Debunking the Myths: Living in Ireland in 2013

Stephen's Green, Dublin
Don't miss the new Debunking the Myths: Living in Ireland 2, from August 2014

So I've lived in Ireland for over 11 years now (1995-1997, 2000-2002 & 2006 - present), started visiting in 1989 and studied at UCC for a summer while I was at Boston College (1992).  My family in the US now thinks of me as some form of cultural ambassador.  I can explain to them, when they visit, to please not use the word 'fanny' here as it has a slightly different meaning than the innocuous 'behind' it represents in the US.  I can explain how to buy your round.  I gently inform them it is polite to insist on paying for a meal even if someone initially refuses.  I'm proud that my family & close friends are now fairly Hibernoised but I'm still taken aback by the questions I get from the average punter when I visit The States, so I've decided to once-and-for-all answer some of the more...annoying...questions/myths I get about living in Ireland.

1.  We are NOT part of England.  Follow the words here: England is a country within The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  The Republic of Ireland (26 of 32 counties) is a totally separate country.  Honestly.  We have a separate government and all.

2.   "I love Braveheart!" *cough* that's Scotland.  Completely different country.  It might surprise you, gentle reader, to know that Scotland and Ireland aren't even attached. [Although parts of the film were shot in Ireland]

3.  "What's it like to live in the Old Country?" Well, the broadband service I get is faster than my mom's, who lives south of Microsoft headquarters so...not bad really.

This is awkward as I have to break it to someone that their idea of Ireland - pastoral, men in tweeds with pipes, women wailing in the background in black shawls, barefoot kids - isn't my day-to-day reality.  For some Irish-Americans this is especially hard to grasp as their idea of Ireland is a mythological place, frozen in time since 1870.

4.  "Is it just like the movies?" How to express to a Yank the cringing horror with which all my Irish friends view 'Far and Away'? "Yes," I respond, "Its exactly like the movies."

5.  "Can I use dollars there?" Um....let me think about that.  No.  I'm not sure why Americans believe the US dollar is some kind of magical elixir currency accepted everywhere? One of my former housemates used to work in a shop on Nassau St and was asked this on a regular basis.  It nearly fried his head off.  Please Americans - you know Canada has a different currency.  You know Mexico does.  If traveling to Europe do yourself a favour and bring Euro.  Or your bank card.  We have ATMs, too.

6.  "Is it green everywhere, all the time?" Yes.

7.  "You must be REALLY catholic." Nope.  Not even a smidge.  And although a majority of the population still identifies as catholic, its hard to say how much of this group is made up of people who don't practice whatsoever but who haven't broken from the identity completely.

We are now, in 2013, a more secular country than we were at any time in the 20th century. Condoms are widely and readily available in every chemists.  There is no longer a 'holy hour' in pubs on a Sunday. Yes, the Angelus still rings on RTÉ but never, not once have I ever seen anyone stop what they're doing and pray at 6pm.

This does not, however, stop Ireland from being uber-religious in the minds of many Americans.  Back in 2001, when I was visiting Seattle and getting my driver license renewed, the DMV guy started calling me Sister Katherine Mary and assumed I was a nun.  I happened to be wearing a long skirt, told him I hadn't renewed on time as I lived in Ireland and as I was opening my passport a BVM card (which had been my gran's) fell out.  Of course, with all that I must be a nun! I didn't have the heart to correct him.

8. "Has Gaelic died out?" Not yet, although we've had a good go at killing it altogether.  If you travel here, you will see many signs As Gaelige (in Irish) as well as English.  They are both official languages.

Irish is taught in schools from a young age but strangely not spoken as widely, nor do we boast a population as fluent as you might expect given that everyone who's gone through the school system has been subjected to learning it for ca. twelve years.

9.  "Did you ever worry about the bombs?" No.  I have never lived in Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland is not a description like The South in America.  Its a completely different country.)  And very gratefully - things are much more peaceful now.

10.  "Why did you move there?" None of your business! I am always amazed at the personal questions total strangers will ask you...about your kids, if you're married, etc.  Plus, the answer, that I prefer Ireland to America, is hard for some to grasp.  The last time I traveled to the US (Boston) my daughter and I went through US immigration in Dublin airport (as you do).  I was delighted as I had finally sorted out her US passport but instead of sailing through, I got a grilling.  Why did I choose to live outside the US? When did I first move abroad? What did I study when I was at Trinity? What was the title of my thesis? Did I fall in love in Ireland?

