Building a new life & a new city

The Canterbury earthquakes brought Martin Ryan and his family from Ireland to Christchurch. Like hundreds of others, Martin answered the call for workers to rebuild the city.
Building a new life & a new city

Martin Ryan had his own construction company in Ireland for nearly 10 years. The global recession brought a construction downturn and Martin and his wife, Breffni, were looking for opportunities overseas.

New Zealand was high on their list of options – it offered a culture similar to Ireland’s and a great lifestyle for the family. Christchurch stood out. It seemed similar to cities in Ireland, and with the rebuild there was going to be a lot of work.

There was also the excitement of a new challenge – a whole new start. “We didn’t know how we were going to feel about the place when we got here.”

Breffni researched Christchurch so thoroughly she knew which suburbs would suit the family – what amenities and schools there were.

Martin and Breffni arrived in New Zealand with their preschool daughters Emma and Molly two years ago. They rented out their home in Ireland and shipped their belongings to Christchurch, believing that with the huge cost of the move, they had to make it work. “We decided it was all or nothing.”

Nearly two years later, Martin, Breffni, Emma, 6, and Molly, 4, live in the seaside suburb of Redcliffs, about 20 minutes’ drive from Christchurch city centre.

There's a great bond between the Kiwis and new people coming in now. Everybody is learning from one another

Martin Ryan

One of the companies they researched from home was the recruiter Canstaff which later held interviews in Dublin. Martin was offered a job in Christchurch and, with the help of an immigration adviser, got a 12-month work visa within three months. The family was soon on the way to Christchurch.

After several months Martin moved to a project management role with the Hawkins Canterbury Recovery Project and was required to submit a new visa application. “We explained our circumstances to Immigration New Zealand and they told us we would most likely be eligible to apply for our residency, going through the points system. We are hoping to gain residency and eventually citizenship.”

At work, the transition has been easy, Martin says. The work is similar to his work in Ireland. “It's just a matter of learning the New Zealand building codes and the way the process works here. But that comes with the support of your employer, and learning it from your colleagues.

His job involves a combination of office and site work, assessing damage and developing repair strategies.

“There's a great bond between the Kiwis and new people coming in now. Everybody is learning from one another. There seems to be a great acceptance of people coming in, because we're here to work and help rebuild Christchurch itself.”

The lifestyle is worlds away from what it was in Ireland, Martin says. “Everything here is based outdoors. We have outdoor swimming pools for the kids. Every four or five kilometres you drive you see facilities that are just second to none – toilets, safe play areas, green areas within the city. There are bicycle lanes everywhere. You drive two kilometres and go rock climbing. An hour and a half outside the city, you can go skiing in winter.

The climate, though warmer and drier than in Ireland is not as warm as he and Breffni expected. Lack of quality housing and the high cost of renting came as a surprise. “So much has been damaged by the earthquakes. There are so many houses that are still in need of repair. It has a huge effect on living and working here in Christchurch.”

Groceries, social activities and petrol seem expensive. However, the balance of salaries and taxes allows a good lifestyle. “You're more encouraged to take part in the outdoor activities.”

The couple already had a couple of suburbs in mind when they arrived in Christchurch. However, they found a central apartment to rent for a few months while they got to know the city.“We wanted to be central because we didn't know where anything was and we didn't have a car at first.”

"The girls are starting to get Kiwi accents and have become more sporty- we're by the sea, so there's the beach"

Breffni Ryan


They arrived in May and Emma was due to start school in November, which allowed time to confirm what they had learnt about schools and suburbs. Though parts of it had been damaged by the earthquakes, Redcliffs suited their needs and there is a Catholic school for the girls.

The family still miss their friends and relatives in Ireland. Breffni is glad she was busy right from the start, arranging a school for Emma and kindergarten for Molly and making the necessary arrangements for life in a new place. Other mums she met have become good friends.

Seeing her family again has also helped. Breffni and the girls made a trip back last winter and her sister’s family has visited them in Christchurch.

The girls are starting to get Kiwi accents and have become more sporty, she says. “We're by the sea - so there’s the beach. The kids also have more freedom to run around and play than they had back home.”

First hand experience

Asked what they would say to people thinking of moving to New Zealand, Martin and Breffni both stress one word – research.

BREFFNI: You need to know where you're going, what you want and what your expectations are. You can find out about childcare, schools, doctors, all the systems here. You need to have money for each visa, and know which one to apply for. If you're going to come, make the commitment. Don't say, ‘We'll go and see how it is'.

We were told to look up Trade Me which is a fantastic website for housing and other things. You also need a car. Initially, we needed somewhere short-term to stay. I had to go on a holiday website to get a holiday let with all the facilities we needed because our own things were still being shipped.

The hardest thing for us is being so far from home. The kids are away from their grandparents, their cousins, and all that network of people. The family uses Viber and Skype to stay in touch.

MARTIN: Look up exactly where you want to go, areas of the country that you're thinking of immigrating to. Look up schools, if you have kids. Do some research about the company or job you are coming to.

Research the cost of living – how will you live and run a home. I would check out the amenities. Ask yourself what kind of lifestyle are you hoping to have? Are you into outdoor activities and sport? Do you want to be city-based or out in the country? What amenities do you need to be near to achieve your aims?

The biggest challenge for us was the quality of accommodation. The standard of build – heating and insulation in particular – is completely different here. Some migrants with young children dread the winter coming.

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