From the first moment that Marilyn Cullen heard the strains of traditional Irish music in Ennis, County Clare, she knew she had found her retirement destination. “The music, the creativity, and the arts here are a magnet for expats from all over the world,” says the 65-year-old Californian.
But it wasn’t just the region’s rich musical heritage that attracted Marilyn. “The people are spectacular! The warmth of the locals really blew me away. There’s something about their friendliness and openness; they would give you the shirt off their back,” she says.
County Clare, on Ireland’s west coast, couldn’t be farther from Marilyn’s life in the suburbs of Los Angeles. “There’s no traffic, and none of the noise or the tensions of LA here,” she says. “It’s so quiet here that guests from LA who stay with me can’t sleep that first night because it’s too quiet! Then, when they go back, they can’t sleep because it’s too noisy.”
Marilyn first came to Ireland in 1986 and went to the Fleadh Nua, a traditional music festival held each May in the vibrant market town of Ennis.
Her visits to Clare became annual events after that, each lasting longer than the last. Along with her husband, Ted, Marilyn decided to buy an acre of land and build a vacation home in the countryside near Inagh.
A small village halfway between Ennis and the town of Ennistymon, Inagh is around 20 minutes from the wild Atlantic coast and only a 40-minute drive to Shannon Airport, where direct flights connect to Boston, Newark, and New York. A local contractor completed the two-bedroom bungalow in early 1992 at a cost of around $53 per square foot.
“We never considered buying property anywhere else in Ireland,” says Marilyn. “The people were so friendly, creative, and open right from the start. I still have close friends from my very first visit. They advised and guided my every move. And they even vouched for me to others. How do you take LA over that?”
It’s the trust and generosity of her neighbors that has been so inspiring to her. “I couldn’t exist without them,” she confides. “In America you have this culture of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, a do-it-on-your-own, pioneer type of mentality, but really you can’t do it on your own; we’re interdependent. That’s the way we’re made. When I moved, for instance, I found that not all of my furniture would fit into the house, and my neighbors volunteered to store some bookcases, chairs, and my dining-room table.”
Marilyn returns those favors without asking, by running neighbors to the doctor or to work, taking them to church, picking something up for them when she does her own weekly shopping run to Ennis, and actively participating in the nearby Kilnamona Ladies’ Club. “It’s what you do,” she says. Neighbors really look out for one another.
Editor’s note: The full version of this article is available online for subscribers to the IL magazine only. It also includes details on Irish visas, residency and tracing your Irish ancestors.