Have you ever been told rural life wasn’t suitable for your line of work? If you’re a farmer, probably not. But what if you worked in an area considered mainly to be a “city” job?
One good thing to have come out of the pandemic is the new-found acceptance of remote working.
Traffic congestion into city centres has been relieved, those who were spending the majority of their pay on high city rents have been able to move home, or to more affordable areas, and – perhaps most importantly – rural areas are enriched by having a variety of people with different skills and backgrounds living among us.
A cellist in Mayo
When Dublin native and cellist Patrick Dexter moved to rural Co Mayo six years ago, there (seemingly) wasn’t much demand for his skillset. But he and his wife, Jan, had a dream of living in the countryside and he had a special connection to Mayo in particular.
Now, with his performance videos regularly going viral on TikTok and Twitter, he has found a worldwide audience (and a new line of work) – all from the comfort of his backyard on the Wild Atlantic Way.
“Growing up in the city, it seemed like a dream to be able to live on the coast,” he says.
“We had always gone to Mayo for holidays (‘my grandad had a cottage there’), and I always had a love for this part of the world. After college, while Jan and I were living abroad, we always spoke romantically about living on the west coast.”
Now they live in a small restored cottage just outside Newport. Patrick says they are living the dream and, while lockdown has been difficult, it has also been the perfect time for them to welcome their first child.
“She’s a lockdown baby,” he laughs. “[Her arrival] really made this year quite wonderful for us. It’s been tough in many ways, but having our first baby has been magical and all that extra time spent at home has worked out.”
More than a string quartet
Patrick comes from a family of musicians and it’s no wonder he is such a talented cellist given his musical upbringing. His father – a conductor who lectures in Trinity College Dublin – taught Patrick (and his siblings) from an early age.
“I was brought up with classical music,” he says. “I would have been given the cello at around seven-years-old. In our house, there are seven children – and we all played instruments. My parents wanted a string quartet and they ended up getting more than that.”
His sisters were taught the violin and Patrick says he always felt special being trained in the cello. While his initial training was classical, he enjoys playing a variety of music and notes that popular music and rock have greatly influenced his style.
Genre’s not important
“For years, I was a music teacher,” he says, “and while technique and classical training is important, it is much more important that you have a love for it. That’s when the creative stuff can come out. For me, it was rock music and playing in bands which made me see I was so lucky to have music as a kid. You don’t have to choose between classical and pop.”
Patrick chose to study politics instead of music after secondary school. After he graduated, he and Jan spent several years travelling and living abroad before coming back to Europe, where Patrick completed a master’s degree in politics in The Hague. Once completed, he felt his life could go two ways: to Brussels and a likely job within the EU or in a completely different direction – back to Ireland to start a family, play music and live more simply.
Taking a chance
For Jan, it was an easier decision. As an artist, she could work from anywhere and would benefit from country life. Deep down, Patrick knew he didn’t want to live in Brussels or work in politics. They decided to move back to Ireland and, upon realising they were priced out of most accommodation in Dublin, the opportunity to live their coastal dream presented itself.
“It’s funny, it made sense for Jan to not live in the city,” Patrick says. “For me, though, music happens in the cities (at least, that’s what you’re always told). The idea that I would move out of the city and become a musician seemed laughable. But, we moved to Newport and absolutely fell in love with living here. I started teaching music and doing more performing.”
After two years renting in Newport, their small cottage went up for sale. It had been renovated and previously used as a holiday rental, so it was (more or less) move-in ready. Patrick and Jan decided to buy it. This was a fateful decision, considering the role it would play in Patrick’s future: the home, with its cheerful yellow trim, features heavily in his music videos.
“We found this tiny little micro-cottage we could afford and the rest is history,” Patrick says. “It’s over 100 years old. We were lucky we could live in the house and work on it very slowly. The cottage is on an acre plot, which was neglected and overgrown. We have transformed the whole plot; there is a beautiful stream running through the yard, we’ve planted 100 trees and added lots of clover to the soil to enrich it.
“It was my wife who painted the cottage trim yellow,” he continues. “We’re surrounded by a lot of gorse and they’re so vibrant. We first saw the house in the springtime and the bright yellow inspired her.”
When COVID-19 arrived in Ireland, Patrick’s work quickly dried up. He found himself in a strange position: feeling happy being home with his family and music, but also uncertain about his professional future. Performing cellists aren’t exactly in demand in rural Co Mayo – particularly during a global pandemic.
“It was actually this time last year I posted my very first video online,” he says. “All the music schools had closed and all that was left, for me was performing. I set up a number of social media accounts and there didn’t seem to be much interest.
“I started playing outside my home,” he continues. “I would video, share and not think much about it. At some point, I set up a Twitter account and a friend said: ‘You know that’s not what Twitter is used for, right?’
While Patrick understood what his friend was saying (Twitter is generally for sharing snippets of up-to-date news), he was shocked when his first Twitter video got a huge response.
Not just a fluke
“I thought it must have been a fluke,” he says. “While my Facebook views were minimal, posts on TikTok and Twitter started getting tens of thousands of likes. I was greatly encouraged by that. There were a few posts which went very viral in May and June of last year, then a few months later journalists got interested in what I was doing and my posts took on a new life.”
Irish Country Living has been following Patrick’s videos for some time and notes three stand-out elements to his performances; the first being his obvious talent and love for music. The second? The natural connection between his performances and the surrounding beauty of the Mayo coastline.
The third component, and perhaps what draws so many to his videos, is the peace of mind you get from watching him perform. With negative news stories being so prevalent on social media in the past year, Patrick’s videos provide a soothing respite.
Working remotely works
“People started to contact me about various projects and I thought: ‘This is wonderful; I can do more performing’,” he says. “Then, a month later, I was getting contacted to do [virtual] performances all over the world. Now I am composing music, which is something I’ve always loved – the difference is that now I’m getting paid for it. I am working with an art centre in London. I’m writing and arranging the music for their films, and these films are exquisite. I am now, finally, a working musician.”
On some level, it feels like all of this was meant to be for Patrick and his family. They were compelled to move to the countryside, even though they weren’t sure they would be successful. While enjoying their rural life, Patrick has also, unexpectedly, had an entirely new world opened up to him.
“I felt silly [making these videos] at first, but remote working has completely changed things for people who want to live in the countryside,” he says. “The internet has improved greatly since we first arrived and is only getting better. Younger generations – people in their 20s – they can, if they want, live rurally and keep the job they would have considered city-based. It might have been more difficult 10 years ago but it’s not anymore.”
Happy ever after
Ultimately, by taking a chance and moving out west – even amidst the pandemic – Patrick has found everything he has ever wanted.
“[The pandemic] stripped everything down to what was essential: family, home and music,” he smiles. “My wife and baby, enjoying nature, being outside and performing. It was realising that this is always what I thought was important in life. If you find where your happiness is, something good always comes out of that.”