Why I’m moving to Ireland

Over the past few weeks quite a number of people have asked me why I decided to move to Ireland, so thought I’d write a post about it in case anyone out there is interested.

The simple answer that I was offered a full-time permanent and rather well paid job at Maynooth University. I’m currently on a part-time fixed term contract at Cardiff University.  The salary wasn’t the main factor, but the low value of the £ relative to the € means that I will do quite well financially out of the move. On top of that I will be joining a final salary pension scheme which has far more favourable terms that the scheme that applies to UK academic staff. Oh, and there’s neither a Research Excellence Framework nor a Teaching Excellence Framework nor a Knowledge Exchange Framework nor punitive levels of student tuition fees nor any of the many other  idiocies that have been inflicted on UK universities in recent years. It will be a relief to be able to teach and do research in environment which, at least for the time being, regards these as things of value in themselves rather than as means of serving the empty cycle of production and consumption that defines the modern neoliberal state. Above all, it’s a good old-fashioned professorship. You know, teaching and research?

That’s the simple answer, but there’s a bit more to it than that. I left Sussex in 2016 with the intention of taking early retirement as soon as I could do so. My short exposure to  a role in senior management, as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, convinced me that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life  in a system that I felt had lost all sight of what universities are and what they are for. I was (and still am) deeply grateful to Cardiff University for throwing me a lifeline that enabled me to escape from what I increasingly saw as a dead-end job, and giving me an interesting job to do to tide me over until next year, when I am 55 and therefore eligible for early retirement.

I think I have done everything that was asked of me in my current position at Cardiff, on a half-time salary but often up against very short timescales. The two MSc courses I was brought in to set up are both now running and looking to expand. On top of that we also managed to secure funding for a Centre for Doctoral Training. I only played a small part in doing that, but I think it has put the Data Innovation Research Institute on the map.  When both of these successes had been secured earlier this year, I felt that there was no way that leaving now would have a negative effect either on the Data Innovation Institute or the School of Physics & Astronomy. By about April this year I had firmly decided to retire completely from academia in mid-2018.

The problem with this plan had been apparent since 2016: Brexit.  I think it’s still quite possible that the Brexit project will fail under the weight of its own contradictions, but that no longer matters. The damage has already been done. The referendum campaign, followed by the callous and contemptuous attitude of the current UK Government towards EU nationals living in Britain, unleashed a sickening level of xenophobia that has made me feel like a stranger in my own country. Not everyone who voted `Leave’ is a bigot, of course, but every bigot voted for Brexit and the bigots are now calling all the shots. There are many on the far right of UK politics who won’t be satisfied until we have ethnic cleansing. Even if Brexit is stopped the genie of intolerance is out of the bottle and I don’t think it well ever be put back. Brexit will also doom the National Health Service and the UK university system, and clear the way for the destruction of workers’ rights and environmental protection. The poor and the sick will suffer, while only the rich swindlers who bought the referendum result will prosper. The country in which I was born, and in which I have lived for the best part of 54 years, is no longer something of which I want to be a part.

So, having spent most of my working life in the UK higher education system and decided that my heart was no longer in that, I then had to face that my heart was no longer in this country at all. Could I face years of retirement in mean-spirited down-market Brexit Britain? What was I to do?

I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how lucky I have been that opportunities have come along at exactly the right time. In May, a friend pointed out the advertisement for a job in Maynooth with an application deadline just a few days away. Cosmology was specifically mentioned as one of the possible areas. I felt that they would probably be looking for someone younger, and my research output over the last few years has been patchy given my other commitments, but at the last minute I sent off an application.

Ireland has a particularly strong attraction for me because I have Irish ancestry through which I am eligible for citizenship without having to go through the naturalisation process (which takes 5 years, still less than many EU countries). Together with an Irish EU passport comes a continuation of the rights – especially freedom of movement – that UK citizens will shortly lose.

It seemed like outrageously good luck that the position in Maynooth came up just at the right time, but the end of July came and went without any news. I assumed I hadn’t been shortlisted, so forgot about the idea.