It was like the immigration officer had a chip on his shoulder (how dare I choose not to live in Amurrrica!) and was determined to make me feel unpatriotic and small.  Best of luck with that.

Do you want to see what its really like to live in Ireland? Come here.  Talk to us.  Don't settle for the schlocky paddywackery sold as 'Irish'.  We have a lot more on offer than that.


  1. Quite an accurate view, which is refreshing considering the amount of BS that even Irish people come out with about living here. I was looking on another site and some commenter stated that the only thing to do in Dublin was Drink related. I'm quite surprised at this, although I’m fond of a social banter in a pub I have successfully done quite allot of non-drink related activities in my life in Dublin, Kayaking, Hiking, Buddhist Meditation, in fact anything i can possible imagine to do, i can strangely find classes and groups on. It always humours me as to how people assume their view on a place is the only view. I was living in London for 3 years and have similar experiences. Stereotypical views about religion and drinking. Yes Irish people do not have a great relationship with alcohol but the average person is not a raging alcoholic. Then on religion, there is always an assumption that everyone is very Catholic, yet in reality it is more of an identity than a belief for most Irish people. As a gay man i can testify that i have never encountered any prejudice. We now have civil union and a referendum on marriage is planned. It must also be noted that Ireland is one of few countries where changes to our constitution must go to the people. How many liberal laws would be in America if it needed to be passed by a referendum first?
    According to the UN development index Ireland has ranked in the top 5 and top 10 most developed countries in the world for well over a decade. This is based on statistics not on one person’s view.
    Dublin has beaches, mountains and some great Georgian architecture with excellent facilities, art scene, music scene probably one of the best in the world and of course great people with an a amazing sense of humour. It has its problems like all cities, but as a biased Dubliner who has travelled the world I think it is one of the best cities and countries to live in, and the UN agrees with me 
    Anyway nice blog. Barry

  2. Thanks, Barry! Nollaig Shona dhuit!

    The thought of the political advertisements one would be subjected to in the run up to a country-wide US citizen's referendum makes my head spin.

    I agree with you on many points. One of the most interesting aspects of living in Ireland now (to me) is how modern and tech we are, and how insulting it can be to encounter 'Irish stereotypes' (drunks/leprechauns/paddywhackery) abroad. Although I wasn't born here, when I encounter them it makes me cringe. I'm about to visit North America and I know that although my extended family is very educated in a formal sense, many will still have assumptions that we're all pub-going, ceili-dancing, salt of the earth poets (and there's nothing wrong with that although it can be a bit limiting) when really we can be all that but a lot more, too.

    I'm delighted with the social progress we have made in the last 20 years. I still regret that I don't frequently see people in same-sex relationships holding hands / being affectionate in public (like I would in Seattle) but I'm consciously aware that public displays of affection in general are fairly scarce, whatever one's sexual orientation! :)

  3. Considering some of the stranger, randomly argumentative comments I've received on this post, I thought I'd post this (from SheDoesTheCity: Facebook Fighting 101)

    "Lived Experience Trumps Your Worldview Cobbled From TV, The Internet & Porn: If a person of colour, a woman, a queer person, a trans* person, a disabled person, or any combination thereof (ie: your favourite straw person to argue about) tells you their experiences in this world, you accept them as fact and adjust your view accordingly. You do not get to dismiss the lives of others because they do not fit your idealized version of the world. End of story, chump face."

    If you haven't read the article yet, its brilliant.

  4. Wow, I soak up every word of articles like this! I have such a desire to go to Ireland, but I want my expectations to match reality as closely as possible, so I love reading about actual people and actual experiences, nit some generic travel sites write up by a "travel expert". Thank you, and maybe with some Irish luck, I can also be an American in Ireland!

  5. Hey Edward!
    Thanks very much for taking the time to read & comment. I hope you make it over here soon. Its a beautiful place to visit and live.
    All the best, Kath

  6. So Kath: I'm a Kath too! Lived in Ireland in the 70's and early 80s (I know, I'm old), but now my 20-something daughter is thinking of moving there - I know it's a completely different country now from when I lived there - I've been back 3 times since, the last in 2010, just don't know how to advise her - she's a college grad, very hard working but with little actual work experience, would probably live in Dublin, especially since we have family there. Any suggestions?? BTW - love the blog!

