Posted by: Janet | July 14, 2009

Coming to Ireland

     I have been asked to write my impressions about coming to live in Ireland.  Over 40 years ago, in the summer of 1968, I found out I was coming to Ireland.  In the summer of 1966 I left the sunny state of California to go to Nairobi Kenya.  I arrived in August – about 10 days earlier another single person arrived in Nairobi from Belfast Northern Ireland.  We were each taking up new jobs, staying at the same guest facility, the United Kenya Club, which catered for newly arrived or transient ex-pats.  I guess we were destined to meet.  A year and a half later, in February 1968, we were married in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, a stone’s throw away from the United Kenya Club where we had stayed as newcomers to the country.

      As August 1968 approached we were each coming to the end of our contracts.  New husband Ian started applying for jobs back in the Northern Hemisphere.  On the condition that he was to take the job if it were offered, he was called to interview for a research post at An Foras Forbartha  in Dublin.  This sounded good to us so he accepted the call and flew north.  A few days later, following his interview, he phoned me in Nairobi to tell me he had had orange juice for breakfast.  That was most exciting news!  No, finally he got to the point and told me he had been offered the job and had agreed to start early in October.  My fate was sealed.

     In anticipation of our home-to-be I found what books I could in Nairobi.  One was a book by Mary Bromage about Eamonn De Valera.   This book was first published in 1956 and the edition I had was 1967.


De Valera by Mary Bromage    1967 edition – this book is often seen at Book Fairs, in fact I have a copy (not the one I bought in 1968) for sale among the 300+ books I have been offering for sale at the recent Dublin City Book Fairs.

       Another book which I bought in inticipation of our move was by Maurice O’Sullivan, Twenty Years A Growing, about leaving the Blasket Islands.  My edition was a small size and the print was correspondingly small.  It is a classic.   I found it rather slow going but I feel I should now read it again.  It was originally published in Irish in 1933.  There have been many editions over the years.


Twenty Years A Growing  Twenty Years a Growing, not the small edition I had

     The third book I found about Ireland was a book published by Four Square or the New English Library, 2 popular paperback publishers in the 1960’s.  The book could have been about Brendan Behan, I’m not quite sure.  I duly tried to prepare myself for what lay ahead.  These books didn’t really have much meaning for me at that time – but they were well worth returning to in later years.  They were hardly preparation for the various small differences in my daily life between what I could assume as normal in the U.S. and what was decidedly not so acceptable in Ireland, and vice versa.

     When my mother came to visit us in our apartment in Dublin, her impression was that Dublin was similar to how the U.S. had been 30 years previously.  I wonder if this observation was engendered when she looked down from our 2nd floor kitchen window and saw a horse drawn milk delivery wagon.

     I was pretty busy in my own little world.  We were fairly newly married, expecting our first child, and I was working on completing my PhD thesis.  I used to work in the morning, drive into town in time to meet Ian for lunch, usually at the much loved Country Shop, and then return to Rathgar to do the shopping and have a little rest.  Food shopping was not to be done in supermarkets – there weren’t any.  Instead, I did the rounds of the butcher and the newly opened Gourmet Shop (it’s still there) in Rathgar.  Our social life was quite limited but we did not feel the lack of it.  Our impression was that most Irish people were involved with family activities and they didn’t build a social network with newcomers.  So far as I knew there were no adult or evening courses where I would meet other people.  I think men sometimes met in pubs after work for a pint or two – Ian rarely did that if at all although sometimes he would go to the pub after an evening lecture.  Eventuallyour social life developed in a curious way which I will relate another time.

     The hardest thing to get used to here in Dublin, and also in the house where Ian grew up in Belfast, was the lack of central heating.  It was mighty cold that first winter here.  In our apartment in Rathgar we had storage heaters and a fireplace.  For me these just weren’t adequate.  I found I just had to keep moving in order to keep warm.  And when I tried to write and work on my thesis I wore 3 sweaters.  Brr.  Spring and the arrival of Baby James could hardly come quickly enough.


  1. Hi Janet, from Kenya to Dublin via California – that’s definitely a different way to travel. If you were reading about the Blaskets, you must have been surprised to discover any modernity in Dublin at all! I’m reassured that you’ve stayed so long though, guess you got used to the cold eventually? Look forward to the next installment

  2. I remember visiting you in Dublin just before James was born. I was taking the slow route home after working in Japan 2 years. It was cold in your flat. Americans are used to keeping doors between rooms open, but after visiting you, I understood why all interior doors were kept shut….. to trap whatever heat there was. Ian was away part of the time. You and I talked, did a little sightseeing (Glendalough), and talked some more. I went off to the West Coast to see the Aran Islands but there was no boat so I stayed 2 days in a little place called Carraroe ,boarding in the same house as the local priest. The landlady served me meals in the living room and the priest in another room so there would be no possibility of gossip. There were 2 pictures on the wall – the Pope and John F. Kennedy. I walked along the country roads, past stone walls and whitewashed cottages, and saw older men on bicycles riding to the village to collect the dole. In the village, there were posters advertising Emigration I returned to to Dublin and to London, where I learned that James had been born. I will miss visiting you in Ireland.

    • Hi Bonnie – yes I remember your adventures – particularly about staying in Carraroe and the house with the pictures on the wall. You were experiencing an aspect of Ireland that I didn’t discover until many years later. I finally got to the Aran Islands only a few years ago. At the rate that visa problem is progressing there might be time to visit us again in Ireland before we pack up completely – another chance to visit the Aran Islands?


  3. That part about central heating… It is July, and I have a pair of the woolen socks on me and a knitted vest 🙂 Storage heaters can only sustain some life in your body, that’s all 🙂

  4. I enjoyed this write, thank you !

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