There were four in a bed and the little one said… It’s 8:20 a.m. in rainy Limerick and the Mooney family is all snuggled up in bed.
We just moved back to Ireland from New York where I worked with Irish Voice newspaper for many years. Now it is time to face realities back here.
John is on the Internet researching best man speeches – his best friend/cousin Eoin Markham is getting married on Friday in Galway. Colum (18-months) is guzzling a cup of milk, Sadie (3-months) is very busy trying to turn over, and well, I’m on the laptop writing this.
It’s nice when it’s raining in Ireland to be wrapped up in duvet covers listening to the slush of car tires as they pass by on the wet road and know that all those rain coats I purchased in New York before leaving will be put to good use.
It’s been a busy week in the Mooney household. We’ve been traipsing around Limerick viewing houses to rent for the foreseeable future.
It’s proving a very difficult task to get an unfurnished home. It’s customary in Ireland to rent a house fully furnished. Very handy if your starting out in life, but not so useful if you have a container full of American furniture about to land in Ireland any day now.
There are only about 10 unfurnished homes in the whole of Limerick. We are talking to some more real estate agents today so will see.
It was the June bank holiday weekend here. (Monday was a day off). Following on from the beautiful weather the previous week people bought burgers and beer in the hope of throwing barbeques.
Unfortunately Limerick and Kerry were a wash out on Saturday. It was the first time it rained since our return 10 days earlier.
In Tralee, my home town, I was adamant not to let the rain deter me from my plans, so at about 10 a.m. on Saturday morning I threw on one of those recently purchased fancy rain coats, put Sadie in a rain proof stroller and walked into Tralee town from my mother’s house (only about 20 minutes).
It was nice. It was the first time since our arrival home that it felt like the old Ireland I knew, rainy and cool, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
The rest of the nation didn’t, however. Everyone I met commented about the rain.
“It’s an awful day out there isn’t it,” said a shop keeper while charging me $5 for a sandwich.
“You’re a brave woman taking that baby out in this weather,” said a disgruntled looking middle aged man as we shared a footpath.
“I was supposed to wear a dress out to dinner tonight but the fake tan will run off my legs if this rain continues so I’m going to wear the new jeans I got from Penneys,” said one of my friends.
I think we all know Irish people are a little obsessed about the rain – it dominates every conversation and is the only ice-breaker used when you first meet someone.
But what I quickly learned after a few days in Ireland is that it isn’t just the rain we are obsessed with -- it’s any kind of climate.
People complained throughout the 10 days of beautiful weather we had before the rain crept back down from the mountains.
“It’s way too hot,” said almost everyone.
“I wish it would drop a few degrees because if this continues I’ll have to give up work,” joked a man doing his garden.
It was only about 78 degrees, maybe 82 at the highest.
But despite the up and down weather over the weekend I managed to catch up with some of my best friends for a girl’s weekend. Two of my closest friends, Niamh, a teacher, and Michelle, a doctor, have both had two kids each since I left for New York nine years ago.
Saturday was the first time in nine years all of us were together with our babies. We sat back and laughed at how much we had accomplished in such a short period of time.
Colum was mesmerized by Niamh’s oldest daughter Eabha. He made every attempt possible to hold her hand. It was adorable.
It didn’t feel that long ago that we were outside in the green area of our housing estate playing rounders, the Irish equivalent to baseball, and chasing boys.
On Saturday night we left the babies at home and 12 of us sat around one of Tralee’s finest restaurants, Denny Lane, drinking wine and catching up on the past nine years. It was a fantastic night – one that doesn’t happen much now for the girls since the recession, but a night that we promised will be repeated again in the not so distant future.
I recently had a stroll around a local shopping center near John’s mom’s house in Limerick. I was disappointed, but not surprised I guess, to see many of the previously occupied shop units empty.
As Dunnes Stores consumed a number of units on one side of the mall, the other side was nearly void of life except for a phone and sports store (both are chains).
Two and a half years ago when we were home for our wedding most of these units were open but struggling I guess. The recession finally caught up to them.
And the recession has taken a big fat bite out of our young Irish. If I’m being honest most of my friends (mainly in their thirties – some married with kids, others single) are working and getting by fine, but it’s their younger sisters and brothers that are leaving in their droves. They call it the “Brian Drain.”
Louise, 25, spent a year in Australia before returning to Irish shores. Armed with a degree in psychology the young Kerry woman searched high and low for a job in her field.
When that proved fruitless she searched for any kind of work. The only offer she got was a part time job in a clothing store that paid minimum wage €8.65 euro ($10.75). Knowing she couldn’t survive on only 12 hours a week Louise booked a one way ticket to London where she is currently working in an accountancy firm.
A friend of mine is due to fly to Canada for her brother’s wedding in three weeks. Her brother immigrated to Toronto two years ago after failing to get a job in Ireland. He has a diploma in engineering and was let go from his job in the summer of 2010.
He met a Canadian girl a year and a half ago and they are to be married soon. His sister tells me he will never live in Ireland again.
“I’m only home for the weekend,” Brenda told me outside Penneys clothing store in Tralee on Saturday.
Brenda is 20 and has been in London since January.
“At the start I hated it but I think I’m getting used to it now,” she said.
Brenda works in a factory in London. She works six days a week and every seven or eight weeks comes back to Ireland for the weekend to see her family.
“I’m a home bird. I love being with my sisters and brothers and their kids so I come home as often as I can. I work hard, save up the money to fly back and it works out,” she told me.
Brenda doesn’t really like the social life in England and has made little friends.
“I moved over to my cousin who is there a year longer than me and we usually just go to the cinema or local pub at weekends. I prefer to go out in Ireland,” she added.
Australia is also a final destination for many young Irish.
Jennifer, 23, has her flight to Australia booked for June 19. She lost her job in a nursing home in Limerick a month ago. Nothing has surfaced since, so Australia is her only hope now for a job.
“Seven out of 19 from my class in school have emigrated. Six of them are in Aus so I’m going over to them to give it a try,” said Jennifer.
“There is nothing here at the moment so I’ll head away, make a bit of money to keep me and hopefully I’ll come back to Ireland in a few years with a bit of money to buy a house and maybe a husband if I’m lucky,” joked Jennifer.
My own cousin Carly, Colum’s godmother, is leaving for Australia next month. Carly left Ireland a few years ago for a job in Luxembourg so moving again isn’t a big deal to her.
She is following her best friend Gemma who left Tralee two months ago for a better life. We will miss Carly and hope she won’t stay there forever.
So that’s it. There is definitely sadness among my friends and their families as the younger generation are being forced to leave the country in search of work.
I hope more than anything that when the time rolls around for my children to find a job that there will be plenty. But for them they have an alternative. They are American citizens and will always have the option of moving to the United States.
But John and I hope and pray that Ireland will be back in full swing by then and Colum and Sadie won’t want to leave us.