    1. Hey Kath!

      Thanks so much for the kind compliment! I'm delighted to hear your daughter is thinking of moving here - it really is a great place to live. I hope I can give you some information that's helpful…

      I am sure you have done this already but if not, she should have her Irish passport before she lands in Ireland. As she is entitled to Irish citizenship through you, that's really the biggest obstacle sorted.

      She can check out jobs currently available through to familiarize herself with the types of jobs going and how much they pay. I have found that signing up with a temping agency can be a very good move. I've worked with the following recruiters and have found them to be very professional and reliable:

      Dublin is a great place for someone to start out, as it should have the highest concentration of jobs available. From a mom point of view, I must tell you that I still find it a very safe place to live. The Dublin of 2014 has far less violent crime that the Tacoma of 1988 I grew up in!

      Once she's here, she'll need to see to the practical sides of things. I moved here so long ago that I'm going to refer you to a newer immigrant and his blog as he's moved here more recently and laws (setting up bank accounts etc.) change.

      I believe one needs to provide proof of address to set up a bank account so she would need to have a utility (phone, etc) letter showing her Irish address before she does this. The easiest way to go about this is signing up for a phone plan as soon as she gets here.

      In regards to residence, if she's not going to be living with a family member, (click on the 'sharing' tab) is a great way to find a place to live. In the past I've found housemates through the website (in my 20s) and she will also get a good idea of the price of rent, etc. Another good website for finding rental accommodation is Most rental accommodation is furnished and therefore she would not have to worry about the cost of furnishing a place upon arrival.

      The public transportation in Dublin is great - the DART is still chugging along and the bus routes have improved considerably so that a car really isn't necessary. We also have the Luas now, which is a great light rail system. I would make sure that wherever she rents is on a major bus line, if not the DART as well.

      That's everything off the top of my head but if you have any questions I am more than happy to do my best at answering them. Please feel free to contact me here or on Twitter @kathomeara! Very excited for you all! The Docklands in particular is really shaping up in Dublin and if she can afford it (its expensive but worth it) a really great place to live.

      All the best,

  7. happy I found this. I, too, amd just itching to go toIreland and find myself looking online and dreaming a lot about it! Thanks so much for sharing and explaining so much. I'll keep checking back!

    1. Ah, thanks Kimberly! I hope you can make it over here soon. Its really Spring now and the daffodils are blooming all over the place. You will not be disappointed. All the best, Kath

  8. Had a giggle to some of the above comments. Moving to Ireland within a few weeks, and just googled "living in Ireland" to see if I could get any hints on what Im in for.. I think this may have described it! haha. :)

    With best regards and thanks to a fun post,
    a giggling Norwegian

    1. Hey Ina! Thanks for the comment, I wish you a great move. The weather is getting a bit better so its finally Spring, yea! Have a great time settling in.

  9. I know I'm a little late to the comment train, but I really resonate with this post as I've wanted to move out of the US for a long time now, and Ireland seems like a pretty top choice. Some of my family members have the old "AMURICA - love it or leave it!" mentality and since I don't love it, well...looks like I'm going to be leaving :P I empathize with you that some Americans just don't understand why anyone would *possibly* want to leave the wonderful country that is America (sarcasm) to live in another country. I was wondering if you have any insight into the moving process? I'm nowhere near moving yet, and I may not even end up in Ireland, but it would be lovely to hear what the general steps are, how difficult it was, etc, and if you have any advice :)

    1. Hey Karen! Thanks for your comment.

      Moving is always a pain but it works itself out. The most important advice I can give (I think) is to ensure you have a right to live/work in the country you would like to make your new home. If you are entitled to an EU passport, get it sorted out now. If you are in university you can also look into / avail of studying abroad options. I studied at UCC (in Cork, Ireland) in the summer of 1992 via Boston College and did my post-graduate work at Trinity (Dublin). I would highly recommend traveling too, to get an idea of what its like to live outside the US. No matter how ready you are to move abroad, there's always some homesickness. I wanted to live in Ireland since I was a kid but it still took me about 6 months to settle in.

