer some great education? You bet'cha, is all I can say.