Mid-Life Adventure in Ireland

A typical day for us starts with the braying of our pet donkeys Molly and Malone. Getting up to feed them and our goats is never a chore. We left Massachusetts for Ireland to live in exactly this kind of quiet, rural oasis.

From our renovated old cottage on the hill we can gaze down to the scenic village of Ballyvaughan in north County Clare and look out over the ocean to Galway City itself. We’re constantly amazed that we ended up in such a remarkable place.

It is the beauty of the landscape that first drew us to Ireland. And falling in love with the long summer evenings is easy. But it’s the profusion of unusual flowers in north Clare that especially called out to my wife Janis, an avid gardener.

Her favorite way to spend the day is tending the many gardens she has created around the house. My favorite pastime is playing the many golf courses in the region.

So how did we end up on what we like to call our mid-life adventure? We lived on Boston’s north shore, in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a wonderful community in its own right. Both of us were working. Janis was managing audience development of America’s longest-running comedy murder mystery, Shear Madness (a play that’s still running). I was working as a researcher in provider relations at Blue Cross Blue Shield. But, as we approached age 50, we felt our lives were too predictable.

We felt the urge to shake things up, try something different.

So in 2001 we packed up and moved to the Burren region of County Clare. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Galway Bay, it’s a region of outstanding natural beauty known for its unusual flora and mild climate. It’s a karst limestone landscape—one of the largest such in Europe—and a place where you find all the magic of the “Emerald Isle.” There are ancient tombs, castles, and the region is a stronghold of traditional Irish music. The Cliffs of Moher are 11 miles away, and the Aran Islands are just off the coast and easily accessible from the ferry services in nearby Doolin.

We had discussed our move for several years, prompted by annual vacations to Scotland and Ireland. Each year the length of our vacations grew until it became three to four weeks. And we spent a lot of each vacation looking at real estate while crisscrossing the Scottish Highlands and the Republic of Ireland.

We wanted to keep a few animals, especially goats, and the price of real estate in Massachusetts that would include some land was beyond our means. But our forays into the housing market in Ireland (up to 2001) showed us we could afford something there. So the decision was made.

Our single-story bungalow is made of stone, rather than timber. When people say “stone” these days, what they really mean is cinder blocks. But ours was built in 1922, as were many just after Ireland’s struggle for independence, and made from locally-sourced stones.

We learned that the house did not have electricity or indoor plumbing until 1960, and it still didn’t have water running to the kitchen when we bought it. Although unoccupied for eight years, it was in reasonably good condition and came with two overgrown acres. We could do the yard work ourselves, but we hired professionals to install central heating, rewire the house—and run water to the kitchen. That cost us an additional $13,000 on top of the price of the property.

Apart from the natural splendor and amazing golf, we chose Ireland because it didn’t seem so far away (it was closer than California, for instance), and it was comparatively inexpensive. Flight connections between Boston and Shannon—just over an hour’s drive from us—makes it easy to travel back from time to time, and for our relatives to come visit.

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