      The second most important advice I can give is to save your money. Attending graduate school here is a fraction of the price it would cost in the US but the standard of living day-to-day is about twice as expensive (we're a small island nation).

      In fairness, one of the things I loved about moving here was that I had to get rid of so much 'stuff' I'd collected over the years but didn't really need. It was a great cleansing process. I wish you all the best and am happy to help in any way I can. Best of luck!

  10. Thanks for much for all the insight and being so responsive with comments! I learned just as much through this thread as the post itself. My boyfriend is Irish, and although we dated and lived together while we were working overseas, he's back in Dublin now and I'm back in Portland. We've been planning my move over there once he's settled down with his new job, but even after visiting twice, I have so many hesitations!
    I am a 25 year old ambitious city girl, and I fear the pace of life might be too slow. I also fear the lack of job opportunities in Ireland. Will I be okay? Will it be worth the plunge? We plan to marry but I hadn't planned to moving to Ireland so soon…like before retirement :) I really could use some biased convincing!

    1. Hey Kalong!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Moving overseas and committing to someone is a big deal. If you have hesitations (of any kind), I would listen to them and go with your gut instincts.

      What I can tell you is that Dublin is a bigger city than Portland, so if Portland is the right size for you, Dublin will be, too. We haven't much of a skyscraper downtown area - don't let that fool you, the pace of life in the city centre is busy and fast, like in any city. If Portland is way too small for you and you're more of a NYC girl, you might talk to your bf about trying London.

      If you really want to get to know Dublin, plan on living here for 1-3 months. You can take a trip to London during that time to see what you think and really get to know Dublin. I think its harder here, at the mo, for people in their 20s to source jobs but in fairness it is starting to pick up. Getting as much work experience as you can in the US before you make the move will only be to your benefit.

      I wish you both all the best of luck. One thing I wish I could go back and tell myself (when I was in my 20s) is that life always takes unexpected turns. Not one of us can perfectly plan our lives from an early age with any exacting degree. Some of the best things in my life have come out of making decisions I didn't think were important at the time. Go with your gut and follow *your* dreams, not anyone else's.

      All the best, Kath

  11. Hello Kath, coming to Ireland with my daughter in October and I will be traveling the coast. Do you have a place that you love more than any in Ireland to spend time in. It has such diverse beauty. We are going to be seeing Trinity College in Dublin. My daughter is only 13 but she has her mind set on possibly attending college there. I have a dream as well of obtaining a second home in Ireland some day and plan to visit as often and stay as long as I can over the next few years to see if that might be possible. How did you come about making your final decision to live in Ireland full time? I am doing a lot of reading and the tax issues being a US Citizen are getting more cumbersome by the minute. The new FATCA law is coming full swing in July. I am not looking to evade taxes but I don't want to move to such a beautiful place for even half the year and feel suffocated by tax burdens and paperwork. Any advice on that subject would be most helpful. Thank you. Maisy

    1. Hi Maisy,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Are you eligible for Irish citizenship? The first thing you will want to do is to sort that out first and ensure that you and your daughter have the right to live in Ireland. is a great place to start.

      If you are seriously considering moving to Ireland, I would advise traveling here as much as possible to ensure you actually would really want to live here and/or be an expat. Pick a couple of places and stay in that one place for a few weeks at a time to really get a good feel for it.

      While Trinity accepts many US students for post-graduate programmes (I did my Master's Degree there) the requirements for undergraduate work are different. You will want to ensure that your daughter is eligible to apply. This is a good place to start:

      Anxiety about FACTA appears (to me) to be disproportionate to what it actually is. US citizens abroad are already required to file annual tax reports (although this does not mean you necessarily have to pay taxes as an expat). I would advise you to consult a professional, credited tax adviser who specializes in international tax law to see what you should expect given your personal situation.

      The American Citizens Abroad website is very informative and easy to navigate regarding expats & taxes.

      I also find the IRS website to be extremely helpful.

      In addition to those resources, there are usually local US expat resources you can avail of to ensure you stay tax compliant. (eg Democrats Abroad,

      As Ireland is an island nation, our entire circumference is coast. I'd say you'd want to take at least one month to six weeks to travel the entire coast. In fairness, you could take a month just traveling around the west or south. Expect petrol (gas) prices to be four times what they are in the US. Be prepared to drive on the opposite side of the road, on roads which are much narrower than your average US road. I'm partial to Clare but every part of Ireland is beautiful and worth seeing.