Then, in September I received a letter inviting me for interview just a couple of weeks later. I’m not sure why the process was  so delayed, but was overjoyed to find out there was still a chance. The date clashed with a prior commitment, so I had to do the interview via Skype (over a flaky internet connection from a hotel room) rather than in person.  I thought it went very badly, but I ended up being offered the job. I visited Maynooth University shortly after being informed of this, to discuss terms.

The people at Maynooth were keen to have me start there as soon as possible, but given the lateness of the interview date I had already committed to teaching in Cardiff this forthcoming Semester and I wasn’t going to leave my current colleagues and students in the lurch. There was an obvious solution, however. I am employed here at 50% FTE so I could start in Maynooth at up to 50% without having to resign. We quickly agreed this transitional arrangement was workable, and I started there on 1st December.  The period from February to April will be very busy, as I will be working either side of the Irish Sea, but it’s only for a relatively short time. Next summer I plan to relocate completely to Ireland.

You probably think I’m a bit old to be starting a new life in another country, even one that’s relatively nearby, but I reckon I have time for this one last adventure before I retire. In the words of Tennyson’s Ulysses, `It is not too late to seek a newer world’.  I have worked in British universities since 1988. That’s almost 30 years. I reckon I can still contribute something in the last 10 I have before I pull down the shutters for good. Who knows, maybe I’ll even experience the joy of living in a United Ireland before long?

The press have covered a number of stories of EU nationals who have been living in Britain and who have decided to leave because of Brexit. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to those, like myself, who are also EU nationals but who happen have been born in Britain. I know more than a few academics who are weighing up their options, as well as those born abroad I know who have already departed.  The Brexodus has already begun and its pace seems likely to accelerate very quickly indeed. Other have personal situations that are more complicated than mine, especially those who have partners and children, so not everyone will find it easy to follow a similar path to the one I’ve chosen, but I those that can get out will do so.

Because I’ve lived here all my life I thought I would find it difficult to leave Britain. I was quite traumatised by the Brexit referendum, as one would be by the death of a close relative, but it made me reexamine my life. There is a time when you have to move on, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m done here.



61 Responses to “Why I’m moving to Ireland”

  1. Congratulations and best wishes, all your reasons for moving to Ireland make perfect sense just keep blogging, please and thank you.

  2. Congratulations, Peter. A tough set of reasons leading you to this move, but it sounds like the perfect opportunity did indeed present itself. Here’s to starting a new life at a certain age!

  3. Britain’s loss is Ireland’s gain, Peter, the students will be delighted. One development that might be of interest is that the Irish govt have just decided to allow most public servants to remain in full employment until 70 if desired. This is something that I suspect will suit quite a lot of academics as many of us will continue with research anyway..

  4. Fabrizio Leisen Says:

    I don’t know if this is the right place to ask but what is the funding situation in Ireland? I mean, in terms of grant applications. Do they have something similar to research councils?

  5. I applaud your reasons for leaving the UK. Best of luck to you!
    But as a citizen of a similarly changed-for-the-worse-IMHO USA, I am also a bit jealous. You might say, “I didn’t leave my country; my country left me.” For myself, I only have the second part of that sentence and am rather too old (65) to buy into another country’s social insurance system.

  6. Adrian Burd Says:

    Peter, best wishes on the move! It’s a challenge moving to a new country (I’ve done it 3 times!) but it is an adventure. Moving back to the UK used to be our plan B in case things went sour over here, but given the idiocy of Brexit and all that it has stirred up, as well as the current directions of the UK political class, that is no longer a viable option. Which is sad, because as Steve intimates, the US has lost its collective mind, which is incredibly scary.

    • Adrian Burd Says:

      Phillip, there are other reasons that would make a move back to the UK complicated, to say the least, and that have nothing to do with the political or future situations in either country.

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Have you any specific research ambitions, ie specific problems to tackle – and hopefully solve – before you retire?

    • telescoper Says:

      Well, my research programme at Maynooth comprises three strands: developing statistical analysis methods for identifying departures from the standard cosmological model in data from CMB and galaxy clustering; developing methods for constraining cosmological models using optimal combinations of data, especially aimed at the Euclid satellite; developing further the wave-mechanical approach to structure formation.

      These are both fairly broad programmes, but if I had to give one specific aim that I would happily retire on it would be to show that our current ideas about dark energy are wrong, e.g. by finding evidence that is discrepant with it, and to come up with a better idea that is radically different from current ones. I may well be wrong but I find it very hard to accept that we’re thinking about dark energy in the right way. I said this in a Nature piece in 1998, and I still think it’s true!

