“I was shocked by the way the Irish look after each other. And they work damn hard ‘
Three days after moving to Co Louth from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to join her husband, two children and two dogs, Charlene Mathieson and her family made it to the fun Termonfeckin St Stephen’s Day run at the local GAA club.
They had landed on December 23, 2019 and had chosen to stay in Ireland over Christmas to make the move and their new home feel “more real,” she said. The fun run was their first opportunity to begin the process of integrating into the community, which Mathieson says she was keen to do.
A few months later, her two children, Isla, nine, and Sandy, six, participated in the club’s camogie, hurling and football training sessions, and Mathieson has since joined the weekly Gaelic Mothers and Others training group. .
“I had never played a team sport in my life, but I really enjoy it. There are about 50 moms there. We’re just here for the craic. I do it for the social aspect. It was a lifeline, the GAA.
“What impressed me the most was the commitment of so many people in the community. Everything is voluntary and the facilities are exceptional. To see the children all proud to wear [local colours], this is something that we wanted our kids to be involved in.
Mathieson, from Hartlepool in the north-east of England, had never met the GAA until her husband’s new job brought them to Ireland. He moved in the summer of 2019 and in the months leading up to coming with their children in December, Mathieson searched for activities for them on the social media pages of local clubs and volunteer groups.
“None of us had ever been to Ireland, we didn’t know anyone here, we just took a leap of faith on our way. I knew it would be a welcoming country, and the people were very welcoming.
“The communities are really family oriented. People tend to look to their families. I hadn’t realized how strong these bonds were.
Covid-19 arrived just nine weeks after Mathieson and his family moved, which means meeting new people and fitting in has become much more difficult. The family tried to use this isolation in their new home to their advantage in other ways.
I wanted to be able to walk into a supermarket and say hello to someone, run into someone and know who they are. So when it started it felt like we were finally known
“We tried to think of it as a new adventure – nothing is boring, nothing is trivial, we can always explore because it’s brand new. If we continued to fly for a weekend to see friends in Scotland or family in England I think the kids might have struggled to settle in. So it worked in our favor.
Mathieson held a position at the Louth Volunteer Center as an Advocacy Administrator, researching events and other groups in the area, which helped her meet new people, and she signed up for a course for people looking to work with charities.
She also joined the Migrant Volunteer Network. She says she found Ireland more diverse and multicultural than she expected.
Mathieson says most volunteer and community groups were able to continue their work during the closures, through video calls and online research.
“I wanted to be able to walk into a supermarket and say hello to someone. Something as simple as that – go out, go to town and run into someone and find out who they are. So when that started to happen, it was like we were finally known.
“My involvement in GAA has really helped me. If I go to the store now, I can say hello to people. There is this link. The clubs were the most important thing for us, and getting you out there in the community. “
Mathieson, who is a high school French teacher, first took a year off to help their children settle into their new home. This, however, turned in two years, after the arrival of Covid. She has just returned to a local school with maternity coverage and is adjusting to the new curriculum and new learning style in Ireland.
The Scottish exam system is similar to junior and school leaving certificates, but Mathieson believes the Irish system gives students more opportunities to think about why they are learning a language. She also believes that children have a different experience of childhood in Ireland.
“Children are still children here. There is always a level of naivety to them. They have no worries in the world. We noticed a difference with the school. In the UK it is very results oriented, even from an early age in primary school. In Scotland it was all about pushing [the children] – what can we do to improve ourselves, to take it to the next level. While here we take our time. It allows them to breathe.
“It’s all about the kids – the GAA, the clubs, seeing the families on the beach. It just seems that their priority is their family, their children.
“People don’t let go of their responsibilities because they’re too busy – they make sure it’s always a priority, that children continue to experience childhood, sport, fun and games. friendships. “
My son met Davy Fitzgerald the pitcher and took a pic with him and said he wanted to be a pitcher
Mathieson also notes, as part of the strong sense of community she encountered in Ireland, the sense of social responsibility. She mentions a number of social media pages locally that are doing sleight of hand for those in need, in one case procuring a new washing machine at a local store for an older woman whose own was irreparable.
“It really shocked me – the level of social responsibility people feel, to take care of each other. Ireland is an industrious nation. People are working very hard. When you hear what people are doing – they have a job, they volunteer, maybe they’ll cut down their trees or build something for their mother – very industrious.
After almost two years in County Louth, having moved to Scotland from the north of England, Mathieson doubts they will be leaving anytime soon. The integration process is underway, but she thinks the children have settled down well.
“My daughter’s accent is changing; it sounds very Irish. My son met Davy Fitzgerald the pitcher and took a picture with him, and said he wanted to be a pitcher. He also wants to start Irish dancing, I think he considers himself the next Michael Flatley.
“Children thrive here. They still have the right to be children: they don’t grow up too fast. I love the GAA community. I would like them both to continue in school. It’s such a great thing to have. So many valuable things can be learned through her. We will be there for the long haul.
We would love to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To participate, send an email [email protected].