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Is a move to the country really all it's cracked up to be?

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Mark and Kira Walton

Mark and Kira Walton

Dingle - the country life appealed to many after house prices in Dublin spiralled out of control

Dingle - the country life appealed to many after house prices in Dublin spiralled out of control

Dominic Stevens

Dominic Stevens

Moira Ni Gallachoir

Moira Ni Gallachoir

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Mark and Kira Walton

It's the stuff that dreams are made of. The notion of finding the perfect house in the country and making the move there has occupied the minds of city dwellers for aeons.

But how many have actually taken the leap into a completely different life in rural Ireland?

The reality for many city slickers is that fears about jobs, mortgages and uprooting children mean that this dream of a country idyll usually gets put on ice - indefinitely.

For others who have been bold enough to take the plunge, swapping the hectic pace of urban living for a rural existence has certainly proven life changing. But has their "great escape" affected them for the better or the worse?

To find out the answers we talked to three once die-hard slickers who made that big lifestyle leap. We asked them about this big change in life and whether, after years in situ, they've had a change of heart. So do they want out or are they happy to stay put?

Great Escape 1, London to Donegal

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Moira Ni Gallachoir

Moira Ni Gallachoir

Moira Ni Gallachoir

In 2012 the then London based Moira Ni Gallachoir swapped shopping trips to Oxford and sushi in Soho for a life in west Donegal.

Having travelled extensively after university, Ni Gallachoir settled in London working for an organisation that helped the homeless. For six years she rented small flats, the first in Camden, then in Brixton.

After trying to buy a place of her own for nine months she grew frustrated with what was available. It was at this point that the offer of her grandparents' house - just outside Gortahork in the Donegal Gaeltacht - started to seem very appealing.

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Ni Gallachoir took the plunge and moved over to renovate the old family homestead, advertising the house on Air B&B to make some extra cash to fund the renovations. She also set about starting her own bi-lingual tourism business, mng.ie and today she works as much through the Irish language as English with local businesses, festivals and events. Ni Gallachoir today organises adventure and cultural experiences called "Rock agus Roam" in the stunning northwesternmost tip of Donegal.

While she says it was hard to give up her salary, the move allowed her the breathing space to be creative and gave her the impetus to set up her own business. From her front window today she can see Errigal, Donegal's highest peak. The view from a side window is Muckish Mountain and the 2km stretch of golden sand on Magheraroarty beach.

"I realise now that I wanted out of the city. The missing piece for me was Donegal - that was what I was craving. I knew if I could find that, I would have the head space to do something. It's way more than I could have dreamed of - I feel like I'm more inspired here. I have time for the first time. I wouldn't go back to the city now," says Ni Gallachoir.

Verdict: Thumbs up

Great Escape 2, Dublin to Leitrim

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Dominic Stevens

Dominic Stevens

Dominic Stevens

 

When he returned from working in Berlin in 1995, architect Dominic Stevens next spent several years based in Dublin.

Property prices were going up and he began to look at the idea of building his own home in the country. In 1999 he moved to a small townland in Co Leitrim not far from Carrick-on-Shannon and built a house relatively cheaply.

The ease of access of Carrick-on-Shannon to Dublin was significant in the choice of location, along with his own interest, as an architect, in rural Ireland.

"At the time property prices were increasing. I didn't want to be straddled with a big mortgage and Leitrim was just a two hour drive from Dublin," says Stevens, explaining his motivation for his move.

Stevens says his life in Leitrim has evolved greatly since he first moved there. He and his wife divorced five years ago and he built a new home in the townland of Cloone, not far from the family home, so he could be near his two children.

The economic downturn also meant that work in his private practice was much scarcer so he now combines an urban and rural existence, lecturing in architecture in DIT on Dublin's Bolton Street while continuing to practice.

The architect was particularly interested in using the construction of his home to show that good dwellings can be inexpensive - his cost less than €30,000 all in to build.

"My house is small. It's quite compact. I was interested in using it to show that you can build houses quite cheaply," he says.

He emphasises that his motivation in moving to rural parts was not to retreat from life. "When you're in the country you realise it's just as alive as the city. For me creativity is in response to people, places and things. My creativity involves people. At the same time there's this great complete quietness and complete darkness."

"I've a big south facing window that looks out on to fields and trees. It's not a 'big' landscape and it's peaceful. I have neighbours around me and it's not devoid of people," adds Stevens. "Leitrim has attracted musicians and artists. I have a nice collection of friends. There's a really nice community here."

Verdict: Thumbs up

Great Escape 3, Dublin to Sligo

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Mark and Kira Walton

Mark and Kira Walton

Mark and Kira Walton

Growing up in Sligo, Mark Walton's earliest memories are of sitting in a boat fishing.

But like many young people, he left home to go to college, in his case Newcastle in England. He returned to Ireland and did a Masters in Queens University, Belfast and moved to Dublin where he worked for several companies including Vodafone.

Living in an apartment in Dublin's Parnell Square, he commuted to his work in Sandyford but began to get tired of the daily grind.

His brother Neil had set up the popular Voya seaweed baths in Strandhill in Sligo, and 13 years ago Mark persuaded his wife Kira to move to Sligo. The couple joined the business and created the award-winning Voya range of products which are now sold to spas all over the country and throughout the world.

"I thought it would take a lot of persuading to get Kira to move here. In her mind I think she didn't see herself moving to Sligo and see the relationship surviving. But I brought her to Sligo for a visit and she became as enamoured with it as I am, and she was a real city girl," says Mark.

"I'm not trying to sell Sligo but I travel quite a lot for business and in terms of quality of life I could never imagine moving anywhere else," he explains.

Their home overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and Mark has swapped hours of commuting every day for a five minute journey to work and back. Lunch is often a sandwich on the beach followed by a walk.

From the month of March on, he often rises at 6.30am, spends two hours surfing and is still at his desk in work by 9.15am.

"There's so much to do in the evenings. Every evening I'm surfing or walking. For us the business is very demanding but the space this place affords us is worth all the tea in China," he says.

The couple bought what they call a modest home on Strandhill Road and are currently looking for a site on which to build their dream home.

"We are hoping for that amazing house that has a combination of the view and the location. We just need to be patient and we will find that dream home," says Mark.

Verdict: Thumbs up


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