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03rd Sep 2015

Offaly’s Claire Barnwell on family life in sunny Alicante

Katie Mythen-Lynch

Tullamore native Claire Barnwell and her fiancée Vicente live in Alicante, Spain, with their children Eve (9) and Luka (1). 


So, why Spain?

“I moved to Spain four years ago when my daughter started getting very ill in Ireland. She has cystic fibrosis, which is a long-term illness. In Ireland she had been extremely ill since the age of three and shortly after her fourth birthday she had to have most of her right lung removed. It was at that point I knew I needed to change something. People with CF generally do much better in warmer climates near the ocean so I decided to move to Spain with her so that she could have a better quality of life.

Is your move permanent or temporary?

Our move is most definitely permanent. We moved here as a single mother and daughter but we are now a very happy family of four. My son was born here and my partner is from Alicante so there’s no way we will ever return home. It’s not worth the risk to Eve’s health.

What were your first impressions of your new country? 

“The very first day we arrived in Alicante, they were celebrating a huge cultural festival, so it made quite an impression on us! The Spanish people love their festivals. There is always something going on here to keep both young and old entertained.

How did you adjust?

We adjusted to the Spanish way of life pretty quickly. My daughter went straight into a Spanish public school and within a few months she was fluent in the language, so that made things a lot easier. Spanish people are extremely laid back. They work hard during the day and party at night. We live just a few minutes from the beach so during the summer we spend most days there. It’s an easy lifestyle to adjust to.

What are the cultural differences you’ve noticed? 

Everything is much slower here in Spain. The people are so relaxed and easy going. Most days here actually revolve around food! The Spanish people really enjoy their meals, which sometimes can go on for hours. The times of meals are a lot different to home too. It’s quite normal for us to eat our dinner at 10 or 11pm at night.

Any surprises?

I think the thing that most surprised me about Spain is their acceptance of children in bars/restaurants at night. It’s not uncommon to see little kids running around the streets at 2am while their parents are eating at the restaurant next door. I love this, it means we can have a social life without needing babysitters and having to be home at a certain time, and the kids get to have fun too.


How does the cost of living compare to Ireland?

The cost of living in Spain is relatively cheaper than Ireland. Rent is a lot lower, as are everyday bills like water and electricity. Fresh fruit and veg can be found for very low prices at the market, and a really nice bottle of wine can be found in your local supermarket for €2.

What’s the food like?

The Mediterranean diet is mainly based on fresh fruit and veg, fish, meats, cheese and oil. Most people here shop at the central market, where you can buy fresh produce from local vendors. The Spanish shop daily, not in one big weekly shop. We go to the market every morning and buy what we need for the day. Although I love the Spanish foods, I do miss Irish food a lot! Specifically gravy….the Spanish people have no clue what it is so it’s almost impossible to find here. Also Irish stores offer a far wider selection of chocolate, crisps, desserts etc. It was really hard being pregnant over here when it came to my cravings…. I had to resort to friends and family posting me packages of my favourite goodies!

How do you manage childcare?

Most Spanish people rely heavily on their families for childcare. My mother-in-law is always on hand to take care of the kids when our work schedules overlap. It was similar when I was living at home. My parents were always there to mind Eve when I needed.

What’s the local attitude towards breastfeeding?

I didn’t breastfeed, but surprisingly I was in the minority. The Spanish have a great attitude towards breastfeeding. There is no stigma attached to it here…. people feel very comfortable feeding in restaurants, at the park, in the supermarket, at the beach. No one bats an eyelid.

What are your opinions of the local health system?

If there is one thing I could talk endlessly about, it’s about how good the public healthcare system is here. Eve attends one of the top hospitals in the country for her cystic fibrosis care, and the care she gets is just outstanding. GP appointments are made online and there is no waiting around. Hospital appointments are the same. The care I received during pregnancy was also outstanding. I saw a number of specialists throughout the nine months, had a scan at every appointment, and there were two pediatricians present for the birth. I had heard such horror stories about pregnancy and birth in Spain, but I had a really great experience.

How does the education system compare?

The education system here is similar to the Irish system. The main difference would be the times of school. Here the kids enter at 9am, have a long lunch break from 12.30pm-3pm, and then go back again for evening classes from 3pm until 4.30pm. Most children stay in school during this break but Eve comes home for her lunch. It breaks the day up and doesn’t seem as long. Kids also start school a lot younger here, with most kids beginning at three or four-years-old.

What’s the best thing about living in your adopted city?

Living beside the beach. You just can’t beat it! We spend all our days on the beach throughout the summer, and in winter we go down most days to kick about with a football, or just to sit and watch the waves. It’s so relaxing.

And the worst?

The worst is not having my family close by. We’re a very close knit family and the kids miss their grandparents so much. Although they visit as often as they can, it’s not the same. We Skype with my parents most days…. it’s gotten to the stage where Luka thinks that Nana lives inside the laptop! Anytime he sees a laptop he starts screaming “Nana Nana!” We like to call her “virtual Nana” as a joke :)

Does your new city offer a better work/life balance?

Finding that balance in Spain is hard. The work hours here are long because of the break between 2pm-5pm that most businesses take. So you get a long lunch time, but end up working sometimes until 10pm. I teach English privately so this isn’t a problem for our family. I’m lucky that I can fit my work schedule around the kids so that we can stay consistent in our work/school/home routine.

What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekends?

Our weekends are mainly spent on the beach. Both kids have taken to the water like ducks, so we can sit back and soak up the sun while they splash around. Alicante has a great climate. It’s warm and sunny all year ’round, and almost never rains. Obviously this is a huge novelty for us coming from Ireland! This is the main reason I moved over here. The weather is so beneficial for Eve. It means that she can be outdoors and active all year, which is so important for someone with CF. The more active she is, the better her lungs are.”


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