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I am now convinced that gravity should be viewed as a gauge theory rather than a dynamic-geometry theory, and that GR will need to be generalised to include torsion. Perhaps looking there would get somewhere.

      • telescoper Says:

        I don’t that tinkering with either the LHS or RHS of the Einstein equations is likely to prove very fruitful. I think it requires a more fundamental approach, such as the example you suggest.

  8. Great teachers are precious, not only in science, but culture, literature, history and more. To channel your talent into the future would be such a wonderful gift.

  9. Congratulations Peter! Thanks for sharing and here’s wishing a fantastic new adventure at Maynooth….

  10. […] “Over the past few weeks quite a number of people have asked me why I decided to move to Ireland, so thought I’d write a post about it in case anyone out there is interested. The simple answer that I was offered a full-time permanent and rather well paid job at Maynooth University ..” (more) […]

  11. telescoper Says:

    Read the post.

  12. You are very welcome indeed to Ireland. There’s one thing though, in this powerful story, that hints that you are a newcomer: “I’m not sure why the process was so delayed.” 😉 In all seriousness, though, best wishes.

  13. Ireland is in many ways much more liberal than you might think. It was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by a popular vote (by a huge margin). It also currently has a gay Prime Minister (Taoiseach), something I don’t think will ever happen in England, though possibly in an independent Scotland.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t agree with blasphemy laws, but the Irish one is not very restrictive actually:


      The law makes it is illegal to publish or utter a matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion.

      So it has to be proven that (a) you outraged a substantial number of people and (b) that you did so with intent.

      I still think it should be repealed, though, and it may well be.

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, he was investigated but not prosecuted.

      Stephen Fry doesn’t live in Ireland so I don;’t think it bothered him much at all!

      The farce of the investigation has convinced many people that the law is stupid, and will probably lead to it being repealed.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Unfortunately it will carry on under the name “hate speech”. I am a theist of a particular sort and I want and support no such laws.

  14. Peter, according to astro job rumor mill two other UK astrophysicists are moving westwards. Is that also because of Brexit?

  15. Congratulations on the new appointment!

    We had a fantastic talk last year at the Computational Statistics and Machine Learning seminar on the topic of what might be the purpose of sleep (from a statistician’s perspective), given by a professor from Maynooth, who I think was Barak Pearlmutter ( http://www.bcl.hamilton.ie/~barak/ ). That is to say, there are some interesting folk other there.

  16. Tom Shanks Says:

    Ah! the famous “Schrodinger’s mistress” problem! Am sure superposition was involved!

  17. Tom Shanks Says:

    A song to commemorate the emigration of Peter to Ireland.

    First heard on the night ferry from Holyhead to Dublin.

    Made famous by the Clancy brothers – see:

    The Holy Ground

    Fare thee well, my lovely Dinah, a thousand times adieu.
    We are bound away from the Holy Ground and the girls we love so true.
    We’ll sail the salt seas over and we’ll return once more,
    And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.
    (Shouted) Fine girl you are!
    (Sung) You’re the girl that I adore,
    And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.

    Now when we’re out a-sailing and you are far behind
    Fine letters will I write to you with the secrets of my mind,
    The secrets of my mind, my girl, you’re the girl that I adore,
    And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.

    Oh now the storm is raging and we are far from shore;
    The poor old ship she’s sinking fast and the riggings they are tore.
    The night is dark and dreary, we can scarcely see the moon,
    But still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.
    It’s now the storm is over and we are safe on shore
    We’ll drink a toast to the Holy Ground and the girls that we adore.
    We’ll drink strong ale and porter and we’ll make the taproom roar,
    And when our money is all spent we’ll go to sea once more.

    • You do know what The Holy Ground was, don’t you Tom?

      • I believe ’twas the Cork red light district – think this will be more reassuring to Peter than any other interpretation!

      • The Holy Ground also said to be the irish version of “Swansea Town” song – another connection to Peter?

