Friday, November 28, 2003

Country Living Magazine - Guide to Rural Ireland 

In my recent searches for rural living sites on the web I came across this guide by country living magazine to Ireland. Has anyone read this ? What did you think of it ...

Guide to rural Ireland

© James Walsh,2003-2004


Monday, November 24, 2003

Services in the "sticks" .... 

Having been born in the country myself, I had a sense of how things work, or should I say used to work in the country. My expectation of country life was that availability of certain products and services would certainly be more limited in the country than in the city. I also expected customer service to be a bit better in the country as there was I assumed more time for the human touch !

That said however, I was somewhat amazed at the attitude of some of our extended family to our move to the country. One of the big perceptions was that in moving from a nice part of south Dublin to "the sticks", that we would never again be able to sample the delights of urban shopping centres, fashionable restaurants, taxi services, multichannel TV, hospitals, doctors and electrical discount stores ! In fact I was left in no doubt that virtually nothing of the 21st century existed "beyond the pale".

So what has it been like in this backward rural wilderness....
Geographically we are located on the West Cork coast, within 1 km of a national route that brings us to Killarney in less than 1 hour, and Cork City in 1 hour 15 minutes.

SHOPPING : Our local large town (5 miles away) has a large Super Valu supermarket and has everything you could want, and the best of local produce also. If you go within a radius of 4 miles of our house you will come across 2 Spar, 1 Centra , 1 Londis and a local non-branded convenience store. Killarney has, I understand, got not one Tesco, but two (!), and a LIDL discount store, brand name outlet stores, and fashionable shops that would put Grafton Street to shame. Meanwhile, as you would expect of a major metropolitan area, Cork city has multiple enormous shopping centres dotted conveniently on an orbital route around the outskirts of the city. Though our nearest shopping centre in south Dublin was less than 15 minutes away in off-peak traffic, it often took us 30/45 minutes to make the journey if you were unlucky with the traffic. Once you got there, you generally had to fight for parking and you then took your life in your hands by taking on the marauding packs of trolley wielding manic shoppers. Contrast this with the easy access and acres of parking anytime we have ventured to a major shopping centre in either Killarney or Cork. It seems that there is a much more sedate pace of shopping as there seem to be less people vying for the same space at any one time. But maybe I'm dreaming !! Believe me shopping is not my forte, but as you can see from the above, we are hardly stuck for choice!!!

RESTAURANTS : Well, what I can I say, this is West Cork ! We are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants in this area ... and excellent quality as well. Unfortunately they seem to have "imported" Dublin prices, but at least it is good fayre. Certainly no complaints choice wise on this score.

TAXI SERVICES : This was one, I felt sure we would never see again when we moved to the country ! In fairness however, we are located in a very touristy area. But imagine my surprise when we arrived to find that no less than three taxi service companies will be more than willing to pick us up or deposit us home (when we've had one too many ... as happens sometimes !). I've tested two of the companies at this stage, and not alone has the service been extremely punctual, but the drivers were wonderfully engaging, they provided mines of information on the area, and seemed genuinely interested in us and in helping us settle in.

MULTICHANNEL TV – Not being major TV, Movie or Sports addicts, in Dublin we subscribed for the very basic package from our local cable provider and for 14 channels we paid something like €225 per annum. Of note I have a pathological aversion to enriching Mr Rupert Murdoch or other satellite Tzars … but I won’t even go there now !! When we arrived to our new home, I found we had two TV systems. The previous owner had put aerials in the attic and as result we can receive RTE 1,2, TG4, BBC1, BBC2, HTV and Channel 4 all for free in virtually every room of the house ! In addition the previous owner had a SKY satellite subscription, and though they took away their SKY digibox, they left the satellite dish up on the side of the house. So I checked with on the internet as to whether I could use this dish to access anything else other than having to pay for SKY. I learned that the BBC has recently launched a Free to Air satellite service and so I can get up to 30 english speaking channels simply by purchasing a receiver box which cost me € 190. I am still playing with my satellite setup to see how many more channels I can get, but so far I‘ve got at least 15 english speaking channels (amongst zillions non-english channels). So for free amongst others I have terrific quality reception for RTE1, Network 2, TG4, BBC 1,2,3,4, ITV, Channel 4, BBC News 24, Sky News, CNN, ITV News 24, TCM, Ceebies, Reality TV, Rapture TV, Fashion TV … and every conceivable shopping and travel channel you can imagine !

HOSPITALS – Having young children this is an important one, and so we checked it out before even considering moving. Our nearest big town (5 miles away), has a General Hospital, with a 24hr Accident & Emergency facility. Hopefully we will never need it, but it is terrific to know it’s there, mind you with all the current spending cuts in the Health Service, how long it will be there remains to be seen. But we live in hope and you can be sure we will be out with placards to save it, if necessary !!

