Born in Belfast but raised in Canada, Janice Muldoon’s identity and sense of home has never been in doubt. For Janice, ‘home’ has always been Northern Ireland. After years of deliberating she and her husband Brian finally decided to make the move to Northern Ireland. This is their experience…
This month marks the fourth anniversary of leaving Canada to follow our dreams and move to Northern Ireland, and I’ve learned a lot.
I was born in Belfast and emigrated with my family to Calgary, Alberta, Canada at the age of two. We always maintained strong connections with Northern Ireland and came “home” to visit family as often as we could.
In between those visits, hundreds of blue air mail letters were exchanged and the odd parcel, usually containing something lovingly knit by my Nanny and of course a few sweets or crisps that weren’t available across the water.
In the early days, we only spoke to family on the phone a few times a year.
It was quite an undertaking to “get a line” and it was very expensive. I remember us all taking turns on Christmas day trying to get through to the international operator to connect our call.
Northern Ireland was always referred to as “home” in our house, “we got a letter from home today,” or “we’re going home on a holiday in the summer.”
I’m sure many ex pats reading this can relate. There is something about this place, no matter where you are in the world, that just feels like home.
In April 2000 I brought my husband Brian over to meet the family. He fell in love with the place immediately and thus began the endless discussions about the possibility of making Northern Ireland our home.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a good life in Canada, but we wanted a change, we wanted to experience more.
Well, fast forward nearly 16 years and here we are. It took a long time for us to take the leap, but it was worth it. I love my life here, and I am so glad that we went for it.
Here are some things I’ve learned.
1. It doesn’t rain ALL the time!
I lost count how many people, upon my announcement that we were moving here said “why would you want to move there, doesn’t it rain all the time?” No it does not! OK, it rains, that is why it is so green and beautiful, but there are very few days throughout the year where the weather keeps you indoors. There may be times in the winter where you get a few wet days in a row, but mostly it is showers with bright spells between, and loads of dry days too. Besides, it’s a bit of rain, we won’t melt!
2. The people are so friendly!
We live in a seaside town called Bangor, about a 20 minute drive from Belfast. Having only lived here 4 years, we would be considered “blow ins” by many. To the people that don’t know us personally, but know of us, we are “The Canadians.” With that said, it would be rare for me to be out on foot and not have someone I know, toot the car horn and wave, or pass someone walking down the street and say hello or stop for a quick chat.
Strangers make eye contact and conversation. Waiting for a bus, standing in line in a shop, in an elevator, someone will always say, “Isn’t that a lovely day?” or something to acknowledge your presence. The point is, there is rarely uncomfortable silence, staring at your shoes while you are standing next to someone, and quite frankly having random small talk with strangers brightens my day. I have actually, on a number of occasions, been asked by another woman in a shop for my opinion on what she has tried on! I can say without a doubt, that had never happened to me before.
This is quite refreshing for me after living in a big city most of my life, where many people actually drop their eyes as they come towards you so they don’t have to speak.
Men (usually the older generation) refer to women as “love” or “dear” and it is not offensive. I was in an underground carpark the other day and there were a couple of workmen running what appeared to be some kind of cables. As I passed to head to the elevator, one of the men said “watch your step there love.” I find it totally endearing, as it is said with kindness and sincerity.
It is only since I have moved here that I can understand why my Mum missed home and this kind of human interaction so much. She didn’t move away from Belfast until she was 32 years old. She had spent her whole life until that point where this kind of friendliness was the norm. Now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I never want to give it up.
3. The Local Pub
Going to the pub is less about drinking and more about “the craic”. It is a place where people congregate and catch up. Sometimes you may arrange with a friend to meet for a drink, but even if you just show up without making any arrangements, you will be sure to run into someone you know.
We carried out an entire home renovation with the pub as our headquarters. I found this quite hilarious in the beginning. We didn’t want to have loads of house keys floating around in case we lost track of where they all were. This wasn’t a problem as there is quite an efficient system in place to deal with that. The plumber (for example) would finish up his work and if he didn’t see the tradesman that was due to come in the following day, he would leave the key with the barman at our local, with instructions of who to give it to. I think this is also a good excuse to stop in for a quick pint after work!
We have had many visitors come to stay with us since we moved here. One thing we always make a point of doing is taking them out to the pub, and after they go back home it is often one of their fondest memories. Many pubs have traditional music sessions. They play beautiful ballads that pull at your heart strings, and rowdy favourites that everyone knows the words to. I think it is something that everyone needs to experience in their lifetime!
4. People Make Time For Themselves and Others
We have made some wonderful friends here, and if a week went by without seeing them it would be rare. People here make a conscious effort to spend time with the people they care about. I remember a time in my life when I was so “busy“ that weeks, and even months would go by without seeing my closest friends. Now it is normal to have some kind of social event in my diary every week. I love it, it gives me balance.
5. Small Is Beautiful
Drives in the country are one of our favourite things to do, and there are so many beautiful places right on our doorstep. We jump in the car on a Saturday or Sunday morning, grab a coffee and go. I think from pretty much anywhere in Northern Ireland, you can be out in the country in 10 minutes or less. I love exploring back roads and just getting lost and seeing what amazing places we will stumble upon. It is mind blowing just how much beauty is packed into this small country. You can drive from the very top of Ireland to the bottom in a little over 8 hours! It will take us years to experience everything this beautiful island has to offer, but we’re up for the challenge.
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