      • A trap I found when searching for this, there are at least two songs called “Swansea Town” (in addition to Ol’ Swansea Town Once More, and The Lass of Swansea Town). The song Tom is referring to starts “Farewell to you my Nancy…”, is number 165 in the Roud folk song index, and is not the song made popular by Max Boyce, which is a recent composition by Davies and Jewell.

  18. Congratulations to Peter on this move. My Irish ancestry is two generations too far back to qualify for citizenship, and like others, age, and the time out of research, is against me if I were to try to move. So I am envious, but Peter has earned it.

  19. I think Ireland is quite a bit more liberal than it appears on the outside. For example, we don’t have that hard-right politics that has become such a scary force in most of the Anglo world. And when it comes to catholicism, most of it is lip service now – expect big changes on the abortion law anytime now.
    The funding of scientific research isn’t great, though. It is heavily slanted towards R&D – in fact, Science Foundation Ireland is run out of the dept of enterprise, not the dept of education. many of the theoreticians I admire most haven’t received funding in years, whilst millions are spent on quite middle of the road research

  20. Oh, that’s the other thing you’ll notice.
    A favourite trick of those in power in Ireland is to carefully scrutinize any new scheme in the UK that hasn’t worked well, and then implement the same flawed idea over here with similar results. (except Brexit, thank God).

  21. Ahem – I seem to recall the Irish voting to exit the EU and then reversing their decision! So maybe the Brits will follow the Irish on this occasion.

  22. It wasn’t a vote to exit. just the next stage

  23. stephenemoss Says:

    As a British academic (in London) with a French wife, it is more than likely that we too will leave, though in a Southerly rather than Westerly direction. I’m still waiting to see how Brexit plays out as I struggle to believe that Britain will ultimately commit such a catastrophic act of self harm. But even then, a deeply unpleasant right wing racist culture is becoming normalised here, which will take years (perhaps decades) to subdue and which makes the UK now feel like a foreign country to me.
    The nature of academic life gives our community considerable fluidity when it comes to where we choose to live and work, and you will surely be among the vanguard of many who eventually settle in more friendly lands. Best wishes for the new life in Ireland!

  24. Anton Garrett Says:

    Out of interest, what are the ancestry criteria for fast-track citizenship? My mother’s father’s mother was wholly Irish (maiden name Kinsella).

    • I believe that you need a grandparent born in Ireland. I am not sure whether having citizenship but not having been born there counts. My great-great grandfather was born in Dublin, this is two generations too far back. I don’t think he considered himself Irish though, his father had been a Londoner running a bookshop in Dublin.

  25. F R bouchet Says:

    I wish you the best of luck in your new appointment and admire the determination to not let one s life values be conpromised by adverse external boundary conditions. Bravo and I hope to meet you again very soon in hope of having you are well adjusted to your new life!

  26. […] University of Cambridge. Developments at STFC will cease to be relevant to me after this summer as I’m moving to Ireland but this is potentially very important news for many readers of this […]

  27. By the way, I recently read that, as a pre-condition to accepting a position at the George Washington University in the 1930s, George Gamow demanded that the university host an annual conference in theoretical physics that he would organise. The resulting meetings became a focal point for theoretical nuclear physics in the US for the next decade. Maybe Peter could do something similar in cosmology in Ireland?

  28. “apparently Ireland is still quite conservative in things like abortion politics. ”

    Is -> was! We recently voted by 2:1 to allow no-questions-asked abortion up to 12 weeks; that’s more liberal than the UK.

  29. […] a year ago I wrote (from Cardiff) about my reasons for moving to Maynooth. Here is a […]

  30. […] quite a lot of people asked me why I was moving to Ireland so I wrote quite a long post about it here. In december 2017 I wouldn’t have predicted that the UK would still be in the European Union […]

  31. […] wrote back in 2017, when it seemed that the madness of Brexit might still be halted, but I’d decided to leave […]

  32. […] late 2017 after I had started work here in Maynooth I wrote about my reasons for moving to Ireland. One of them was […]

  33. […] applied for it, and much to my surprise was offered it. I decided to accept it for reasons outlined here. I started here in December 2017, initial part-time alongside my part-time position at Cardiff. I […]

  34. […] So, after a few years of hard and at times dispiriting slog, things are definitely looking up. Meanwhile, in Britain, events have turned out exactly as I predicted: […]

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