When Moon Living Abroad in Ireland author and journalist Christina McDonald first visited Ireland, she was seduced by the emerald green of the countryside, the colorful, terraced houses, and the friendly, charismatic people. A year after returning home to America, she decided to make the move to Ireland to pursue a master's degree in journalism. We asked Christina to share some tips and advice about life in Ireland, and she was happy to help.
Living Abroad in Ireland with Christina McDonald
1. What are a few things that draw people to move to Ireland?
I think a lot of people have at least a little Irish in them, and this makes us feel like we are all cousins of a sort. In fact, the Irish often joke about people coming over in search of their “great, great, great aunt’s cousin, twice removed.” But it’s this link to Ireland—however tenuous—that people love. There is also a little bit of the romanticized Ireland that people are drawn to: leprechauns, fairies, four-leaf clovers, etc. This mythical idea of Ireland draws a lot of people. St. Patrick’s Day is huge, too, in North America particularly; it’s a holiday when people can let go, drink a few pints, and have the craic (good times) with good friends, and it makes us all feel just a little Irish inside.
2. What do you consider to be essential items to pack before moving to Ireland? Are there any things you just can’t find there?
Jif peanut butter and Kraft macaroni and cheese. It’s such a staple in many Americans’ cupboards, but they don’t have it over there. Sometimes when you’re away from home and you’re feeling a little homesick, you just want the basics from your childhood. Other than food products, though, you really don’t have to bring much more than your personals. Ireland is on a completely different electrical system, so don’t even bother bringing anything that plugs in. Anything else you need, you can easily find.
3. Where is the best St. Patrick’s Day parade?
Last year there were more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades across Ireland, but the biggest and best is definitely Dublin’s. About 550,000 spectators attended their parade last year. The Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade began in 1996, and is the main reason that St. Patrick’s Day is so hugely celebrated throughout the world. It is truly an international festival, of which the Irish are very proud. It celebrates the talents and achievements of Irish people of every age and social background, and is a day that everyone around the world wants to be Irish. Dublin’s streets are jammed from early morning until late at night every day of the three-day festival, which offers a fair, music, céilí’s (traditional Irish dancing), and culminates in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
4. What are some of your favorite things to eat that are unique to Ireland?
While you can get Irish stew just about anywhere, it never tastes as good as when you get it in a dark, cozy pub—with a pint of Guinness—in Ireland. Tayto crisps (chips) are like potato chips, but better somehow. Barry’s Tea, made in Cork, is my staple. Wherever I go in the world I always make sure to have my Barry’s Tea.
5. How does the cost of living compare to North America?
Ireland can be quite an expensive country compared to North America, but on the flip side, you do get subsidized healthcare and reasonable public transportation, which saves you money. If you live in a city or town center you will never have to buy a car, as walking or taking buses is easier (and cheaper). Going out to eat or going out for drinks can be quite expensive, but if you shop carefully you can generally get a lot of groceries for relatively little money. However, this all depends on where you are from. If you are coming over from New York, the cost will be a bit more comparable, but if you’re coming over from a tiny little town in Ohio, you should have a good chunk of money saved. Of course, prices in Ireland have started to drop some since the recession hit, so it is more affordable today than it was five years ago.
6. Where did you spend the most time when you first arrived? Where do you go now that you know the country better?
When I first arrived, I stayed in Dublin. I think it’s the best place to base yourself. Everywhere in the Republic is less than three to four hours from Dublin by train, so it’s very conveniently located. If you’re in the city center, you don’t even need to rent a car; while Dublin is a city, it isn’t massive, so you can walk most of it in a day. Alternatively, there are also easy public transport options for getting around. Now that I know Ireland better, I go to either Galway or Dublin. I just love Dublin, and it’s where a lot of my friends are; on the other hand, I went to college in Galway, and the bohemian, laid-back attitude of the city really draws me. It’s perched right on Galway Bay, and is just a beautiful town. You couldn’t find a city that better represents Ireland so authentically.
7. Are there any significant cultural differences people should be aware of when moving to Ireland?
Not really. The Irish are a fairly laid-back bunch. Make sure to use your knife and fork (rather than just your fork) while eating, and don’t talk too loud. The Irish don’t like loud, abrasive people, despite their penchant for being loud after a few pints. And if you get teased, don’t take it too personally—just laugh along.
8. What do you love most about life in Ireland?
I love the laid-back attitude and the ability to just be myself and feel accepted. I like the sarcastic sense of humor and the ability to laugh just about anything off. I felt like people in America took things quite seriously. The Irish are on the opposite end of the spectrum: they don’t take things seriously at all. Even now, when their country is in a deep recession, they still go to the pub and laugh it off and know that, eventually, things will come back around. I love that sense of optimism. And I love the sense of family and community that everybody has.
9. Should someone moving to Ireland find housing before they leave or look upon arrival?
I would suggest researching the area you want to live in and having a general idea about the location you are interested in—whether it caters to young professionals, families, retired people, etc. But don’t sign any leases or pay any deposits until after you have arrived and had a chance to visually inspect the place. You can get short-term accommodation in B&B’s or vacation rental homes while you look for more permanent accommodation.
10. What would people be surprised to know about life in Ireland?
I think a lot of people have this romantic idea of a cottage in the country and life being grand and leprechauns dancing with a pot of gold. Life in Ireland is still life. You still have to pay your bills, go grocery shopping, put gas in the car, all the normal things. Ireland is stunningly beautiful and you can have a lot of fun, but you should definitely go for a vacation before just up and moving there. Otherwise, you might be surprised when you get to Ireland and you’re surrounded by constant rain, poor public transportation out in the villages, blaring traffic in the cities, and isolation if you live in your cottage in the country. Be realistic and find out what you want before you go.
For more information, buy a copy of Moon Living Abroad in Ireland.