Leaving a busy city for a quiet island life has brought with it many surprises for Sam, Jamie and their children, but they say they don't ever want to leave.
A young family who moved to Arranmore Island on a whim are looking forward to their first summer on the island with many exciting plans.
Sam McGowan, 30, and her partner Jamie Walker, 33, never expected to escape the city to move to rural Donegal, but since leaving their home outside London they have discovered a completely new pace of life.
Sam and Jamie found their home in the most unlikely places – the online buy and sell site ebay. They were searching for land to ride motorbikes on when they stumbled across the house. It was the beautiful seaside location they fell in love with, and within months they had brought their children to Logan, aged 5, and Mia, aged 8 to the island.
Island life has been idyllic for the family, but there is one missing element of the family picture, Sam tells Donegal Daily.
“Our kids are blooming here, but we had to leave my step son in England. That has been the hardest thing for us since the move.”
Jamie’s son, also named Jamie, is 12 years old and lives with his mother. The family are most looking forward to welcoming him to visit their new home during the summer holidays.
It was for young Jamie that the couple were originally looking for the piece of land so he could ride his beloved motorbikes.
The site just happened to have a two-story detached home with five bedrooms. The family came over to visit the property and simply didn’t want to leave.
The house, Sam says, needed a lot of work and came with two unexpected add-ons. They have adopted two pups from the previous owner – Thor and Loki.
“It was a state. One man lived here by himself with his dogs and never owned a hoover. It was disgusting. I’ve got OCD as well but I just had to look past the house and look out the window. It was all about the views.
“We now have the house as we like it but we still have plenty of painting and decorating to do,” Sam said.
Ever since leaving busy Kent the family have discovered a “completely different world, a fantastic world” in Arranmore where the children are happily flourishing.
“Little Logan is speaking in Gaelic already – he’s even teaching us words! We have to learn some because we don’t want them speaking behind our backs,” Sam said.
“The community is unreal, we’ve been so warmly welcomed. The difference between here and Kent is I didn’t know who was living three doors down. You couldn’t do to the supermarket without keeping a track of the kids. Now the kids are having tea at their friends’ houses and other kids are coming round to ours.
“I’m Catholic as well and the church has really opened their arms to our family. Father Liam has been so kind to us.
Their daughter Mia was out of school with a broken leg in England and missed her first Holy Communion. The parish was only too happy to help her receive the sacrament.
“As soon as I came over here I mentioned it once to the school and she had made it in two weeks. That was a big turning point for us – there are too many kids in the schools in England.
“Our kids love it here now. They won’t ever get on the boat to Burtonport in case we go anywhere else!”
Sam cared for a disabled man in England, who was another difficult goodbye for her before the move. Her partner Jamie ran a slot machine business but now they are spending quality time with their kids as they complete the home renovations.
“We moved for the family. We both worked really hard and never really had time for them back in Kent,” Sam said.
Sam has now found herself on a personal journey and is slowly discovering other pieces of her own family picture.
“I don’t know why, but I’ve been drawn here for some reason,” she told Ryan Tubridy last week during his Wild Atlantic Way tour.
“When I turned up here we went to the graveyard and the first grave we saw was a McGowan grave. We found more than 30 other McGowan graves.”
Sam knew no other McGowans in England and is now discovering many links on the Irish mainland. When her grandfather passed away this year a family tree was found in the back of his bible, listing names such as Gallagher, McClean and McBride.
Another of Sam’s summer plans is a mission to find her great grandmother’s grave in Derry. Sam’s 73-year-old great aunt (her grandfather’s sister) is travelling over for the search, and she said that if her aunt finds even one relative here she’d be happy.
“I could have gone to anywhere in Ireland but we came here somehow. Jamie and I are a bit cranky, we want something and we just go for it. You only live once don’t you?”
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