Friday 20 September 2019

'In Boston I never saw my wife or son due to daily six-hour commute - so we bought a farm in Ireland'

With a rise in people leaving the US to come to rural Ireland, Christian Connors explains why he and his family decided to uproot their life and move to a farm in Sligo

Christian Connors and family
Christian Connors and family

Christian Connors

I've been a contracts negotiator for the past 25 years. For the last six years I was a contracts manager for the company's transportation department.

Life was hectic. From Monday to Friday I commuted three hours each way into Boston. The sacrifice was not seeing my wife Jodi and my son Tristan (11) much during the week. We lived in a conservation area in New Hampshire - 90km north of Boston - which was good for Tristan. But I felt I was missing out with my boy.

Jodi and I met in Boston, we got married in 2005 and then Tristan came along. For years we've been looking for something different. We looked at France - we'd actually found a place in France - but as we looked further into it, there was a pull towards Ireland.

Throughout our lives and in all the countries we'd travelled to, we had never travelled to Ireland. Then this place - Ballaghboy Lodge Farm at Ballinafad in Co Sligo - popped up. The selling agent, Joe Brady of REA Estate Agents in Carrick-on-Shannon, said he is seeing more and more people from the US who want to move to rural Ireland (according to a nationwide survey by the Real Estate Alliance, 22pc of overseas enquiries about Irish property in 2017 came from the US).

Tristan Connors, son of Jodie and Christian Connors feeding a donkey at Ballaghboy Lodge Farm, Ballinafad, Co. Sligo. Photo: James Connolly
Tristan Connors, son of Jodie and Christian Connors feeding a donkey at Ballaghboy Lodge Farm, Ballinafad, Co. Sligo. Photo: James Connolly

Our reasons for wanting to purchase the farm were similar to the original owners Karen and Eddie Litton's rationale when they sought it out and created it in 2004.

The view from the property was enchanting and it has such a rich heritage. It's been a 15-year journey getting here. We just clicked with this place.

Jodi had a feeling that it was meant to be and now we live here even though we'd never been before we came to look at the house, which has become our home.

Over the years Jodi and I enjoyed travelling and experiencing other cultures. We loved the culture of people coming together over a meal and having conversations about likes and dislikes. You don't really get that in the US, where people would linger over a meal.

Having lived all over the world, America is a fantastic place for the young and energetic. If you want to strive to make anything of yourself, the possibilities are endless. But as our priorities in life changed we were looking for something else. The political landscape (in the US) only made it easier to leave.

We wanted to make a conscious effort to slow down and to connect, not only with ourselves as a family, but with friends and neighbours. We are looking forward to getting involved at a local level and really welcoming people into our home.

We've had people stop by the house and every single person has been invited in and they've sat down and had a cup of tea. There's something really nice about it - that doesn't seem to happen in the US. People don't have the time and you wonder why all the rush?

We want to run the house as a guest house and provide a place for people to come, whether to stay a few nights or a week, but to come and slow down. We hope we can bring over some American guests too and they can learn to breathe again and just take time out.

As a family, we want to 'unplug' a bit. We're not against electronic media - there's an extreme that people can get to and we're not there. Going out for meals in Boston we'd see families where every single person was looking at a screen and we want people to be able to come here and not be doing that. As a family, come dinner time, we turn the phones off.

We're focusing now on putting our stamp on things. There's still lots to do and things to be taken care of like painting and gardening, and we need to re-do the bathrooms and the kitchen.

We're home-schooling Tristan this year because we knew it would be a time of upheaval for him. We'll finish out this year with him being home-schooled and then evaluate things.

We hope to be open for business in July - we were hoping for June but there's so much to do.

Everybody has said we were so brave doing this but it's not a word we'd use to describe ourselves - crazy maybe, but not brave. We were looking for something different.

People have been unbelievably generous to us. We've had neighbours come with flowers and notes of welcoming. It made us feel very welcome. People have been so willing to help us and answer our questions. There's just a willingness to spend time and chat. People are interested in us - they've asked us questions and they've answered our questions.

It's a blessing to be around people who are naturally warm and friendly and outgoing. It's fantastic.

That little bit of insecurity drives missing the things you know. We've invested everything in this house. The biggest reason I'd miss our old lives is because I'm so familiar with it. It's what I know and it's what I've done. They're not the healthiest reasons for missing what you left behind. But there's no point in looking back. We've just got to keep moving forward.

When I handed in my notice, my general manager asked if he could persuade me to stay. But unless you do it, you'll never know. We didn't want to say "you should have done it". We had some savings and we always knew it would be a risk but that's our way of living. When we look back, we can say we gave it our best shot and we weren't afraid to go for something.

Our adventurous sides can't wait to get out and discover the area. It's so beautiful. And when guests come, we'll be able to say "this is the best spot for fishing" and make recommendations for them.

In conversation with Kathy Donaghy

Irish Independent

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