      Good luck!

    2. Thanks Kate. Yes, I am eligible for irish citizenship. Both my grandparents were born and met each other in Ireland (based on citizenship through ancestry). It does not look as if it would be extended to my daughter as it seems to stop at the grandparent so I am not sure how that would work for her (as she was not registered, as it states, before I had her). If you have any thoughts on that. I cant thank you enough for all the info. I will look into everything. Sometimes in life everything falls in place when you want something enough. There is nothing in this world to be had without some sort of sacrifice. I will be traveling for about 3 weeks staying about 2 days in each of the places. Dublin, Athy/Stradbally (my grandparents), Waterford, W Cork (Glengarriff), Kerry, Clare (near the Bunratty castle), Galway, Sligo, Donegal, then down to Westmeath (Mulingar) . Regards driving, I have been watching some hilarious you tube videos of some women first time driving in Ireland. Especially when the cows wouldn't let them go by. Life is an adventure and as long as I get an automatic and the car is nice and small to go with the little roads, the adventure should be ok. We are going to see some local sports as well along the way. Thanks Kate. Maisy

    3. Hey Maisy!

      The YouTube videos sound hilarious. I commend your travel itinerary in wanting to see as much as possible and my only suggestion is to be flexible as to the amount of nights staying in each place.

      Instead of having a whirlwind visit where everything blurs by (which is what a lot if Americans do) I would suggest staying three nights in many of the places especially as you are looking to perhaps live here one day.

      The motorways that connect Dublin to Cork; Dublin to Limerick; Dublin to Galway are great but a lot of the other roads will take you much longer to travel. A good rule of thumb for me is to take the distance and multiply it by two - eg 45 miles isn't very far in US terms and you could drive it in 45/60 min but here think of it more like 90 miles &

    4. Sorry - replying on my phone which is testy w/google blogger.

      And plan accordingly.

      While in Dublin you can do a proper tour of Trinity College.

      There aren't as many automatics in Ireland so when you book your car hire make sure you request an automatic at that time. You won't need a car while you are in Dublin if you are staying in the city centre. An idea is to collect the car on the way out of the city. That's what I'd do. I like the Enterprise on Russell St (beats having to go all the way back out to the airport) and is in the city centre so you can easily navigate to the quays and then onto the motorway out of Dublin.

      West Cork & Donegal are both stunning but take ages to get to. Give yourself loads of time.
      Our cell phones here are much better value than in US (I think). Pay-as-you-go isn't looked down upon (I've had that only for the last 14 yrs) and you can pick up a cheap phone in Dublin for about €80 to use while you are here. They're easy to top up, might come with credit already added and could save you a fortune by not using your US phone.

      We have loads of free, good wifi, so it will be easy to use your smartphone to connect

    5. To the Internet. There's a good O2 (that's a phone network provider) on Grafton St which you will be near anyway- 2min away from Trinity.

      For good Irish made tins to bring back as gifts / for yourself you can't beat the Kilkenny Shop on Nassau St which is along the South side of a Trinity College. Also worth a look is Avoca, nearby on Suffolk St, has a good café and O'Neill's pub nearby is a proper old style sprawling pub which serves a lunch carvery.

      If you follow me on twitter I can follow you back and send you my mobile no. You & your daughter are more than welcome to join us for dinner on night while your in Dublin if you can work it into your sched!

      My twitter handle is @kathomeara

      All the best, kath

    6. Good thought on getting the car on the way out. I got a used road atlas of Ireland and looked at Dublin. I don't think its the straight driving that is bothering me, but it sure looks like I am going to hit clockwise roundabouts that I have been reading about. I will make a copy of everything you wrote here and have it with me on my itinerary. Next summer I will plan to stay a month at one of the areas that I found the most special on my trip. I will follow you on twitter and stay in touch. Take Care Kate and thanks much. Maisy

  12. Hello and thanks for this great text, sir. I live in Chile, South America. My great grandfather was irish. Someday I will go there to try to answer what brought him here with his family in 1910.


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