What's it like, living in The West Of Ireland?

I lived in County Sligo, from 1990 to 1994, so not all of my information is up to date. My children stayed In Ireland until they went to University, so I have information from them as well as my own experience.

I was a sheep farmer, and also did freelance work it IT and telecoms.

I must stress that the West of Ireland is very different from Dublin.

The People

Irish people are some of the friendliest in the world. Especially in rural areas, people will stop what they are doing, to have a chat. Sometimes a road may be blocked for an hour while two people driving in opposite directions have a conversation through their car windows.

You could easily get the impression that Irish people are downright nosey. They ask very direct questions in conversation, and you need to learn to counter with your own questions, otherwise all the conversations will be about you, as you answer those questions.

Conversations often start with “How’re you getting on?” The correct response is not to answer, but to ask the same question in reply.

If, like I did, you have a farm, you will often be asked “How’s the work?” You are being asked about the farming work, not about your money-earning job.

The upside to all the direct and probing questions is that everyone knows your business: when the cow is due to calve, when you plan to make hay, when the lambs are due, etc. It was not unusual to come home from a quick shopping trip in the nearest town to find a neighbour had herded one of our cows into the barn because she was about to give birth, and people used to just turn up to help with hay-making and sheep-dipping.

Cost of Living

Although Dublin is rather expensive, rural areas are much cheaper. Houses are cheaper to buy or rent than the UK. Supermarket prices are a little cheaper. Cars, however, are expensive.

Since most people in rural areas farm to some extent, a lot of food comes from the farm, and there is a healthy system of barter and gifts, so that this bounty of free food is spread widely.


Some parts of Ireland have a healthy tourist trade, and thus plenty of hotels. The downside is that hotels in areas popular with tourists tend to be expensive. In other areas, hotels can be amazingly cheap. There are hotels in castles, stately homes and beautiful houses with very good prices.

There are also very many B&Bs, although quality varies.

Public Transport

In rural Ireland, public transport is either abysmal or non-existent. There a some bus routes, infrequent, packed and all driven by people who want to be Formula 1 race drivers. There are some rail lines, from Dublin to major cities, slow and rickety. A car is essential, whether you are visiting or living there. Because of the poor public transport, Ireland is very hitch-hiker friendly.

Driving and Roads

The main trunk roads are OK, due in part to EU structural funds. The country roads are another matter. Much of the soil in Ireland is peat, so the roads (and railway lines) are prone to subsidence. It is not unusual to find livestock wandering the roads in the country, so watch your speed. Once you leave the major roads, signposts are usually few and far between, and not very helpful.

There used to be a huge number of uninsured vehicles on the roads; although this has improved a bit, it is still a problem, so it is a good idea to have fully comprehensive insurance yourself.


English is spoken virtually everywhere. There are a couple of small Gaelic-speaking areas, but even in these zones, English should get you by.

English is used differently in rural areas. They have some special words like “amn’t” (am not, as in “Amn’t I just after tellin you”). “After” is used differently: “I am just after a cup of tea” doesn’t mean “I would like a cup of tea, as it means in the UK; it means “I just had a cup of tea” (I am just after having a cup of tea).


Irish culture revolves around the pub. Almost all social events happen at a pub. Children are always welcome in Irish country pubs. Often your nearest (mini) grocery store is at the pub; you can drop your shopping list in the grocery store, and have a drink or two while your groceries are packed into a box, ready for you to pay (or put it on your tab) and take it home.

Music is a huge thing in Irish culture. Almost everyone can sing, and many people learn to play some musical instrument. There are frequent bands at the pubs.

Medical Services

My experience with doctors in rural Ireland was not great. Hospitals outside of Dublin are also not great, and hospitals elsewhere often have to send patients to a Dublin hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

Dining Out

There are many places, e.g. pubs, where you can get good basic food. If you want a fine dining experience, or you want vegetarian or vegan food, it will be harder to find, except in cities or tourist areas.

Irish people are, to my mind, rather picky about their food. I had several guests in my home who would not even taste food until they knew what was in it, in case it contained something they didn’t like (or just didn’t know). One man complained that my tomato soup was too spicy (even though I had left out the chilli and paprika, and reduced the garlic and basil). This means that, if you are looking for an Indian, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, you are likely to be disappointed.


Grocery shopping is fairly good in Ireland. You can get most things, and prices are OK.

Clothes shopping has got much better over the years, and you will find many of the same stores that you find in the UK.


Ireland had, when I was there, a very relaxed attitude to registration. Eventually they would notice that you were in the country, and the necessary registration would just happen. Things have probably changed in this respect.

What was not relaxed, however, were the customs police (very different to the normal police). I imported a car, which I had not owned for the prior 6 months necessary to avoid import duty. They tried to overcharge for import duty, so the case ended up in dispute, and the whole affair dragged on for 18 months, during which time the cops stopped our vehicle many times, and came to our house.

The Police

The police are also very relaxed, but only in rural areas. Since everyone knows at least someone in any family of locals, all sorts of offences result in nothing more than a warning (speeding, dangerous driving, drunk-driving, etc.); I saw this happen, sometimes as a passenger of a car driven by a local, many times.

TV and Radio

I didn’t find TV great in Ireland, although I didn’t have so much time to watch it.

There were a few good radio shows, usually in the evening, playing great music by Irish and international artists. Daytime radio mostly seems to comprise phone-in shows, which the Irish seem to love. Also, on local radio, there are the obituaries – something that I didn’t like.


In contrast to Dublin, telecoms services in the West of Ireland were really dire. At the time I was trying to sell ISDN based equipment, and the state telco told me many times that they would only make ISDN service available if I could guarantee a defined minimum number of customer. I certainly couldn’t get any kind of Internet connection at home, except a modem/dial-up connection. DSL, cable modem, fibre-optic, or other broadband connection were simply not available; as far as I know, my ex-wife still has no broadband connection at the farm where we lived.

On top of that, the mobile phone coverage was very spotty. Where I lived was in a hollow, and there was no service. Again, as far as I know, things have not improved much.


Ireland markets its products and the country itself using “green” credentials. This is mostly just PR, not fact. Most garbage is burned by the householder, meaning lots of toxic smoke (to avoid carcinogens like dioxins, garbage needs to be burned at much higher temperatures than can be achieved on the bonfire), or put into a hole in the ground (the household’s private landfill). Old cars are often left to rot in the corner of a field.

People do at least usually compost biodegradable waste, which they use to fertilise their vegetable patches.

When I was living there, there was no system for recycling: bottles, plastic, metal, and paper were just part of the garbage.