'Financially, it was a disastrous move' - Couple who sold-up and left Dublin for the country share their regrets
'A true blue city girl', poet Jean O’Brien is happy to be back living in Dublin.
The poet , who has just had her fifth collection Fish on a Bicycle published, and Conor, a freelancer in editing and digital publishing, and their then 12-year-old daughter, Aoife, sold up in leafy Dartry in late 2005 and moved to Portarlington in early 2006.
"We were both self-employed with no pensions and decided to cash in our asset to buy a second house in Dublin to rent," Jean says.
"The price we paid for our rental was the highest ever achieved in the area and hasn’t come up anywhere near that since.
"We moved from a lovely area in Dublin near great schools, shops and river walks. Our house was a nice half-redbricked four-bedroom property. Conor and Aoife fell in love with a house a few miles outside Portarlington — a beautiful one-off with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a sauna, gym, two offices and an enormous garden," she recalls.
That super-sized garden turned out to be part of the problem. "How naive was I in not realising it was not so much a garden as a huge field that would need regular mowing and that I would be the one mainly doing it on a ride-on lawnmower," laments Jean now.
"Initially it was terrific. We landed on a country lane with around 12 houses. We were warmly welcomed by neighbours and have remained friendly with some since," Jean recalls. "But at the end of the day you’re moving into a tight-knit related community where you’re forever a blow-in. One particular neighbour helped smooth out a lot of potential problems, helping us to source tradesmen and showing us how things worked, such as the septic tank and grease trap — us city folk had never heard the like."
Aoife had to be driven to and from school whereas in Dublin she had started going on her own. During second year, she became unhappy and boarded back in Dublin. "In the end, I just felt too cut off from Dublin and although there are great and innovative arts offices in Laois and Offaly, there weren’t the same opportunities as in Dublin. I can go to friends’ book launches and readings by hopping on the Luas, without having to ask someone if I can stay over, or face the drive home in the dark."
A contributing factor to the decision to return was the availability of health services. Says Jean: "I have an ongoing heart condition and during the eight years I lived in Offaly, I was attending the hospital/doctor in Dublin regularly.
"Our business — a walking magazine — wasn’t doing well and we had to close it. We decided that maintaining our daughter in Dublin in college and running two cars was no longer viable and that as we got older we would be rattling around in a large house with never-ending grass. We were very lucky in having the option of selling up and moving into our rental in Kilmainham."
In a very sluggish market, it took almost a year-and-a-half to sell their Portarlington property. "We hadn’t bargained on that and at the end of the day, we achieved half what we paid for it, when we sold in 2014."
They are now happy in their new Dublin neighbourhood. "I covered the back garden in gravel as if I never cut a blade of grass again, it will be too soon."
Jean’s advice is to research an area carefully. "Appreciate if you’re not going to live within walking distance of a town and have no family support, you need to plan carefully and have two cars.
"Although property-wise you can get an awful lot more bang for your buck, remember that if you contemplate selling up, it can take an awful long time in the country and every passing breeze and gossip can reduce your price."
Jean is chalking the whole thing down to experience. "A true blue city girl, I did have a blast, even if financially, it was a disastrous move for us."