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Living in Dublin an expat guide

From Viking remnants to Georgian front doors and on to the glass-and-steel colossi of the European HQs of many a tech giant, Dublin is a city which has rolled with the punches of its almost 1,500 years of history and become as elegant, yet fun, a city as one could hope to move to in Northern Europe.

With almost 40% of the Irish nation living within the Greater Dublin area, the appeal is as local as it is international. Cosmopolitan to a fault, yet very true to its roots and with a safe, cultured but not mollycoddling environment for raising a family, it is the big city in a small country that sits astride both coast and countryside and puts everything at your disposal inside an hour of wherever you are.

Social life

Nightlife and the coast

The stereotype of the Irish pub is not as prevalent as once it was, though you can find it in profusion if you look hard enough, especially in the defiantly local hostelries in less gentrified communities. However, in the city centre, you can take in a lot of smart establishments en route to one of many fine dining restaurants, particularly around the Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square/Street and the more affluent Southside suburbs.

That said, Chapter One – one of a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, sits squarely in the Northside on Parnell Square. You can always dial down the chic in favour of the craic at The Dawson Lounge – Ireland’s smallest pub, where it is rumoured that no matter how much you consume, there’s not room enough to fall over. For specialist outlets, from jazz bars to LGBT+ life, the rule of thumb is few, but high quality.

The coast is as much part of the city as the architecture is, as Dublin hugs the Irish Sea and the bay houses a lot of exquisite seafood. Head for Clontarf or Howth in the north to make the most of the beaches, or Dun Laoighire and Greystones to the south for a sense of seaside resort a short jaunt from the city centre.

Entertainment, Sport, Arts

Ireland is passionate about the arts and sport and Dublin showcases it all. While you’ll get the same range of cinemas as you would in any other major city, it’s the local colour that really makes Dublin stand out. The Abbey Theatre on Abbey Street in the Northside– founded in the early 1900s by figures such as WB Yeats - is the National Theatre of Ireland and committed to holding a mirror up to the nation. The Gate Theatre in Parnell Square feels like a townhouse ballroom and offers a traditional programme while the Gaiety on the Southside, is as close to a Variety Theatre as you’ll find now.

The National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace hosts a wide selection of classical and modern music concerts and operas, while the 3Arena (which changes name regularly and is still often referred to by locals as The Point) is Dublin’s answer to London’s O2.

Sport is huge, and while golfers will head north-west to Kildare for the many country clubs and courses there and elsewhere in the more suburban reaches, in the city itself, there is the holy trinity of football, rugby and the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). This last is itself a coverall for three principal sports: Gaelic Football, Hurling and, for women, Camogie. All three are lightning-fast, brutal and unspeakably exciting to watch, not least because the GAA is avowedly non-professional, and all of the world-class athletes playing will be holding down a 9-5 while entertaining up to 80,000 people at Croke Park at the weekends.

At the Aviva Stadium on Lansdowne Road, rugby and soccer share a home for the two national teams, with soccer being, as ever, a highly popular and populist sport, and rugby, though taken very seriously, a mixture of British throwback and a preserve of the expensive Catholic private schools dotted around the Greater Dublin area.

Horse-racing is also a huge favourite, with courses at Leopardstown, Punchestown, Fairyhouse and the Curragh all within a short hop of the city centre.

Finding Fellow Expats and Befriending the Irish

Befriending the Irish will not be hard – be kind, be friendly, be open for a chat and the befriending will often find you. But be warned: the Irish have a gimlet eye and will sniff out any whiff of condescension. Should it be clear that you are after a Disneyfied experience, they might offer it, but with a huge pinch of irony and the joke will definitely be on you by the end. It is a proud nation that fought hard for its independence and is now confident of its place on the world stage. But you will hear no bluster of Irish exceptionalism – as any Irish person will tell you, they don’t need to trumpet what they know in their hearts to be true.

Expats find each other in a variety of ways. As Dublin became more cosmopolitan, the variety of groups open to expats has expanded and now, alongside the very well-established American Expats in Ireland group there are now meet-up groups for most major nationalities, from the Russians in Dublin Group, through events for international businessfolk to a coffee group for Indian Millennial Women. Send your child to any major private school and involve yourself in the parents’ networks and you will probably also expand your international horizons too.

Local Knowledge

Phone, Internet and Banking

Mobile networks contain all the usual European and Anglo-Irish faces: O2, EE, 3 and Vodafone spin-offs all offer standard-issue contracts on inexpensive tariffs and, in all but the most remote areas of the country, mobile coverage and high-speed broadband access is of the high standard you would expect from one of the most rapidly-growing economies in Europe.

In-state banking is dominated by Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish but all major banks have a presence too – Santander, Bank of America, HSBC and even the Bank of Montreal, among many others. The IBAN network will also ensure you need never worry about your overseas reserves again either.

