'We quit the capital over high rent and love life out west'
I initially moved to Dublin eight years ago for work reasons. I was reluctant to do so in the beginning. I had lived in Donegal and Galway and was very much at home on the west coast, but I eventually grew to love Dublin.
Dublin has a great charm to it and I love the natural beauty of Dublin Bay. Plus, we made lifelong friends there with some incredible people.
In recent years, the housing crisis left us wondering about our future there. Although our rent wasn't at the extreme end, it was still fairly high. It was hard to feel secure renting and, as a result, we found we weren't investing in the local community as much as we'd like.
I think there's something about the current rental environment that creates serious issues. Some say that there's nothing wrong with renting, that it's the norm throughout Europe. But there is no comparison, because in other countries there's greater security of tenure, higher quality housing and lower rents.
All of this helps create the conditions for people to really invest in their community, get to know their neighbours and create vibrant communities.
The alternative is to buy your own home, but as many people renting in Dublin will know, rent levels are often prohibitive when it comes to the possibility of saving to buy a home. It's particularly difficult if you are working in areas like health, education, the community sector or the arts that tend not to pay as well as sectors like finance and tech. So many people working in these areas are leaving Dublin, which is a big loss for the city.
The frustration we felt with our predicament led us to try to channel it into something positive and during the summer, myself and my wife Susan decided to set off on a road-trip which we called 'Road to Connection'. This involved offering talks and workshops on the theme of mental health, ecology and community empowerment all around Ireland. The trip helped us see things differently and it was during this trip that we realised it was time for a change.
We found we felt more alive on the west coast. There was something about west Clare in particular - the vibrant sense of community, and Susan's family links there - that seemed to be calling us.
I would be lying if I said the process of uprooting and moving wasn't difficult. However, we knew we needed to make a big change for our own wellbeing. The move hasn't been all plain sailing. There are real issues on the west coast with job opportunities, access to reliable broadband, poor public transport, and the housing crisis has spread here.
Having said that, the benefits far outweigh any downsides, and we are gradually starting to find our feet. I've been jumping into the Atlantic Ocean more regularly, there's a vibrant community and arts scene, and people have made us feel incredibly welcome. The old-style sense of community is palpable. I also have a bit more headspace to finally do the edits on my long overdue book, 'Hitching For Hope'.
After the initial upheaval, we're also starting to find a new rhythm with our work.
I spend a couple of days in Dublin every two weeks, which means I'm still connected there. Meanwhile, Susan is offering workplace wellbeing talks and workshops. It's still very early days but so far we have no regrets about our journey back west.
Cities will always be attractive locations but there's no doubt that the west coast, like much of rural Ireland, offers huge promise.
For more, see roadtoconnection.com