At 33 years old I sold off everything I could, donated what I couldn’t, then loaded three cats (yes, three) and two massive suitcases on a one-way, direct flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Dublin Airport, and from there, a bus to Galway.
I came prepared with copies of my shiny new CV, job interviews already lined up in Galway, and a solid plan of attack for finding a humble rental property for myself and my three furry children near city center. I had a master’s degree, an Irish passport, and excellent work and rental references ready to go; what trouble could I possibly have settling in?
Shortly before moving, I had the sudden realization that holding dual citizenship in the United States AND Ireland meant that I could simply bypass the immigration struggles that most Americans have to face when moving abroad. This knowledge really hit me during a time when I was struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, California. I was the stereotypical millennial: working 60+ hours per week for a salary that barely covered my ever-increasing rent, and taking remote jobs on the side to cover my ever-increasing credit card debt. From then, I became obsessed with the idea of moving to Ireland, and I spent months researching where I wanted to live and what job opportunities I would have.
Landing in Galway
I landed in Galway in June, 2018, completely unprepared for the housing crisis I found myself stuck in the middle of. For all of my careful research and planning on what areas of Galway would work best for me in relation to my job possibilities, I had not come across any information on how bad the rental housing market was. It turns out that landing in Galway in early June was poor timing. Galway is a university town, and all of the students were losing their student accommodation and looking for a place to live at the same time I was.
I spent my first week in an AirBnB alternating between job interviews (which went well), and frantically searching for long term rental (which did not). I was used to the rental process in Los Angeles, which had been painfully expensive but relatively straightforward. I’d hand over my information for a credit check and a massive security deposit, and I was in whatever apartment I wanted. Galway was a completely different story. Most landlords I spoke with wanted to rent to someone “more local,” and two told me, specifically, “I don’t want to rent to an American.” Well. Alright, then.
Throughout this entire process, I had been developing a relationship with a fisherman on Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. He was instrumental in helping me plan my solo road trip, and actually spent most of it with me showing me the most amazing places, people, and towns. When I decided to move to Galway, we also decided to give a real relationship a try. After all, Inis Oírr was only a ferry ride away.
Three islands off the coast of Galway
The Aran Islands are a chain of three islands off the coast of Galway. Though small, these islands possess a rich source of history and culture. The year-round population of Inis Oírr is only around 250 people. The islands are also an extremely strong Gaeltacht, meaning that the locals speak Irish instead of English. Children who grow up on the island attend Irish-speaking schools, and many students and adults visit the island from all over the world to study the language. The island economy is entirely tourism-based, so summers are busy while winters are very quiet.
With two days left to go in my AirBnB in Galway, I had zero prospects for a long-term place to live. My partner gently suggested that I come out to the island “just for the summer,” and work for his family fishing business. Island life is different, he warned, and if I didn’t like it, I could always try to find accommodation in Galway once the rush of students and summer housing subsided.
I moved to Inis Oírr on Saturday, June 23rd . My partner had managed to rent us an adorable cottage in Baile An Chaisleain: in English, Castle Village. My kitchen window looks out at the 15th century castle ruin at the top of the island’s hill. My sitting room window looks out over the ocean, and on a clear day I can see all the way to Galway.
I think it goes without saying, but tiny island life has its challenges. Living in a Gaeltacht without a grasp of the Irish language means that I find myself surrounded by conversation that I don’t always understand. It’s hard enough to move halfway around the world from everyone you know and love, but landing in a place where you feel you can’t communicate with anyone brings a layer of isolation and loneliness that I was entirely unprepared for.
The island co-op office offered Irish language classes in the fall, and I threw myself into them. Even though it was VERY obvious VERY fast that learning the Irish language would be extremely slow going, this was a real turning point for me in adjusting to life here. I began to be able to pick words out of sentences, and I started to understand small phrases in the conversations around me. Even though I know it will be years before I fully understand these conversations (if ever), the ability to pick out a bit of context here and there helped me feel involved, included, and less isolated.
Los Angeles and Galway are very different
While there are other challenges that keep life here interesting; I am grateful to say that I have not only adjusted to, but embraced this tiny island life. I never thought that I would go from being a real estate professional in Los Angeles to catching, processing, and selling my own seafood; but I find working with my partner and his amazing family rewarding in ways I’ve never experienced in a job.
As I close in on my first year of life on this tiny, precious island; I can look back on my experiences during my first few weeks in Galway and appreciate how, stressful though they were, they ultimately led me to right where I needed to be.