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Two years ago, Élodie saw an ad for a French school in Galway. Now she runs it



When Élodie Ferry and her husband Jessy booked a short trip to Dublin in December 2019, they only planned on spending a few days in the country. Neither had been to Ireland before and they were keen to make the most of their short break away.

“Louise [their daughter] was old enough to stay with her grandparents for a few days but we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t too far away,” says Ferry. “We’d been to London many times and the price of tickets to Dublin weren’t too expensive. It was a romantic trip and we’d wanted to go to Ireland for years.

A few days before leaving, Jessy spotted an online advertisement for a French language school in Galway that was on the market. “I was still on parental leave at the time but was looking for a new job,” says Ferry. “I didn’t want to go back to freelance teaching, you work late and it’s hard to have a family, especially on the salary. I’d been looking at a website that specialised in jobs for French teachers and then Jessy spotted this school that was for sale in Ireland.

We liked Galway the moment we got off the bus. The music in the streets and all the shops, it was very lively. It was the idea we had of Ireland in our heads

“He was half joking, half serious when he told me to look at it. He knew it would be an achievement for me to have my own school. We’d spoken about it and I’d said by the time I’m 40 I want to have something that is mine. But I wasn’t near 40 yet.”

The couple googled the city of Galway, saw that it was beside the sea and decided to visit during their weekend trip. They also contacted the owner of the French Institute, Brigitte Demay O’Carroll, and arranged to stop by the school.

“We liked Galway the moment we got off the bus,” recalls Ferry. “The music in the streets and all the shops, it was very lively. It was the idea we had of Ireland in our heads. Even the school building, it’s very historic and right beside the river. It looked like a picture from holidays.”

O’Carroll took the couple on a tour of the school, which was filled with Saturday morning students and when Ferry and her husband boarded their bus back to Dublin that evening, they’d made up their minds. They would try and buy the school.

Growing up in the French city of Tours, Ferry always loved languages and developed an appreciation for travel after spending a year of her university studies in Ghana. While English was her main focus, she also learned Spanish, Chinese and some Arabic. She started teaching French as a foreign language after graduating from university and then decided to move to London. Shortly before she left, she met her future husband.

“I was working in a bar and he was a a policeman working in different places around the country. He was on a visit back to see his brother and we discovered we’d actually known each other for a long time since we went to the same secondary school. He had been the year above me.”

The couple decided to continue the relationship long distance when Ferry moved to the UK. “At first London was overwhelming and finding accommodation was a nightmare. Those first few weeks I was like: what have I done, this is a bad decision. But time passed and I loved London.”

She had only planned to spend one year abroad but extended her stay to study for a master’s in teaching French as a foreign language. In 2014, the couple got engaged and the following year Ferry moved back to France. She worked freelance as a teacher, travelling each day over the border into Luxembourg to give classes. In 2019, their daughter Louise was born.

Louise was just eight months old when the couple decided to buy the French Institute in Galway. Then coronavirus hit and their plans were put on hold. “All the institute classes went online and we didn’t know if we bought the school whether it would still have customers in it. And the bank stuff was really hard. In France they didn’t want to give us a mortgage for another country and in Ireland they didn’t want us to take a mortgage from France.”

The couple eventually secured the necessary funds and made an offer to buy the school which was accepted in January 2021. “When we got the news we cried and drank a bottle of champagne. We were so happy and so scared. We didn’t even know when we would be able to move.”

I was very anxious about living here on my own at the start without Louise but the first week was so busy I didn’t see the time go by

The couple knew the move had to wait until Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers from France was lifted. Meanwhile, Ferry held on to her job in administration and translation at a law firm, while her husband investigated opportunities with An Garda Síochána in Ireland. He eventually decided he would take over marketing and admin for the school rather than going straight back into policing in Ireland.

In August 2021, the couple eventually made it over to Ireland where they spent a week signing paperwork, trying to open a bank account and secure a PPS number. Ferry returned to Galway alone in September and moved into the rental house they had found during their summer visit. “I was very anxious about living here on my own at the start without Louise but the first week was so busy I didn’t see the time go by. I spoke with her and Jessy every day and it was a bit easier than I expected.”

Jessy and Louise visited for two weeks in October and will move over full time in January. Ferry is very happy with the school and is looking forward to welcoming more students back for in-person classes when the final restrictions lift. She’s conscious some people might be worried about her ability to run a school as a 30-year-old. “I know they’ve questioned my skills a bit but they’ve also been really welcoming. I understand their concerns but I look forward to showing them what we can do.”

She is also excited about her daughter starting school in an English-speaking country. “It would have been my dream to be in her position, speaking two languages. I expect her to laugh at our French accents when she’s older.

“I’m really happy we’ve made this choice. I find people here very helpful and reassuring. Galway feels like a good city for families – it’s quiet but dynamic. We have no set plans for the future, we just want to try and have a nice life here and as long as the school works, we will stay.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish





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