As soon as our offer for the house was accepted time seemed to drag. Days were darker, longer and colder with the prospect of that fine house ahead of us. This was made much worse by the lockdown as there was no going anywhere. We couldn’t even go up to look at “our” house as it was three times further away than the travel limit allowed. Our days were measured out in domestic tasks enlivened by walks in the small park with the dogs.
Here we came across an interesting Irish phenomenon. Meeting a stranger with his young daughter, he greeted us and asked where we were from. As we explained who we were he asked a series of questions before nodding happily. Sure, he knew our lovely Irish friends. In fact he was – complicated in-law and cousin’s relationship followed – so they were family too. Satisfied he now knew us and had placed us in the web of local relationships he carried on with his walk, waving a cheery goodbye. It is easy to forget just how small the population of Ireland is and everyone seems to be related to everyone else, however tenuously. I resolved to dig out my genealogy notes and find my own links to the area if possible.
We were also struggling to advance the necessary paperwork for the car, licences, medical arrangements… Until you leave a country you don’t realise how embedded your life is in that nation’s systems. I developed a healthy respect for anyone trying to join the UK. National Insurance numbers appear at birth along with all the other records built up over a lifetime of residence. Strip that away and health care, many civil rights, financial stability, even the right to buy a mobile phone or connect to electricity can be difficult to establish.
In the midst of a pandemic all queries and requests were handled remotely, if at all. We relied on the only computer we had in the cottage, a 20 year old Toshiba laptop I had grabbed at the last minute. It was running an extremely out-of-date operating system, the battery was shot and it was unbelievably slow but it did actually work – eventually. Of course, we had no printer so any letters had to be sent by e-mail or hand written but we kept chipping away at the bureaucratic wall. We were determined to be ready when the house papers came through. Without our valiant little Toshiba I doubt we would have managed at all so here’s a shout-out for an unbelievably tough (and now happily retired) machine.
We got our completion date, after a few hiccups, just nine weeks after our arrival in Ireland. Our estate agent/auctioneer, Noel, delivered the keys to us and we rang our storage owner to let them know we were starting the move. Up the hill about 10 kilometres we pulled into the drive and opened the door to our new house. It was cold but the log burner was on again and our builder friend appeared with two barrels of oil to keep the boiler going. Something else to sort out – how did we get fuel? How did we get the electricity account transferred? And we really wanted the log-burner on! Our kind vendors threw the door to the shed open and showed us eight large sacks of wood they were leaving behind. More kindness from relative strangers.
Jacqui drove to the storage and began to supervise moving some of our goods. The wonderful Derek and his Merry Men, Will and Anthony, were already waiting, eager to start. As they levered up the door to one of the lockers Derek’s mouth fell open in shock.
‘Ah, they’ve just f**ked that all in there!’ he said. There was muttering from his lads. It wasn’t just careless, they decided. They way they had treated our home contents was abusive. As carefully as they could they began to disentangle and repack stuff in their van. Jacqui had made a plan for me as stuff arrived at the house and I directed as best I could.
It was a long job, taken slowly over three days and we went back to the cottage overnight. Soon our builder fitted the new gates to secure the garden area. Then security lights were fitted and we were ready to stay overnight. There were boxes everywhere of course. I couldn’t work out how to fix the beds properly and some vital components were missing for two of them. Who the hell dismantles a bed and leaves the bolts behind?? The amazing Lynn spotted one set when cleaning the Saltburn house. She posted them on to us but the others were gone for good. Still, we ran the heating all night to lift two years of chill. That night we camped out with a picnic table and had our first meal in our new house.
We knew there were a lot of small problems, from wonky taps to loose doors. Most of the vent covers to the windows were missing so we sealed them up with tape. Doors could be jiggled. We just swore at the taps. We still could not believe our luck in finding what was in the words of our builder friend, a very fine house.
That evening I watched the sun go down behind the trees in the field behind us.
“That’s a Fairy Fort”, said our friend. “Ye keep out of there or it brings bad luck. But stay away and maybe they look out for ya”.
Yes, it is a very fine house, with interesting neighbours from the sound of it. Despite the proximity to the ‘wee folk’ we slept very, very well that night.