‘We couldn’t have our lifestyle here in Ireland. It would cost us too much’

If you’re feeling in a new year state of mind, then a new home - and a new business - could be the change you’re looking for

The new year brings the possibility of a fresh start, so what better time to think about making exciting life changes? Here we take a look at businesspeople who are moving on to pastures new, thus opening up opportunities for those willing to take the plunge and pursue the chance not only to be their own boss, but to live the good life while they’re at it.

‘We’d like to enjoy life a bit more’

Back in the 80s, the course of Daniel Flavin’s life changed forever when a young French woman, Annie, arrived to work on a neighbour’s dairy farm in the village of Carrignavar, Co Cork. Annie, from the Gers region, was taking part in an Irish-French exchange programme for young people from farming backgrounds.

Daniel and Annie went on to get married and start a family, and in 1990, they decided to move to France. “Everybody said it was the place to go,” Flavin recalls. “Financially in Ireland it was very, very difficult to make a living, so we sold the house in Ireland and we moved.”

The couple opened a holiday gîtes and B&B business in a 200-year-old property in Clisson on the banks of the river Sèvre, in the Loire region just 40km from Nantes. The property, Gîtes La Sauzaie, lies in the heart of the Muscadet wine district, meaning that guests can sample wine at surrounding vineyards, while also being able to visit the coast, which is just an hour away.

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While the Flavins have loved running it, the business is busy year-round, and they’re now planning on taking a step back. “I’m 71 this year. My wife is younger than me, but we just said we’d like to enjoy life a bit more.”

They’re hoping to find someone to take over some or all of the business. “If we get somebody interested, we would help them for the first year with all the ins and outs,” he says. “Like any business, you’ve got to… learn how to cope.

“If it was an Irish couple, one of the couple would need to speak French. When dealing with the public, you have to have the language.” Daniel himself began picking up vocabulary by reading bedtime stories to their children, and worked his way from there to fluency.

The property, which includes the main house (five bedrooms), a two-bed flat, a swimming pool and a “garçonnière”, or an additional flat, in a separate building, is on the market for €975,000.

With retirement now on the horizon, would they consider returning to Daniel’s native country? That’s a definite non. While they enjoy coming back to Ireland on holidays to meet friends, their children are all based in France, and are now married with their own children.

“Our ties are in France. We enjoy the lifestyle here, especially the weather,” he adds. “We have our friends here. I’m a member of the local choral society. We get out and about, we meet people.” Another important factor in France’s favour is that the cost of living – including healthcare – is cheaper than in Ireland. “We couldn’t have our lifestyle here in Ireland. It would cost us too much.”

‘One is for my heart. The other is for my pocket’

In 2016, businesswoman Lisa Wilkinson decided to buy a remote mountain adventure venue in the Glen of Imaal, Co Wicklow, as it made a “nice marriage” with The elbowroom, her wellbeing centre in Dublin’s Stoneybatter. She succeeded in transforming the venue into The Wicklow Escape, a gorgeous Blue Book approved woodland lodge, and for the past six years, she’s been a “country mouse and city mouse”, travelling to and fro between her two businesses.

She has done everything from private rental to corporate retreats, weddings, “posh hens”, fine dining experiences and back to private rental again at The Wicklow Escape, but now the time has come to let someone else take over the reins.

“At the moment my staff are trying to persuade me not to sell it by running it really well themselves,” she laughs. “If I’m truly honest, it’s on the market (for €750,000 through JP & M Doyle) but I’m really loath to part with it. It’s just a beautiful oasis, but I’ve other plans. If someone can take it off my hands and run it really well, I’ll be open to not selling it. If that’s not the case, then it’s going.”

The business comes with an adjoining cottage, extensive gardens and panoramic forest views. “It would really be ideal for somebody if they have the capital to come down, move into the cottage and run the business.”

Running two businesses isn’t easy, particularly as Wilkinson lost the lease of her Stoneybatter premises during the summer and had to find an alternative location. Fortunately, she discovered a beautiful old art deco cinema and converted it into a wellbeing centre with a co-working space and creche, now up and running as Manor Picture House.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Wilkinson, who has two teenage children, is pursuing another ambition very close to her heart: studying full-time at King’s Inns to become a barrister so she can stand up for women’s rights in the maternity care system. “The whole system, it’s broken.”

The businesswoman has been involved in advocacy for perinatal health for many years. She trained as a doula, gave birth education classes to couples, trained midwives as yoga teachers and worked in the area of home and hospital births.

As a barrister, she intends to tackle serious problems in maternity care and hold people accountable for issues such lack of informed consent. “I can hold my own against an obstetrician when it comes to evidence-based practice, having worked in that field for 20 years.”

She’s also interested in construction, having renovated several large industrial spaces, so as a barrister she hopes to focus on medical negligence and construction. “One is for my heart. The other is for my pocket.”

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