One of the major aspects of moving base and going to live in a different country from that in which you have been historically domiciled is the fact that all your homework beforehand is a mere speck in the ocean compared to the reality of living the life. Many a person has done it, Anthony Burgess, the writer, did it on numerous occasions and scarcely found happiness. He seemed to treat every new abode as a base to travel from. I wanted to cross to Ireland, go native, soak up the atmosphere and like the Normans did 800 years ago, become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”. It has taken me five years to partially understand the country or enough of it to get by. Most of what I have learned has been a plus to my original thoughts but as with everything there has been some downsides.
We, ie. my wife Helen,our youngest son Paul and myself came over in 2004 as a result of certain changes in my life. The business I was running failed that year, I realized I was a dinosaur in the world I existed in and technology had overtaken me without me properly realizing it. I knew nearly all there was to know about the building and civil engineering industry but not about the computer technology that had taken over in the few years previously. I was starting to hit the brick wall that so many people of my advanced years hit at some time. I did not want to continue in the life I had been in for 44 years. I wanted a complete sea change and Ireland to me looked the part, a country where we had spent most of our spare time for years. In this dream I was aided and abetted by Helen, who in fact was born there but who had moved over to England with her parents during infancy. It was without doubt our spiritual home, our whole lives had been spent with wistful relations looking with nostalgic green eyes westward at their homes across the sea. I had spent my whole working life in the company of Irishmen, in fact I had rarely worked with an English man and when I did there was normally a row.
Paul was 11 and due to start secondary school, I had no wish to continue in a country slowly being turned into a caricature by Mr. Blair and his Scottish cronies. Helen thought that if there was a time, that time was then. Our only worry was Paddy Jo, our fifth child, who was in her last year at school before hopefully going on to university. As it turned out this evacuation put steel in her backbone and generously aided by her sister Kate and Mark, Kate’s husband, she recorded magnificent A-levels, went on a character building exercise to Borneo helping the indigenous orangutans to come to terms with 21st century living, took a year out working with her sisters and is now in her last year reading English at University College Dublin, where she has embraced the academic and thespian life. What worries? Ireland was only 45 minutes flying time from Manchester; it was not a foreign country. It was no different to going to live in Devon or Wales or even Yorkshire.
As a non-irish person, whenever you have to fill in an official form, they ask for your nationality and what day did you come to Ireland. On my first form I said sometime in the last 40 years. That was not good enough but I did learn that through humour you advance. I remember when claiming money for Child Benefit, when that date was finally nailed down, the English authorities were claiming back from us £143 of overpaid Child Benefit which had to be repaid before they would give permission for the Irish authorities to pay their contribution. We should have by law applied for these things within months of landing but this was over two years after, when we caught up with the system. I wrote to the Benefits Office in Donegal that I found it amazing that 90 years after Independence the long scrawny arm of Her Majesty could reach across a foreign country to claw back what she thought was rightfully hers. I received a congratulatory telephone call from the Donegal civil servant on my case who passed my claim with many a chuckle and backdated it two and a half years to boot. No wonder Ireland has gone down the pan financially; the Child Benefit they paid was €42 per week considerably more than the £11.70p we were receiving in England. With a family of six children you would only need to work part time to get by, and the papers told us it was the suppression of birth control and the Catholic Church made the Irish have big families. It was not; it was the weekly bonus from the State.
So here we were in Ireland with a house we were trying to sell in England, (a story I might put in the blog one day for amusement purposes) and Paul expecting to go to the newly opened Abbey College in Boyle. Our first hurdle, the change from Junior to Senior School comes at 12 in Ireland not the 11 we were expecting. So the mature 11 year old had to do a year in National School; an immediate come down for him.
We placed him in a school in Corrigeenroe, at the top of Loch Ce some four miles from Boyle and with just 60 pupils to its name. Incidentally Corrigeenroe means Little Red Rock and is in a delightful location looking down the eight miles or so of the Loch. A loch that is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Ireland with reputably an island for every county within it. All Paul could see was thwarted ambition.
I settled down to write my memoir which I did during the hours of midnight and dawn in three weeks in December, all 120,000 words of it. I have been editing and rewriting it ever since. It has given me great satisfaction and practise in sharpening up my keyboard skills.
More tomorrow on my drift into ways Irish and just to say that we are no longer an island but a fully fledged peninsula sticking out into the ever diminishing Boyle River. It has not rained for three or four days and we are set fair for Christmas however there are thousands in the West who cannot tell the same story. I pity them and hope they hit the new year running.