When the magic age of retirement is looming many Irish people around the world want to return to Ireland and live out their leisure years in a country that is familiar to them, and where they may still have relatives and friends. In my case, I was born in Ireland, left in the 70s and moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and I was very happy there and thought I would never ever get used to cold, damp miserable weather in Ireland after the beautiful climate I experienced in Africa.
However, circumstances changed, and about 11 or 12 years ago, I started to look again at the possibility of retiring to Ireland as ‘not such a bad thing’. In the summer of 2002 I packed up some belongings into a few metal trunks for shipping ‘home’, reluctantly and very sadly said goodbye to family and friends staying behind, and moved back to my home county, Cork.
At the time one of my sons who was 19 had already been at school here for 2 years, staying with family, and my younger son, a 17 year old, came with me to finish his schooling in Ireland. The advantage of finishing their secondary education in Ireland, for people on Irish passports, is that they can then enter Irish universities as local students, as opposed to foreign students, which amounts to an enormous difference in fees. To avail of being classed as a local resident, a student must sit the Leaving Certificate in Ireland, which is a 2 year course at the end of their secondary education.
I come from a family of 9, and a lot of my siblings still live in Cork, which was an enormous help to me in the first few months of settling in. As well as helping me to get familiar with my surroundings again, unravelling the mysteries of one way streets, tunnels under the river, roundabouts, and all things that we were unfamiliar with on the streets of Harare, they were also a great financial help to me in the first few months of settling in.
We managed to find some rented accommodation close to the school my sons attended. The next task was to find a job, not an easy task in the beginning – small fish in a big pond – and employers seem to favour people with local experience over someone with experience in a company they never heard of. But eventually things fell into place and slowly but surely we got established. Now my sons both have college degrees and are in their chosen careers, so I am proud of what we have achieved.
The main problem in the first year of settling back in Ireland was the weather, we arrived in August when the evenings were still bright – summers in Ireland are great, not always because of the sunshine, but because of the length of the days, in mid-summer, June/July, it is bright till 10 p.m., whereas at the moment, mid-September, it gets dark about 8 p.m. or so. That will all change at the end of October when the clocks are put back, and it will be dark at 6 p.m., or earlier. Our first winter started about October, and I felt it went on, and on, and on. In February I was watching a cricket match on TV, being played in Zimbabwe, and I was so envious of the spectators lying on the grass, sipping beer, watching sport, enjoying the sunshine. I thought ‘what am I doing here, this winter has gone on for ever, and in 6 months’ time it will start again’ but the winter does end, and you learn to enjoy yourself, in spite of the weather, and after that first winter I was fine!
Now it’s 10 years on, and I have retired – well semi-retired as I still work as a bookkeeper one day a week. I left my full time job last November, and have enjoyed every minute of my time since then.
About 5 years ago I joined a hillwalking club, and have made lots of new friends, and get plenty exercise, through the club. It is a big club with several different grades of walks to cater for everyone from beginners up to the very experienced people who like to race up the mountains. Hillwalking is a great pastime, even if you come along to the walks on your own, there are always people to walk with, and chat to, and after a walk there is always time to stop for a coffee or a meal. I usually walk with the club once or twice a week. In the summer evenings we do fairly flat 2 hour walks, and on the weekends go on a longer walk involving some climbing.