DOCTORS – One of the things I should have mentioned at the start, which was a superb help to us when we moved here 4 months back, was the fact that in the house there were no less than two printed directories full to the brim of local services within a few miles radius. These directories saved our lives on more than one occasion I can tell you ! Moving to Doctors again we had a choice of three doctors all within a 5 mile radius.

ELECTRICAL DISCOUNT STORES – All our appliances in our previous house were built in to the kitchen so it meant that when we moved, we couldn’t take them with us. So when we arrived at our new house in West Cork, we had to purchase a dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, fridge, and fridge freezer. I expected that we would have to pay a certain premium for these “white goods” given that we were not near a city electrical discount store. In our nearest large town, we priced around and I was amazed to find that the prices were not alone very competitive but in one case cheaper than the discount prices being touted in the national press for Power City ! Plus the prices included delivery and after sales service. The next day Una, called our chosen supplier locally at 9:30 am, and before she even managed to make it home, the delivery truck with the goods arrived at 10:35 am and so I had the fridge and washing machine up an running by the time she got home ! Try getting a delivery in Dublin anytime the same day, or often the same week !!

SERVICE WITH A SMILE ? – I wanted to mention a little about our experience with after sales service since our arrival in the country. My expectation was that when I bought from a local supplier in the country that I would generally get a better level of customer service than in the city, but on the other hand I expected that response times would be much slower. Well so far I’m half right ! The day after the “white goods” arrived, I had plumbed in the dishwasher but it still wasn’t working right. The water was not flowing into it correctly and the dishes were not being washed at all ! After trying all the obvious things, I gave up, and next day Una called the local shop where we bought it. They responded that they would get on immediately to the Manufacturer who would send their regional repairman to look at the offending machine. I have to say we expected to be hanging around for days if not weeks chasing these people (as we regularly had to do with service people in the city). Imagine our surprise when in less than 1 hour the repair man arrived, fixed the machine in a flash and left us all smiling and happy ! He advised that he would do a circuit of his region every three days and so the longest anyone would be waiting was three days, but that this was highly unusual. We were suitably impressed !

Having had to do a few relatively minor alterations to the property since we arrived, we have had occasion to engage electricians, builders, and plumbers and our experience have been universally positive both on price, and customer service, though punctuality was a challenge for one of the tradesmen, but the others have been absolutely exemplary and far better in general than any tradesmen/service providers we have come across in the city.

Overall, both Una and I feel that the services available to us in the country are on a par with what we had in the city, that customer service is vastly superior, and that price is generally more competitive if not the same as the city. Sometimes, you have to travel a bit further mileage wise, but even then we appear to be saving on time stuck in traffic etc. I’m sure we will find things that rankle with us along the way, but so far it is a big “thumbs up” for rural living in regard to service availability, choice and price.

© James Walsh,2003-2004


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The joy of SPAM ... 

One of the reasons I decided to pack in corporate and city life was this constant feeling of being like the proverbial "mouse on a treadmill". Also I felt that though I was doing well in the traditional corporate world, I kept asking myself "is this all there is to life ?". The years started to slip by far too quickly so we decided to make a change. Somewhat naively I concluded that I could work from home taking on consultancy assignments and perhaps even running a local business. I felt sure I could turn my hand to something new once we had settled into the rural lifestyle.

Well the settling in period is over and it's time to get down to it. I spent much of the last 3 months converting the garage into an office space and now that it is a good workspace I am starting back into things. Today, I had the joyful task of starting my annual accounts ... oh what fun !! There are a few consultancy opportunities that might come off, and then again they might not. So I am looking at every real business opportunity that is out there to develop an ongoing income stream for a professional home based worker.

Is everyone else's email like mine these days ? I am overwhelmed by a sea of emails every day offering me all sorts of wonderful concotions that will help me feel better, smell better and even enlarge parts (ahem !) of myself that I quite happy with ... thank you very much !!

Best of all are these wonderful "get rich quick schemes" each one more boastful than the last. The best one I received recently promised me that I would be a "millionaire in a month" ... I ask you ... there must be one born every millisecond. Oh preserve us from business opportunity and medical miracle spam !! That said however, if you have found a genuine business that really works for YOU and you are willing to show me your real personal cheques ... hey I'm always open to new things !!

Fight Spam on the Net

Blog Resources

Technorati Profile

Popdex Blog Index (worth a visit)

© James Walsh,2003-2004


Sunday, November 16, 2003

Past & Present ...  

