When Eamon O’Hara and Tanya Treacy from Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, had children, they started re-evaluating their lives. They had lived in Brussels for nine years, where Eamon worked with the LEADER European Observatory (a network of leader groups at European level), but the couple weren’t interested in bureaucratic Brussels long-term.
“We both come from a rural area and we wanted a similar kind of upbringing for our kids,” explains Eamon, who says that having kids was a wake-up call. “You’re now a father and time is limited, the kind of work I was doing meant a lot of long hours and working evenings. I wanted to have time with the kids as well.”
Eamon and Tanya also wanted to bring their children up somewhere where there was a sense of community.
“We lived in the EU quarter. It’s a very transient population, people come and go all the time.”
What they really wanted was to live the dream in the south of France and they set about making this a reality. Firstly, by looking for a home. They had a chateau-style property in mind and after much searching and angst they found what they were looking for in Domaine de Laborie.
The property is located near Cahors, which lies one and a half hours north of Toulouse, in southwest France. Cahors is all arches, valleys and blue skies, with the town being situated within the U-shaped bend of the river Lot.
“It’s really pretty, the countryside is fabulous,” says Eamon. “It’s really hilly, it’s a very wooded area. There are a lot of oak forests and it’s very French. There are perfectly preserved medieval villages and very little new construction. You really feel it’s deepest France and there is no mass tourism. There are lakes nearby and lots of lovely, little family-run vineyards in the area, where you can easily spend a couple of days touring and tasting the wines.”
The family moved in April 2010 and within two weeks had advertised to rent an apartment that was already on the property. By July they had converted part of the house to make two bedrooms for a B&B. The following year they converted part of an old stone barn into a two-bedroom apartment. They also have a play area for children and a swimming pool. Tanya looks after the catering side of things, having done a course in Ballymaloe and run a café in Dublin for several years.
So had the dream truly begun? Leaving a full-time job wasn’t easy.
“It was scary from a financial point of view,” says Eamon, “but it was also scary psychologically, in terms of having the comfort of a status or the identity that goes with knowing what to do every day and the career you’ve been doing for 20 years.”
Making a full-time living from cottages isn’t easy either, but Eamon is very lucky as he is getting full-time freelance work in Brussels, working from home and travelling there for a couple of days every month.
Then there was the weather as upon arrival they were faced with one of the coldest springs on record.
“We had a big old house with lots of draughty windows and the following winter was also the coldest on record. And the winter here can be extremely quiet. There’s a lot of second homes around so people will come for the summer, but in the winter a lot of the shutters are just closed up. It can be quite bleak. Even the locals tend to stay indoors in winter, they don’t really go out much.”
But Eamon and Tanya didn’t sit around and let the bleak mid-winter take its toll. They put together a committee and set up a café in their local community hall on two Fridays of every month.
It’s extremely well supported by the locals, who say it’s changed the whole dynamic of the village. When the tourist season does kick off, the Treacys really enjoy welcoming visitors to their property.
After four and a half years they say they feel very settled in the local community now, but “it is only now” chuckles Eamon.
“There’s so much you have to learn about the local way of life, it’s kind of a settled, fixed community. To get the trust of the locals and for them to really feel it’s worthwhile befriending you, you’ve got to be there for a while.”
Despite the difficulties, it really does sound like the family are living the dream and Eamon’s world will be complete when he has time to do some farming and install a small herd of Dexter cattle on the 40 acres that came with the house.