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Desert Dreaming


Deirdre Youell: "We have a sea-view apartment for around €10,000 a year"

Deirdre Youell: "We have a sea-view apartment for around €10,000 a year"

Aoife Reilly: "I can't imagine moving back to Ireland any time soon."

Aoife Reilly: "I can't imagine moving back to Ireland any time soon."

Brid Tierney and her husband Declan

Brid Tierney and her husband Declan


John Hayes: "The year-round sun isn't very forgiving to pasty skin"

The Irish population of the UAE has soared more than 30 pc in the last two years - with 8000 in Dubai alone. We meet five ex pats to see what life is really like far from home

'Don't do anything mum wouldn't like'

NAME: John Hayes

AGE: 26

LOCATION: Dubai since 2009

ORIGINALLY FROM: Hospital, Co Limerick

OCCUPATION: Events and entertainment for Bonnington Tower Hotel and McGettigans Irish pubs. President of the Dubai Irish Society.

The decision to move wasn't an easy one, but the recession at home left me with a car that cost too much to run, a house eating into my salary and a journalist's salary that was being diminished by pay cuts.

I had the same misconceptions lots of people have about the Middle East, but Dubai is a modern, bustling city.

I get plenty of potential movers asking, "is it strict?" and my adage always is, "don't do anything on the street that your mother wouldn't like".

The holy month of Ramadan will soon be on us when eating and drinking in public is illegal, but once the sun sets, the party atmosphere returns.

When I first arrived every Irish person in Dubai knew each other – now it's hard to keep up!

The year-round sun isn't very forgiving to pasty skin and in the summer it can feel like a steam room – but eight months of very bearable weather makes up for four months of heat.


'I miss Ireland but I couldn't live there'

NAME: Deirdre Youell

AGE: 49

LOCATION: Ajman since September 2012


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My husband and I and our four kids moved to Qatar in 2007 for the money but never liked it because we missed nature too much.

We wanted to leave but still needed somewhere with pretty good terms and conditions, and Ajman turned out to be it.

Here, we have a sea-view apartment for around €10,000 a year – probably a third or quarter what it would cost in Dubai. It's also cheaper to eat and drink out – we've all the advantages of Dubai on our doorstep at a fraction of the price.

I love having the beach on our doorstep and it's a very friendly place with fully covered Muslim ladies, ladies in bikinis and me in my board shorts all in the same place. We couldn't possibly save like we do if we were in Ireland or the UK or give our children the travel and other experiences they have here.

I miss Ireland and love going home but I don't honestly want to live there. I like the sun and hate the cold, grey, rainy climate at home.

I've not met any Irish living in Ajman (though there's lots in neighbouring Sharjah); we reckon it's the UAE's best-kept secret!


'Now we live in a fabulous area'

NAME: Aoife Reilly

AGE: 30

LOCATION: Dubai since August 2008



I had been living in a tiny flat in Phibsboro driving an eight-year-old Micra while my boyfriend (now my husband Aaron) cycled 16 miles a day to work and earned a very low salary.

Now we live in a fabulous area in an enormous three-bed apartment with a sea view from our living room and a bird's eye view of the amazing dancing fountains of Dubai Mall from outside our bedroom.

I'd a great birthing experience when our daughter, Sadhbh (15 months) was born and I'd be happy to deliver here again.

If we'd remained in Ireland my teacher's salary would have been cut to shreds and Aaron, an engineer, would most likely be unemployed.

The worst thing here is the working hours. I get up at 6am, in work for 7am and sometimes don't get home until 6pm. My husband has to work in Bahrain for six months and is only home at weekends at the moment so that's been tough.

Everyone thinks that if you live in Dubai you have a great life – you can, but you certainly work hard for it.

I can't imagine moving back to Ireland any time soon. Obviously I miss my family but we Skype and Whatsapp every day and visit as much as we can.

I know whilst they miss me they know we are making a great life for Sadhbh and I love it here.


'Lure of home is always there'

NAME: Brid Tierney

AGE: 34

LOCATION: Abu Dhabi since August 2004

ORIGINALLY FROM: Killenaule, Co Tipperary

OCCUPATION: Teacher and president of the Abu Dhabi Irish Society

I moved here after taking a career break from working as a primary school teacher in an inner-city school in Limerick.

My job had become quite challenging and it felt like the perfect time for a year out, which somehow turned into nine years once I got a full-time teaching job out here.

Living and working in the Emirates is interesting, challenging and rewarding, all at the same time.

The working week is Sunday to Thursday and schools start at 7.30am. My husband, Declan Madden (also from Tipperary – we met here after moving out the same year), is also a teacher, and with all that the public sector has suffered at home, we're definitely in a much more favourable position here pay-wise.

An Irish teacher (there are 1,200 more Irish teachers arriving this September) could end up earning around €10,000 more here, and accommodation is provided by employers and sponsors.

Job permanency isn't guaranteed, and there are no trade unions to protect the rights of the workers here, which is a concern. One also has to be on one's guard all the time so as not to offend local customs with actions or words.

When we first arrived it was more to do with seeking adventure and new experiences, but now it has become clear that many people have found themselves working in Abu Dhabi simply because they have no prospects at home.

To be honest, we would love to move home if job opportunities were to present themselves.

What we have here we've worked hard for, but life is very transient and the lure of home is always there.


'You either love it or leave'

NAME: Richard Stratton

AGE: 32

LOCATION: Dubai since July 2007

ORIGINALLY FROM: Roscarberry, Co Cork

OCCUPATION: Executive chef at Rixos hotel, The Palm

I left Ireland before the credit crunch and my reasons now seem trivial – beaches, weather and tax-free incentives. Although not being able to purchase a house in Ireland also left me free to leave.

Dubai isn't an easy city to adapt to. You either love it beyond belief – like I do – or you don't get it and leave after three months like many friends I've known.

The climate is hot and sticky during the summer and city life caters largely to 24- to 40-year-olds with many people working 14-hour days, six days a week – but you're paid well, so I say get on with it.

Housing is a little crowded, we all live in huge skyscrapers with only a couple of lifts, so you get used to living very closely with different cultures. I'm still shocked and amazed by the sky-scrapers and love sleeping with the curtains open, looking at the beauty of the city's lights.

I make double my salary in Dubai for the same job I had in Ireland, my rent is paid, as are all my medical insurances, staff are fed up to three meals a day here, it's tax-free and it only costs €16 to fill a large-engine sports car with no road tax and insurance under €300 a year.

I miss my family and Barry's Gold Blend teabags! But the positives far outweigh the bad. Dubai's what you make of it, you can see it as a sandpit or an amazing adventure.

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