I don’t like to think of myself as a New Yorker – I only lived there for five years – but when I arrived in Derry, I quickly realized just how many of those New Yorker instincts had stuck. A few weeks into my time here, I found myself in need of a new living situation. Having been through my fair share of nightmarish New York apartment searches, I braced myself, expecting a whirlwind of 10-minute tours followed by pressure to immediately apply for the apartment or gamble on finding something better in a city whose low-cost apartment offerings are fewer by the second.
In Derry, there is no Craigslist or StreetEasy. It’s more of a “talk to anyone you meet and see if they know of a room for let” situation, with maybe one or two options on SpareRoom, posted by the technologically savvy. My first room viewing scheduled, I planned for at most 30 minutes to see the place, exchange pleasantries, and move on with my day. Little did I know that everyone here has a bit of Mrs. Doyle in them, and refusing a cup of tea is simply not an option. My planned room viewings went from 30 minutes to anywhere between one and three hours long each, and I began to leave behind my in-and-out New Yorker sensibilities. In fact, the longer the tea, the more I tended to like the room, and the housemates that went along with it.
It was after a particularly long tea and chat that I ended up moving into the most wonderful house in Derry (no, I won’t be citing my sources here – it’s just a fact). It’s a Victorian era townhouse once occupied by the architect who designed Derry’s Guildhall and currently occupied by a ghost (she’s friendly, but is occasionally known to slam a door or two). The kitchen is painted bright yellow – a welcome antidote to the perpetually grey sky – and fireplaces abound. We’re visited every Tuesday morning by the Turf Man, who delivers logs and turf (or peat, for the uninitiated) for our fires, and who has the thickest country accent I’ve ever heard.
The house itself, while absolutely lovely, would be nothing without its residents, who have quickly become my favorite people in this city. There’s the jazz singer from a mixed Protestant/Catholic upbringing in Omagh and her partner, a Catalonian anarchist and union organizer – we all share a love of good rum, folk music, and left-leaning politics. There’s their seven-month-old son, the smiliest and squirmiest baby I’ve ever met. There’s a nurse from Donegal who works with adults with learning disabilities, and I make theatre with neurodivergent actors, so we always have lots to talk about. And there’s a social work student from Germany who has taught me countless useless words in German (thanks to her, I’ll never refer to my fiancé as anything other than my verlobter again).
I could keep writing about these wonderful people for days, but this ex-New Yorker has a wee fire to attend to, and there’s a long tea and a chat to be had upstairs.
*If you’ve never spent time in Northern Ireland, you might be thinking based on the title of this post that I live in a small house. It is not small, but everything here is wee. Take, for example, the wee signature you give after paying with a credit card, or the wee elephant you might have seen on your trip to the zoo.