Living in Ireland

Or, as they call it in Irish, Éire. Brandi and I moved here in the fall of 2001, looking for a change in our lives, and hopefully some cheap travel opportunities to Europe, Africa, or maybe Iceland.
We came expecting the verdant green “emerald isle” that the tourist board spreads rumours of, but were a bit disappointed, especially by the environmental situation. The Irish people seemed to take their wonderful island for granted, dumping litter by the tonne everywhere, piping raw sewage into the seas, and vomiting on the streets every Friday and Saturday night (this with plenty of help from the British and American tourists.)
Over the last few years, these things have improved dramatically. As part of joining the EU, things like recycling and stronger environmental protection have come into law, and the government now acknowledges that alcohol is a problem in society, especially youth binge drinking. We saw many improvements in the environmental situation just in the first year we were there, such as the plastic bag levy of 15 cents and the immediate impact it had on the amount of litter.

But you can’t judge a country by its “green” cred, or I wouldn’t be much of a fan of my fellow Canadians either. There were, of course, many good things about living in Ireland, and I’d probably go live there again if I had the chance. A lot of people are very friendly. We had complete strangers offer us a room in their house when we first arrived, and were homeless and unemployed. The countryside is very beautiful, once you’re far enough away from the city. Green fields and castles and stuff, just like the tourist board says! The weather is pretty reasonable, despite what the Irish like to think. It’s a lot drier than my hometown of Vancouver, but feels a lot colder because of the ocean winds, which can produce some amazing storms. I did miss summertime though; we barely broke through 20ºC while we were there.

Finding a Job

We had the misfortune of arriving shortly after the terrorist attacks on 11 September, so Brandi wasn’t able to get a job as a travel agent, which she had been in Vancouver. And computer jobs were as scarce there as they were anywhere those days, despite all the rumours of the “Celtic tiger” economy. So after failing to find jobs in Cork, we relucantly moved to Dublin. Brandi found a job within a couple of weeks, working for AOL Europe as a billing administrator. After about a month I got a job as a box packer and paperwork filler-outer at Money Point. Fortunately I got a promotion four days later, after I was found to be one of those invaluable “computer guys.”
The most useful online resources we found for finding jobs were FÁS, the state employment agency, and The other web sites, were largely filled with recruiting agency positions. For the most part, it seemed that recruiting agencies were just posting positions, even if they had been filled months before, just so they could get people signing up with them. The newspapers were likewise filled with a bunch of recruiting agency jobs, and not a lot of real positions.
After getting our jobs, we needed to get PPS numbers from the government. This was pretty painless, aside from the loooong wait in line with all the welfare recipients. We weren’t able to apply for this right away, because we needed proof of residency first, but the sooner you get it the better. Until you provide the number to your employer, you get taxed at the “emergency” rate, which at the time was 20% for the first month and 40% after that!

Finding a Home

Once we found jobs, we needed a place to live. We were in for a bit of a shock. In Cork, we looked at a few places, including a lovely new condo in Cobh, maybe 800 square feet, about 20 metres from the water, for €725. When looking in Dublin, most of the places were a minimum of €800 for a tiny one bedroom. Of course just over the short time we were there, rents continued to skyrocket even higher. If we had decided to go a year or two later it would have been really painful, but prices now (2009) actually seem about the same as when we were there. Anyway, we went through a property management company, because it seemed easier, and ended up paying €1100 for the two bedroom top floor of a 1960’s row house in Sutton (Bayside.) It had no insulation, so was very cold in the winter, but the furniture, carpets, and kitchen were all new, which was nice. Also, it was a 3 minute walk to either the DART station or the coast road, where we could catch the 31B into town. We could have got a cheaper place, but we wanted to be close to town and work. We had been doing hour long commutes back home, and wanted to avoid it in Ireland.
If I were moving back again, I would most definitely try to get one of the newer apartments in the IFSC district. They were a bit pricier, but it’s a 10 minute walk downtown, they’re warmer, and much more modern.

