Ruairí McKiernan, a charity founder and social entrepreneur, has just moved from Dublin to West Clare with his wife Susan Quirke, a meditation teacher and musician also known as 'Susie Q'. After eight years of renting in Dublin, the couple decided to answer the call of the west. Here, Ruairi tells Independent.ie how their life-changing decision has brought them a slower pace of life, joy and adventure
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. Aside from its many challenges, Dublin has a great charm to it, a real sense of history, and I love the natural beauty of Dublin Bay. Plus we made life-long 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 that we weren’t investing in the local community as much as we’d like which isn’t good for the soul. I think there’s something about the current rental environment that creates serious issues here. 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 healthy 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. I know it’s the same in other cities. It’s a really sad situation, causing unnecessary stress and suffering for many people. Too often people are internalising what is a systemic problem, and I feel we need to speak out more about that.
The frustration we felt with our predicament led us to try and 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 that we felt more alive on the west coast. I think it was in part because we were around the expansiveness of vast, beautiful nature. There’s no doubt this eases your nervous system. 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 - not just the practicalities, but also navigating the sense of the unknown, and trusting that things would work out. However, we knew we needed to make a big change for our own wellbeing, and ultimately we believe in life being an adventure, so we had to walk our own talk.
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. We’re still living in temporary accommodation as most of the rentals seem to be reserved for Airbnb and holiday homes.
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. We’ve been invited to so many gatherings, it’s been truly heartwarming. 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've been offered consultancy on various social innovation projects, as well as speaking opportunities throughout Clare and Limerick and I'm doing leadership mentoring and coaching work via Skype with clients throughout Ireland and internationally. I'm also continuing to work on my Love and Courage podcast. 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, teaching meditation, and getting ready to release her next single from her forthcoming album.
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. With the right investment, vision and support, a rural revival is possible that offers a win-win for everyone. As to what lies ahead for us, I have no idea. We’re trusting the unfolding and taking it one day at a time while learning to slow down, simplify, and enjoy life.
For more, see www.roadtoconnection.com