‘New Irish’ are still here

The population has risen since 2008. Immigrants love our character and way of life, says Conor Power

DESPITE emigration, the population of the Republic of Ireland is increasing. Since 2008, the population rose from 4.43m people to 4.5m in 2012.

Movements of population are faster and easier than before.

For the thousands who leave these shores every year, thousands of people from other countries stay or arrive, with the reverse outlook to the people who have left.

Frenchman Jean-Louis Bigot came to Ireland in 1989.

He lives in the scenic town of Killaloe, Co Clare, with his Skerries-born wife, Elaine, and their three children.

“I trained as a gamekeeper, basically,” says Jean-Louis. “But I was in an indoors job and, after about seven years, I started looking towards going to Ireland or Canada, because I’d been selling holidays from that office in France.”

Jean-Louis’ work has ‘three hats’: He’s a fishing guide; he has an approved guest-house where anglers from France stay during their fishing holidays; and he is a tour operator organising bespoke holidays to Ireland.

“For example, if someone was looking to come to Ireland to fish sea-bass, I couldn’t give him that holiday, because we’re inland. But I sell them a programme to suit what they need,” Jean-Louis says.

Much of Jean-Louis’s business comes from France via his French-language websites — Pecheirlande.com and Pechealliance.com.

The perception of Ireland among the French is very good, he says and he considers Ireland “a really great place” to live and to raise a family.

“You find nice people everywhere,” Jean-Louis says, “but the Irish people are very easy to get on with and easy to work with. I think they’re welcoming to people that they don’t necessarily know.”

Jean-Louis comes from the outer reaches of greater Paris, and says that if he’s pushed to cite a drawback about living in Ireland, it is insularity.

“You feel the insular way of life here. It’s a very little drawback, if I can even call it that — just compared to life in France.

“Twelve years ago, I fell in love with a beautiful Cork woman,” says Dutchman Jeroen Proos, when asked how he ended up living and working in Ireland.

It was, he says, a case of them choosing Ireland and Ireland choosing them.

Forty-year-old Jeroen has carved out a living for himself and his family, in partnership with another Dutch immigrant, René Van Willigen.

Together, they founded the successful skincare company, Human and Kind.

Based in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, Human and Kind is a recent recipient of the Tatler Beauty Awards.

Although the company was founded by two Dutchmen, everything else about it, Jerome says, is 100% Irish — manufacturing, packaging, and marketing. All is produced here. The fact that their product comes from Ireland is an advantage, Jeroen says.

“Worldwide, there’s an exceptionally good perception about Ireland — friendly people, green, fresh, good people to do business with… We travel a lot, and the perception all over the world about Irish people is very positive.

“All that negativity over the last four years — we really don’t come across that.”

“We used to come here on holidays, at least once a year, for 25 years,” says René. “We made friends here and, 11 years ago, we decided to make the move and settle here, which we thoroughly enjoy.”

The best thing about Ireland?

“To me, three things come to mind that give us a great lifestyle here,” says Jeroen.

“The people, the fresh air and the space.” René nods in agreement.

On the negative side, they cite the relative isolation compared to the Continent.

“It’s always more costly when you need to travel everywhere,” says Rene.

“It’s the only negative I can think of, which is not really a negative; more of a regrettable thing.”

Located towards the end of the beautiful, but far more isolated Sheep’s Head Peninsula, Corina Thornton and her husband Mick have taken over what was a landmark rural pub, 1km west of the lively coastal village of Kilcrohane.

Corina and Mick are originally from England (Corina from Surrey and Mick from Yorkshire) and have been living in Ireland for more than a decade, but have only been in The White House for 20 months.

It has lost none of the character of its original function and is still a music venue, but it is now also a coffee shop, art gallery and craft shop, in a remarkable revitalisation that’s still evolving.

When asked what brought her to this part of the world, Corina cites Google Maps. Corina and Mick first visited the area in virtual form, by exploring with their computer.

For Corina, it was love at first sight when she saw the satellite images of the rugged rock formations.

Although Mick wasn’t as smitten by the computerised view of the Sheep’s Head, he was sold by the time they found themselves driving along one of the most beautiful peninsulas in West Cork.

“It was like the Mary Celeste,” says Mick of the first time they walked through the doors of The White House.

“I think that there might even have been a pint somewhere,” says Corina.

“All the old taps were still there, as if untouched since the doors of the pub were closed for the last time.”

With the new existence that Corina and Mick have given it, the doors of this rural pub are once more open to the public.

The White House doesn’t serve alcohol any more, but its renaissance has breathed new life into the building, its owners and the local community.

The White House is perhaps an example of how to move forward for the thousands of closed rural pubs around the country.

And all from the energy of immigrants to Ireland making a difference.


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