We’ve heard all about the great exodus from the cities and towns to the country since the pandemic
began. But Ellie Byrne and her family have actually done it, and followed their dream to West Cork
CORK and Limerick are neighbouring counties, sharing a border, but from where I write they couldn’t feel more distant or different.
Like so many others, my line of work has been severely compromised by the Covid crisis. I work in music management and event promotion – not the ideal career right now. My husband works in the US-Ireland tourism sector, which has also been decimated by the pandemic.
One day in early September, with evenings drawing in and both of us staring down the barrel of unemployment, we sat wordlessly at our kitchen table in west Limerick, in the bleak hope that one of us might have something hopeful to suggest to lift the doom.
Our son Hugh had just started Transition Year at his school in Limerick, but all the usual TY activities he’d been looking forward to had been cancelled, so he was also pretty glum.
We’d had a glorious week in Schull in August with my sister and her husband who have a holiday home there.
Swimming, boating, island-hopping and fancy fish and chips at the pier. We loved the colours of the place, the wide open vistas. The greeny-blue colour of the sea that’s so particular to this corner of the country.
We recalled that first breath-taking view of Schull when rounding the final bend on the road from Ballydehob.
So on that grim evening at home in September, my husband arrived back in after a head-clearing walk and said: ‘How about we move to Schull?’
I thought he was joking. We’ve always been risk-averse so this suggestion seemed ludicrous.
My head was spinning with all that would be involved – packing, de-cluttering and getting our house rent-ready. And, of course, schooling for Hugh. This would be the crucial factor in any decision to move, so we discussed it at length with him. If he wasn’t going to be happy, then neither would we.
We’d heard great things about Schull Community College. That their curriculum included sailing was hugely attractive for Hugh and was the deciding factor in his agreement to the move.
Within a few days, we’d put our house up for rent and very quickly secured tenants. However, we still didn’t have anywhere to live in Schull.
As the time to move was almost on top of us, I called my friend Sinéad who has a holiday house there and she put me in touch with Timmy Barnett, who agreed to rent us his lovely house on Pier Road.
It was a dizzyingly stressful few weeks and the first time I clearly understood the theory that house-moving and divorce are two of the most stressful things a person can go through.
(In fact there were times when I thought I’d be experiencing both, given the rows about what to bring, what to dump and what to put in storage).
We arrived in Schull on a gloriously sunny September 18th. My sister Mairéad, my guardian angel, had arrived the day before and had the house draped in bunting, lamps on, candles lit, lunch ready and champagne on ice. The stress of the two previous weeks dissolved into tears of relief. Arriving at Pier Road on that sunny September evening felt like the best decision we’d ever made.
Now, every day feels like a holiday. We’re swimming daily and revelling in the discovery of the myriad West Cork walking trails.
We’re sad that all the lovely cafés, bars and craft shops which had added so much to the enjoyment of our new life here, are closed for now.
But we’re looking forward to their reopening next month.
The friendliness and welcome from the locals has been heart-warming.
Our current rental agreement is only for six months but, frankly, I don’t know how we’ll ever leave.