As if to make up for the recent dramatic storm, the last three days have been stunningly serene, sunny and breathtakingly beautiful, with not even a whisper of a breeze and a crystal sea as clear as glass. Today, as the day was so fine, I forced myself to get out and do some well overdue gardening … when you’ve been neglecting your garden for a few week, as I have, it makes it all the harder to motivate oneself to get out and do the needful! I raked up the many leaves from the storm shaken trees, now crisp as crepe paper due to the fine few days we’ve just had. Since we arrived in July, in fact, the weather overall has been very agreeable … pleasant, dry, and sunny, for the most part with probably no more than 10 bad days (most of which have happened in the last stormy week!). The result of this fine weather is most evident in the magnificent collage of colour in the fallen leaves that lay before me on the lawn. I remember visit New England in the autumn a few years ago and I understood why they said New England was “spectacular in the fall”. For the first time in years I’ve noted a stunning canopy of breathtaking colour on the leaves this year.

Anyway, after gathering a wheelbarrow of leaves, I brought them and much other unwanted garden waste over to a small stone walled burning area in one of the far reaches of the garden. The previous owner had taken great pride in sharing with me of the value this small stone walled crucible in dealing with the mountains of garden waste. The fire quickly took hold of the crisp dry leaves, the magnificent red flames flickered gold, amber and blue as if to echo the rainbow colours of the leaves they engulfed. I watched the fire and wondered if there was anything as therapeutic as watching the flames of that fire as they danced a merry jig on their floor of leaves? The crackle of the fire, the sound of the breaking waves on the nearby cove produced a symphony of nature whose beauty I thought was hard to better.

As I watched the fire to ensure it stayed under control, my eye wandered over the adjacent stone wall and across the field where the contented cattle grazed and I saw the ruins of a small famine cottage now derelict and bare. There are a few ruined ”famine” cottages around here, and indeed there is reputed to be a famine graveyard and temple on the headland a few hundred yards to the side of our property. During the summer I had visited a few of the ruins, and the one I was now looking at I recalled had been particularly striking. With the exception of the now well gone straw roof and door lintel, it was structurally and remarkably intact and I marvelled at how small it was. It was a one roomed cottage which was no more than 10 foot by 9 foot wide. It had one tiny window, a neat fireplace and a small doorway. Standing by the fire, my mind wondered what sort of life the people who would have lived in that small bothán would have had. That tiny space, and perhaps if they were lucky, a small patch or two of ground to sow potatoes was probably a home of riches to a small family. That family’s mortal fear in life was that even this meagre existence would be wrested from them if they had the misfortune to upset the local landlord or one of his agents It made me feel blessed to live in the present and not in the past …

Irish Famine Links






© James Walsh,2003-2004


Friday, November 14, 2003

We made it through the nite ...  

... there's a song there somewhere. Well we made it through the night ... just !!

I spent yesterday afternoon monitoring closely the Metosat weather satellite images to gauge the progress of this disturbing “black hole” simmering off the southwest coast and wondering whether we would be spared from it’s spleen. It was very blowy outside with the rain pelting on the window panes like noisy dive bombing flies !! I reassured myself it wasn’t that bad. About 16:30 GMT yesterday Thursday the centre of the “black hole” storm mass hit land just off the Dingle peninsula. I watched anxiously the satellite images as it progressed and I saw the centre of the storm move off right up towards Limerick and Clare rather rapidly by 18:00. Outside the conditions remained pretty much the same, very blustery, sheeting rain, but it had been like that since midday …I thought to myself if this is as bad as it’s going to be, hey we’re laughing !! Naively I thought that once the centre of the storm formation had passed so too would the worst of it.

Things remained pretty much the same until 12:45 am, with the odd heavy gust of wind with accompanying dancing rain sending a shudder through the house from time to time. How wrong can you be, I contented myself, the main part of the storm has passed over … we’re fine I said ….how wrong can you be .,..

At 12:45 am, I was on my way to bed, and popped into the kitchen to switch on the dishwasher, there are two windows in the kitchen looking directly out over a few fields and down across the whole of Bantry Bay. I noticed in the bay there were two very bright lights slightly to the left of the bay; I guessed they were sizable vessels taking some shelter in the bay. I thought to myself …”they know something I don’t !” … then suddenly there was an almighty crack on the walls of the front of the house as an enormous gust hit the house … I shuddered and thought … sheesh... hopefully that was a “parting shot” !! It wasn’t there was worse to come. I went up to bed, hoping the very agreeable can of cider I’d had earlier would knock me out and I’d sleep through the whole commotion ! It didn’t, I was awake for every crack, every shudder, every eerie whistle, every bounding bang, flap and splash ! It was the night from hell .. I made countless trips to check the children (who all slept soundly thankfully), and countless visits to the window to check if we still had a roof over our heads. Una slept relatively well beside me, but each time I got out of bed or tossed too far she would grunt and growl at me … “are you not asleep yet ..” She told me this morning, the reason she slept really well was that I was doing enough worrying and fretting for both of us … that gave her a licence to snore happily off to the land of nod … charming eh !!

