‘We wanted to be back in Ireland for all the big events, good and bad’
Returning to Ireland Q&A: Karen O’Reilly and her family have no regrets about moving home to Clonakilty from France
Why did you decide to return from abroad?
We moved to France in 2002, and lived near Perpignan on the Spanish border until 2013, when we decided to move back to Ireland. Our children were eight and six, and we felt it was a “now or never” moment before they got entrenched with friends.
We were both running our own businesses but felt we were being held back by the anti-entrepreneur mentality in France, especially with Francois Hollande at the helm.
We had a wonderful life in France, living five minutes from the Med and an hour from the ski slopes. We loved our big circle of friends, both French and expat, but with the French, we never really got them and they never really got us. We knew our dear expat friends would all eventually pack up and move back “home”, so there was always a temporary element to our expat friendships.
We missed the craic and the banter and the openness and friendliness of Irish people. We wanted our children to grow up to be Irish. We wanted to be home for the communions, the weddings, the significant birthdays, St Patricks Day, 99s in the summer, the country on a high on a rare sunny day, the radio shows, Munster matches, Limerick hurling days, the enormous charity of a small nation in times of need, creamy Guinness that doesn’t taste the same anywhere else in the world, country pubs, laughing so hard it hurt, taking the mickey out of everything, the inevitable sing song at the end of a party, people smiling, and the warm family hugs.
We also wanted to be back to lend solidarity on the bad days, to be there for the funerals and the sad times. A phone call or a Skype call is not just the same as being there to hold someone’s hand.And so we made the momentous decision, 12 years and two kids after leaving, to come home. A year a half later, we have no regrets.
Where have you moved to in Ireland? Is this where you are from originally? And why did you choose this place?
My Mom moved to Clonakilty about 10 years ago and although we are originally from Limerick, every time we came to Ireland on holidays from France, we would stay in Clonakilty. We fell in love West Cork and felt it would be a great place to bring up our kids. We weren’t wrong, and the children are thriving in their new schools. I genuinely feel like we have won the lottery. It’s the people that make a place special and I am still blown away by the generosity of spirit, the friendliness, the wonderful sense of community and how warmly we have been welcomed. It’s also a stunningly beautiful spot, close to the mountains and the sea, and boasting probably the best food in Ireland.
Did talk of an economic recovery in Ireland influence your decision?
We were ready to love back so the economic situation in Ireland did not really influence our decision. France is in dire straits economically, and the general public are seriously unhappy. Taxes are rising every year and people really do struggle to survive. Entrepreneurs are penalised at every turn as the socialist government attempts to keep the people down.
How much research did you do before leaving France? Did you have schools or jobs lined up, for example?
We had schools lined up for the kids. They go to two different schools, a boys and a girls school. Segregation was new for them, as were the uniforms ( a God send!). We were invited to meet the principals in both schools, and they interviewed the children. The atmosphere in both schools is one of nurturing and inclusiveness.
How have your children adjusted?
Our children are very happy and love their new schools and friends. They are very sporty, which helps, and they are loving their new GAA sports. We live in a housing estate in Clonakilty and there is great freedom; the kids play on the green every day and cycle everywhere. Our house is an open home which I love, and there are always kids coming and going. This does not really happen in France. They also love having their granny living close by, who spoils them rotten of course.
What is your impression of the economy in Ireland now that you have returned? Did you have a realistic view from afar?
We have been fairly regular visitors to Ireland and so were in touch. I think Irish people should go and live in France for a while, pay all the onerous taxes and social charges (and water charges), live on far less income, and then tell me what they have to complain about in Ireland.
Nowhere is perfect and Ireland’s medical system is probably not as good as the system in France, but the average Irish person is far better off than the average French person, who is taxed to the hilt.
What challenges have you faced since returning to Ireland?
The one thing we miss the most is the excellent wine we had on our doorstep. Living in the Languedoc Roussillon region, the largest vineyard in the world, we were spoilt for choice.
I took a career break, wanting to get the children settled into their new environment. I am currently looking for work so we’ll see how that goes.
Has anything else surprised you since you returned?
In France, people dress very conservatively and so it was a shock to me to see young teenage girls caked in makeup and dressed in tiny skirts high heels. I am dreading those years with my daughter, who is now ten.
Are there any other downsides to being back?
I left my only sister in France – we were in business together for over 12 years so I miss her terribly, as well as my niece and nephew.
What tips or advice would you give others considering the move back?
Choose carefully where you decide to live. Having family close by has been such a help to us. Be positive and embrace all that is great about Ireland. If you are unsure about moving back, rent for a year (we did) and leave your options open.
Overall, has the move been worth it? Would you consider moving abroad again in the future, or are you here to stay?
We have absolutely no regrets. We will definitely stay in Ireland now while the children are in school. I think it’s unfair on the kids to move around unnecessarily. We’ll be here for the next ten years at least. After that, I would love to live somewhere warm for at least part of the year.