Shopping

Whether you’re looking for bread and milk or the latest pair of Louboutins, Dublin has what you’re after. Tesco, SuperValu, M&S and Dunne’s head the supermarket field, alongside budget options Lidl and Aldi, while every community will have convenience stores (Centra, Mace, Spar) and there are, citywide, independent grocers, bakers, butchers and farmers’ markets. The closest Ireland has to an upscale supermarket chain is Donnybrook Fair, whose six branches are largely located in Dublin’s more affluent suburbs.

For clothing and luxury goods, Grafton Street and Stephen’s Green are the places to go. Brown Thomas has been kitting out Ireland’s top tier for over 170 years but is owned by the same private equity firm that owns Penney’s (that’s Primark to you, UK) that clothes everyone else for almost nothing.

There are also the sorts of city-edge shopping centres and outlet malls that you’d expect, with Stillorgan and Cornelscourt boasting the longest-lasting.

Where to Live

Dublin is a nuanced tale of two cities, divided by the River Liffey. The Northside has often been characterised as the rough-and-tumble, disadvantaged and deprived half, and it is fair to say that the crumbling remains of some of the ill-thought-out housing projects of the 1960s stand testament to the appalling conditions many northsiders lived in for decades, when crime and drugs were rife in the inner-city estates. Now, with Ireland having a few shillings in its national pocket again, the Northside seems on course to gentrify in a way that Southsiders would have recognised for years.

That said, there is a lot of history and beauty north of the Liffey – it’s where you find O’Connell street, with its generations-old stores and history as the crucible of the 1916 Easter Rising, the ageing grandeur of the Gresham Hotel and the highly respected Rotunda Hospital (THE place to have your baby). Further north-east you reach the very desirable residential areas of Malahide, Clontarf and especially Howth where upwardly mobile families and the cream of the Dublin media set pitched camp.

Southside Dublin is traditionally the area populated by what waggish local tongues would refer to as “the quality”. Much leafier and quieter than the city centre, it’s no coincidence that it is also home to some of the best schools, from co-ed Wesley College  and Blackrock College for boys to Mount Anville SecondarySchool for girls.

Donnybrook, home to the sprawling Montrose home of national broadcaster RTE, has some options for gracious living, while Foxrock, with its reputation as being banker central, attracted a lot of gentle ribbing in the popular discourse, but is a fine place to live. Likewise, Dalkey and Killiney, in the south-eastern reaches of Greater Dublin, are wonderful if your budget is comfortable and you want sea air, rugged views and neighbours like Bono and Enya.

Ballinteer, Rathmines and Rathgar manage to keep proximity to the centre while maintaining a villagey feel.

You could, of course, go for broke and move in to the city centre, but prepare for compromises. Very few of those Georgian front doors open into houses for occupation any more, having been bought up by architects, solicitors and boutique hoteliers long ago, so it may be a generously-proportioned docklands flat (with London-scale price-tag) for you if you want to be moments from the action.

Healthcare

Ireland’s system is quite easy to navigate. There is, effectively, universal healthcare with the worst-off being accorded a full suite of care and treatment free at the point of need and everyone else investing in relatively inexpensive insurance. All care is a fraction of US-style prices even for self-payers. VHI is the state-backed insurer, though Aviva is a key rival and there are many others willing to queue up to take your just-in-case money.

Transport

Dublin is well-served by an international airport and the Irish diaspora has meant easy travel to the US, Australia and Middle East as well as most major European destinations.

Traffic can be congested especially in the morning and evening rush-hours as many Dublin workers live well outside the area. The M50 motorway provides a pretty effective toll-based road between Dublin and Cork (although you would not be wise to try and live in one and work in the other even now as it will still add a five-hour round trip to your day) and the M1 runs North-South between Dublin and Belfast, turning what was once a three or four hour trip in the early 1990s into a 90-120 minute ride now.

Public transport is improving across Ireland and in Dublin itself, buses and a zippy tram network (called An Luas) whisk people to all points of Greater Dublin with speed, ease and frequency along dedicated lanes and tracks which get priority.

The best advice one can give about affordable parking in Dublin city centre is “Don’t even hope”. Permanent parking spaces were changing hands for a solid six figures during the boom-times.

All That Said…

Dublin has the craic in spades, but don’t be fooled: this is a serious place of business, with everyone who’s anyone in tech or international trade having their European HQ or, at least, a significant presence, in the city. It offers the classic Irish welcome to industry on very easy terms, with among the lowest corporation tax in the EU, and regards expats as both international friends to be embraced and serious investors into an economy that has learned how to look after itself the hard way.

It’s a vibrant, punchy city with stacks for families and one of the most lauded education systems in the west. It is still rough around the edges in places, and, with the country not even 100 years old, it still has lessons to learn, but with Dublin’s place on the doorstep of a nation rich in history, beauty and culture, with its face turned proudly towards Europe and the wider world, you should find a home to love among the tongue-in-cheek whimsy.

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