The Utilities

We had to get our own accounts with ESB (electricity), Bord Gáis (gas), and Eircom (telephone.) I don’t know if it’s the standard to have separate gas and electricity, but that’s the way our landlord had his house set up. Everything was billed bi-monthly, which also was strange to us; everything’s monthly in Canada. Prices weren’t too much higher than home, fortunately – phone was about €60, as was gas. Electricity was a bit less, maybe €50.
Most of the setup was pretty painless, but the phone was terrible. It took 9 weeks to get our phone line hooked up. And once it was hooked up, it was not very good quality. It was okay for phone calls, but our dial-up internet connections (which were free, but for the per-minute charges) were painfully slow. Eircom has reasonably priced high speed internet now, but when we were there it was just being introduced and was about €100 a month.
We didn’t have a TV for the first few months we were there, and when we did get one, we didn’t bother getting cable from NTL, Chorus, or Sky. We could pick up the four Irish channels with the antenna
(RTÉ 1 and 2, TV3, and TG4) so that was good enough for us.
Once we had some bills come in the mail, we could open a bank account. Under some very strict laws – which are supposed to prevent money laundering – we had to not only provide identification, but also a reference from a place of employment, and proof of residency in Ireland. We went with AIB just because they were next door to my wife’s job. The other big banks are Bank of Ireland, and Ulster Bank. There are also “building societies,” which are sort of like our credit unions. EBS is the big one, Permanent TSB used to be just TSB (a building society) but then they got bought, and are now a bank.

Keeping Busy

So we only got four channels on TV, our house was freezing, and we had a dodgy internet connection. As you might imagine, we didn’t hang out at home a whole lot, especially in the winter! One thing which I would recommend to any new residents is a trip to Cineworld Dublin on Parnell Street (behind ILAC Centre.) Not that the cinemas are that great (they’re not) but they have a monthly subscription. For €20 a month (we were paying €12 a month!) you can see as many movies as you like. Yes, that’s right, unlimited movies, for the price of 2 regular admissions. I don’t know if this is a normal thing in Europe, but to a North American it’s like finding the holy grail or something. And, if you plan on traveling, it’s good at dozens of Cineworld cinemas in the UK as well.
We also did a lot of walking around our neighbourhood. As I mentioned, we were only a couple of minutes walk from the coast road. A large proportion of Dublin Bay has a seawall with a bike and pedestrian path on it, which we often walked along. Sutton is situated on a thin little isthmus so we could also go north towards the DART station, and get to the sea that way. Sutton Strand was a very beautiful beach, big and sandy, with a lovely view across the water of Portmarnock and their beach (Velvet Strand.) Often we’d walk east along the beach until we got to Howth, where we could buy some fresh fish for dinner at Beshoff’s, walk around the harbour, or just watch the tourists.
Most weekends we’d go into town and do some shopping. We usually avoided shopping on Grafton Street, because of the large crowds and expensive trendy shops. We found Talbot/Henry/Mary/Earl Street (yes, it was all one street, just lots of names) had pretty much everthing we needed: Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Dunne’s (and of course “Mall Mart” – RIP) Sure it was a bit run down at the Talbot Street end, but we’ve got worse here in Vancouver. That’s not to say we never spent time on the south side of the river – I loved walking along the canal on a sunny day. St. Stephen’s Green shopping centre has a lot of stuff, and there were a lot of shops that we frequented down there. And as for shopping, there weren’t a lot of American companies with stores in Ireland; it was nice getting away from The Gap, Starbucks, Levi’s, Nike, and Sony Stores, etc. Although a lot of that’s going to change eventually. Starbucks, for example, invaded in Summer 2005; they now have 25 shops around Dublin alone.


As for that traveling I was mentioning, we spent those first 3 weeks in Cork, visited Donegal and Belfast with Brandi’s relatives, saw Waterford and Galway with my dad, and lots of the countryside in between. I saw Wexford by myself, after Brandi had gone home, although I was shown around by one of the locals. We did get to do a bit of traveling outside Ireland while we were there, to Luxor, Egypt; Oslo, Norway; and Edinburgh, Scotland. We didn’t get away as much as we had hoped, due to the high cost of living and all the money we sent home, but it was nice paying 4 cents to go to Oslo!