For much of the past decade, my wife’s medical training has dragged our family around Ireland and Britain. We have moved house 11 times in 10 years, through Cork, Dublin, Surrey and the Isle of Wight. Thankfully, our nomadic existence is at last coming to an end, as we settle back into where we began, in our old homestead in West Cork.
When I say “old”, I do not exaggerate. Parts of our rambling old farmhouse have stood since the 1600s, and the deeds date back to 1746. The old place appears to exert a gravitational pull on us, since it always draws us back – even from the sunny climes of the Isle of Wight. The kids adore the old house’s nooks and crannies, and spend happy hours exploring the gardens, stream, woods and fields adjacent. They never seem to tire of constructing dens in the woods, building dams in the stream, or helping me bring in firewood for winter.
Our move back was phased over many months, to help gradually introduce the kids to their new school and new friends. We began by taking longer and more frequent holidays home during the past year. The kids even spent a few happy tester weeks in the local primary school during a long Christmas break, making new friends and becoming familiar with new surroundings, and new faces.
Fortunately, they took to it like ducks to water. Our decision to move was confirmed by their evident happiness. Of course, they miss some of their old friends from the Isle of Wight, but they’ve already made many new ones here. And it’s nice to know that we are here to stay. There is, God willing, little prospect of childhood friendships being jarred apart again by another big move.
Most of my ancestors have lived in Cork for centuries, and so I feel a deep connection to the place. Yet it’s a conflicted connection, for the reminders of Ireland’s history that surround us in West Cork are not always comforting. Local monuments, edifices, churches and cemeteries all tell tales of Ireland’s often divided and troubled past. Yet, despite its history, and despite the weather, there is an easy contentment to this part of the world. Smiles come easily to people, and kindness flows unobtrusively through daily life.
After six years away from Cork, we return to find it changed. When we left, the economic crisis had left scores of unfinished ghost estates in its wake, unemployment was high, and builders were emigrating. Now, hundreds of houses are being constructed and the economy is booming. There is evident prosperity in the air, and the local towns are more colourful, bustling and multicultural than ever before. These days, Ireland is a prosperous, confident and happy place. It has its faults, of course, and not all recent developments were for the best, yet Ireland remains a fine place to raise a family. It does my heart good to hear the Cork lilt is coming back into their voices. As my eldest boy said to me the other day, “It’s good to be back where we belong, like.”