The dream of living beside the sea is one many aspire to, yet few have the ability to turn into a reality. However, the last few years have seen more and more people seeking a less hectic way of life, opting out of city living.

Census data from 2022 showed 265,098 people moved residence within Ireland. In the 12 months between April 2021 and April 2022, one in 20 of those recorded in the Census moved to a different county, with Dublin accounting for 35% of all movers.

One such person is Sligo business woman Gemma Smyth, who with her husband Ronan and children Oisín (11) and Hannah (8) took the life-changing decision to leave their home in Dublin’s Castleknock for a new life in the north-west back in 2022.

Gemma, a native of Strandhill, lived in the capital for 20 years. In 2013 she set up her own PR and communications firm, &Smyth Creative Communications, which focuses on Irish food and drink brands as well as agricultural clients. Escaping to her home village during the first summer of the pandemic gave her the chance to appreciate a slower pace of life.

The following summer, with the country still under public health restrictions, the family returned to their caravan on the coast. Over the next two months, they set about making their move permanent.

Remote working

“I grew up in Strandhill and my mother and brother still live here, so we have been coming down for years,” says Gemma.

“When Covid happened, we were more cautious about staying in the house but my mother had an old caravan that we moved to the local caravan park and we based ourselves there for the summer. The kids loved it and both Ronan and I were able to work remotely, with my niece and my mother helping to mind the kids.”

Gemma availed of local hot desks to continue running her company while Ronan was able to use a remote working hub in Sligo town.

“I started the company after I had Oisín in 2013 in search of a better work-life balance. When he was eight months old, I decided to go out on my own, in what I initially thought would be a freelance capacity for six months,” she says.

“I got a creche place for three days a week, but things took off and within two months I was back working five days. Hannah was born in 2016 and I knew at that stage I needed to take someone on and that’s when Katie joined me.”


Over the next three years, Gemma’s company continued to thrive. When Covid forced the country into lockdown in March 2020, she had two employees on the books.

“Ciara had joined us by that stage and we were busy preparing for Bloom and the launch of a new distillery in Cork when the country shut down. Everything was cancelled and it was hard not to panic, knowing you had wages to pay.

“Within six weeks, the phone started ringing again as the demand for digital campaigns and online events went through the roof.”

Gemma with her husband Ronan and children Hannah and Oisín at Strandhill beach, a stone’s throw from their home in the village

While the early days of the pandemic were spent at home in Castleknock in Dublin, once the restrictions were lifted on internal travel, Gemma and her family headed to Co Sligo.

“Heading back to Dublin after those weekends, we had a lot of conversations as to whether we should make the move, and if so when,” says Gemma.

“We thought it would be when we retired or when the kids went to college but after that second summer, Ronan asked why didn’t we just do it now? We knew the obvious benefits, and the fact we’d managed to both make it work professionally meant there were less and less reasons not to move. When a house came up for sale next door to my mother, we went for it.”

Positive interactions

By late autumn 2022, the family were settled in their new home. “It has taken a lot of re-adjusting for all of us but the kids have settled in school, which is just around the corner from where we live,” she says.

“Oisín was 8 when we moved and it was hard for him to leave his friends, but he has remained close with one young boy back in Castleknock, and they FaceTime a lot.

“We overheard them chatting one evening. Oisín was telling George they had grass in their school – a small difference but a total revelation to them both – actually playing football on grass.

“There have been little adjustments for all of us. We were used to everything being open in Dublin all of the time whereas here the shops either don’t open on a Sunday or until 12pm. Other shops may close on a Monday or a Tuesday.

“Public transport has been tricky at times, although the Local Link bus service into Sligo town makes that very accessible. The Dublin train, however, has let me down once or twice in that a three-hour journey has become a four-hour one. But overall it’s been fine.

“Broadband has never been a problem but that’s probably because we’ve come to a relatively busy spot that just happens to be home. But there is a need for more amenities to support the growing population.

“My children play sports and there’s a shortage of pitches while the local primary school is oversubscribed, although thankfully we live within the catchment area so we had no trouble getting places.”

Gemma Smyth surveys Strandhill Bay from the first vantage point of the Queen Maeve Trail on Knocknarea

The best part of returning home is having more space to breathe, according to Gemma, who says growing up beside the sea meant she was always going to find her way back to Strandhill.

“Even though I’m as busy as I ever was when I was living and working in Dublin, it’s a different kind of busy here, and the smaller community makes for more positive interactions with people,” adds Gemma.

“We had the Phoenix Park on our doorstep in Dublin, which is an amazing space, but this is so much more. To have Knocknarea Hill [burial site of Queen Meadbh] behind us and the ocean in front of us, it means that even on a rainy day I will go for a walk, which is something I would never have done in Dublin.

“People often ask me how I convinced Ronan to make the move but if anything he was the stronger voice on the decision and he absolutely loves the life we’ve made for ourselves here.”

In short

  • Strandhill has seen significant population growth over the past decade with an influx of people from all over the country choosing the scenic spot overlooking the Atlantic as their home
  • According to Census figures, Strandhill now has a population of 1,982, an increase of almost 400 since 2011 – that is a 25% increase in just over 10 years. Over 80% of those living in the village are Irish and the larger community now needs support in improved amenities and facilities

  • Two more of Gemma’s workforce have relocated from Dublin back to Sligo in the past year, keen to avail of a better work-life balance

  • A Census Analysis report carried out by the Western Development Commission showed net inward migration outweighed national population increases in counties Clare, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo
  • Government funding announced in recent weeks is focused heavily on rural regeneration schemes, with €50m allocated by the Department of Rural Affairs towards the upgrading of community recreational areas; the provision of sensory playzones; and repairs/enhancements to children’s playgrounds around the country.