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Country living: 'We'll always be blow-ins but our sons are locals, and root us here'

Moving to a small village in the heart of the Irish countryside was the beginning of a new life for Philip Judge.

Philip Judge Author and actor

WHEN MY BELOVED and I decided to buy a house together, the Celtic Tiger was roaring lustily. We didn’t realise how loudly because its yowling was drowned out by the tuneless singing of the roistering drunks cavorting beneath the windows of the tiny flat we rented in Temple Bar at the time.

Nonetheless, despite the slurred serenading, we both enjoyed living in town and we began our search for something affordable amongst the new apartments that were springing up in the heart of the city.

Somewhere more rural

I say apartment. We looked at a few tea chests fashioned from plywood and plaster board and grew discouraged. The Beloved suggested we take our limited borrowing potential elsewhere. Somewhere more rural.

I laughed, then saw her face, humoured her and did some sums. Our rent was low and we had saved a little. Taking out a small mortgage on a place we could possibly let and occasionally visit might actually be feasible.

We would never live there, of course, but a weekend retreat and a toehold on the property ladder seemed attractive and an adult thing to have. So we looked at a small cottage in a distant village in Wicklow and with a rush of blood to the head we made a speculative offer.

The next morning, to our alarmed surprise, it was accepted. A panicked call to our accountant surprisingly assured us of mortgage approval despite our dodgy profession – we’re actors – the lenders, it seemed, were getting reckless. So we bought.

A toehold in town

Final Cover In Sight of Yellow Mountain Philip Judge Philip Judge's memoir, In Sight of Yellow Mountain: A Year in the Irish Countryside, is published by Gill Books.

 

The Tiger’s caterwaul grew louder and a year later the cottage was worth double what we – or should I say the building society – had paid for it. This was vaguely gratifying but meaningless as we had no desire to succumb to the absurd mania for “trading up” that deranged the nation at the time.

In due course, and with the inevitability of a giddy child’s balloon bursting, the crash happened. The Tiger’s roaring reverted to the more familiar mewling of a shifty tomcat and we, like many others, were squeezed. The mortgage was manageable but reluctantly we let the flat go and relocated in mind as well as body.

Now we have lived in sight of Yellow Mountain for a dozen years and more and I can’t imagine ever moving. But it took some time to settle. Without that toehold in the town I may have felt trapped without escape on a muddy, isolated acre in the driving rain.

Who’s to say we mightn’t have despaired, cashed in our wellies and tweeds and rushed back to the city for pomegranate molasses, macchiato and falafel focaccia. So I offer five basic rules to help avoid giving up after a year or two.

Firstly – Take It Handy

This is a phrase in common currency which superficially means “go easy” but around here it has a deeper, more nuanced suggestion of a calm, zen-like, steady stoicism. Any overt enthusiasm is frowned upon.

When we first came to look at the house, I collected the keys from the pub and warmly shook hands with the landlord whilst throwing glad, gauche smiles all around. It was as though I’d broken wind in a lift: Don’t be overeager to please.

Secondly – Bearing in mind the first rule: Do get involved

Word got around that we were actors. Consequently, when the village held a fundraising dance competition, the general consensus was that we didn’t mind making arses of ourselves in public and we were inevitably roped in.

The Beloved wielded the microphone for the night and kept the chat coming – now she is seen as great craic altogether. I wore a false moustache and body sculpted to a BeeGees number. Now I get grinned at a lot more than I used to.

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Thirdly – Plant things

In our first year I misread some seed packets and sowed enough lettuce to feed the entire county’s slug population for the year. Since then I have made many more mistakes but there have also been successes and watching something, anything, grow intimately connects you to the seasons and the turning of the agricultural year.

Fourthly – Procreate

We have been welcomed here but will always be blow-ins, however our sons are locals. There is nothing like your children’s lives to root you in a place.

Because of our boys’ involvement, I accidentally found myself on the local GAA committee and was once called upon to referee our under eight team in a friendly game of football – a sport I haven’t played or watched since I was a nine. I felt a tug on my shirt and looked down to see a small girl whispering “We get a free kick now.”

Fifthly – Believe in better weather: it always comes

When the grey skies seem unending and the rain is incessant and the mud is universal – things can only improve.

Philip Judge is the author of the memoir, In Sight of Yellow Mountain: A Year in the Irish Countryside, published by Gill Books and available in all good bookstores and from online retailers including Easons.com and Amazon.co.uk (€14.99).

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About the author:

Philip Judge  / Author and actor

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