At 3:15 am I finally gave up and resigned myself to the fact that sleep tonight was going to be vain hope… I made my way downstairs to make that old reliable “hot milk” .. half way down the stairs I heard this gurgling watery noise ... I switched on the hall light .. and there was a big puddle in the hallway beside one of our windows … the force of the wind was driving the rain up under the outside frame of the windows and it was flowing down the inside of the hall window. I went into the kitchen to find one of the kitchen windows in the same state …school books left on the window sill drowned by the darned rain. Into the living room … where two skylights exposed to the full force of the storm, were gushing water onto the floor below …. I felt like I was in a boat, and I caught myself and thanked my lucky stars that we were on land at least unlike the poor souls out there on the mountainous seas ! I mopped it all up and got out the buckets …and spent the next three hours doing my circuit of the leaks to change the towel or try to figure out in vain if I could stop it flowing!

At about 5:15 am when all seemed at it’s darkest I was looking out at the wild seas and the roaring sheeting rain … and I caught myself saying now why did we move here again ? For a second or two I wished to be in the centre of a housing estate in Dublin where at least we would have some shelter from the houses around us! Man this is really getting to me I said …

At 7:30am, the worst was finally over and I went to bed to see if I could get an hour or twos sleep, our kids woke up blissfully unaware at 7:30 and that was the end of that idea !

Today was quite breezy again, but the sun came out around lunchtime and the clouds started to clear by 3pm, this evening is eerily quiet I can hear the water from the sea gently lapping against the rocks … and I wonder …is this the same planet …it must have been a bad dream. I am thankful for that quiet and I content myself looking at the stunning pictures taken from the house of the amazing and breathtaking views over the sea and sunset taken on balmy August days !

© James Walsh,2003-2004


Thursday, November 13, 2003

Batten Down the Hatches ... with due deference to Terracotta soldiers! 

There is a storm coming. Two days ago I happened to glance at a Satellite weather image of Ireland on the TV Weather and saw this swirling mass, not unlike a black hole simmering off the southwest coast of Ireland. They said there was a storm brewing!!

I hate high winds you see; give me rain, frost, snow, hail, sun ... but wind you can keep. To me there is no lonelier sound that of the swirling wind banging and sheeting off the side of my home, echoing down the chimney like a forlorn foghorn. So uneasily over the past two days, I have been watching the weather forecasts with more than my usual passing interest! This morning I awoke to the Radio weather forecaster blithely announcing that the Southwest will "suffer the brunt of the storm" and with torrential rain and Storm force winds gusting up to 80 mph and above!! It is time to batten down the hatches!

My wife Una and I spent an hour or so looking across all of the garden to see what objects would most easily suffer the consequences of the foul wind, what might not survive, what innocent inanimate object might suddenly become a deadly missile in the storm soon to come ? And they say Tomahawk missiles are dangerous ... try the force of an innocent looking terracotta plant pot swirling at untold velocity towards you ... now thats scary!! Maybe there is an aircraft carrier out there somewhere on the high seas with nothing in its arsenal but sun baked terracotta pots ... striking fear into the hearts of all nations who might dare to cross swords with the mighty terracotta army ! Didn't the ancient Chinese have this huge life size army of Terracotta soldiers ... of course their arsenal would most certainly have contained these lethal Terracotta flower pots! Just a moment ago it was an innocent plant nurturing vessel and suddenly it has the deadly provenance of what President Bush might call a "weapon of mass destruction" !! I wonder did they find whole underground bunkers of Terracotta flower pots under the sands of the Iraqi desert!!

So back to battening down the hatches. The wind is starting to pickup along with the dastardly dull rain showers beating us about the head ... we carefully picked up all the now deadly terracotta pots and placed them inside the conservatory. Next we ferociously hacked back the rather sad looking leaves of the wild rose bushes in the hope that less foliage would protect them from being violently uprooted by the violent winds. Gathered up the children's scattered garden playthings ... tractors, clam shell swimming pond, rocking horses, skipping ropes, and tied up the swings. Having looked askance at everything around the house that yesterday had a pleasant virgin innocence, those same objects today have taken on a genocidal capability in the impending storm, we retired to the house and felt content that at least we had done our best to batten down the hatches ! As the rain batters the window panes, time will tell ...

© James Walsh,2003-2004


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