‘Moving to Ireland was more than a culture shock. It was a wake-up call’ – The Irish Times

In the more than 20 years since his arrival in Ireland, Huw Rees has fully assimilated into the local community: he joined a male choir and a cricket club, and enjoys regular hill walking.

Despite his love for his adopted country, there is still one situation in which his feelings for his home country of Wales trump those for Ireland.

“The only time I wouldn’t be 100 per cent up for Ireland is if they play Wales in rugby. I haven’t lost that, I haven’t lost that Welsh identity,” he laughs.

Born in Swansea, Rees moved to Carrig-on-Bannow in Co Wexford in 2000, despite being “absolutely petrified” of uprooting his whole life.

He had met his future partner Margaret, an Irish woman, seven years earlier on a cruise between the two countries on New Year’s Eve in 1993.

“We were at a bar. It was massively crowded. I’m quite tall and she’s short. She was standing there in front of me wanting to get served. The barman wasn’t seeing her, so he came over to our end and asked who was next, pointing at me. I said: ‘This lady has been here before me. She’s been waiting a long time, you may serve her first’.”

“She came over to thank me. She was over on a trip with her family. We just got talking that way. When I got home, I had her address in my pocket, her phone number. After a couple of weeks of humming and hawing, I decided I might as well see if I could renew the connection. So I did and it was nice.”

The long-distance arrangement was different, he says, but it felt like they were able to ease into the relationship.

“If I was off for weekends, I’d go over on a day trip or weekend trip and she would do the same. It was surprising really how often you would actually get together,” he says.

“It was like opening the door to a whole new world. I became passionate about Wales and its history

Eventually, they decided to make things more permanent. They had initially considered moving to Fishguard, a coastal town in Pembrokeshire, where Rees lived and worked in a building providers.

However, Margaret had two young children at the time, and they realised it would be easier for Rees to relocate to Ireland instead.

“It was more than a culture shock; it was a wake-up call. You had responsibilities now, because Margaret had two young children. I was enjoying the new life experiences. I was 38. It was a big move at that age; I was settled at that stage of life, so it was like starting off all over again,” he says.

Despite the change in life circumstances, he says the move was the “making of me, really”.

The relocation spurred what he now describes as love for history. He didn’t know too much about the country in which he lived, and he sought to gather more information.

“I would be asking questions of people about Ireland and having discussions about it, and they would then ask me questions about Wales. It dawned on me then that I had a superficial knowledge [of Wales]. It was not as deep as I thought it was,” he says.

Seeking to improve that knowledge, he began to research his home country.

“It was like opening the door to a whole new world. I became passionate about Wales and its history and was immensely proud of how Wales had managed to retain its identity and the Welsh people had maintained their culture and language and not become a western region of England.”

Through this research he has discovered there are a lot of similarities between the two nations. The biggest similarity, he says, is the sense of community among people.

“I’m living in rural Wexford, and I’m from a rural part of Wales. There are a lot of farming communities, there are a lot of connections with your neighbours. The parish is a big thing in Ireland. The GAA in Ireland in every little village is like the rugby clubs in Wales,” he says.

However, the identity of the countries is quite different, he says.

“We’ve developed differently. Because the Normans were in Wales, and the Saxons, and then we were annexed by England, I think Ireland is a more confident country in its independence,” he says.

“Wales has yet to develop that confidence. I think there are some lessons that Wales can learn.”

He began to post some of the interesting facts he learned about his home country on a Facebook page called ‘The History of Wales’, which now has more than 180,000 likes.

Every specific day there is a subject matter. They vary, it’s such an eclectic mix of them, it could be sporting, it could be historical

“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” he says of the page’s popularity. “And they’re from all over the world. Predominantly Wales and Britain, but there are some in Ireland, United States and all over, even Pakistan.”

A publisher approached him, interested in turning his social media page into a book. Wales On This Day is co-written with his sister Sian Kilcoyne, and it shares interesting date-related stories and facts.

“Every specific day there is a subject matter. They vary, it’s such an eclectic mix of them, it could be sporting, it could be historical, a certain sporting event, a cultural event. Things like the first words spoken on Coronation Street [were by] a Welsh actor. And then the big historical events are included too,” he says.

Writing the book is “something that was unexpected”, and one which “leads us into a new sort of world really, with publishing”.

At 60 years old, he is “seeing the gates of retirement” and wants to use that time in retirement to continue to use his writing to pursue his love of both Ireland and Wales.

“Writing is something I would definitely like to develop. I’ve a lot of ideas I’d like to develop, especially. There are a lot of Welsh-Irish connections historically, so that’s something I’d really like to spend some time getting involved with.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish

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Jorge Oliveira

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