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A PhD Student's Guide to Living in Ireland

by Mark Bennett

What's it like to study abroad in Ireland as a PhD student?

Ireland's reputation as a relaxed, friendly and welcoming country is well-supported by the large numbers of international students that choose to study there each year. Some are attracted by the mountains, loughs and verdant landscapes that earned Ireland the title of 'Emerald Isle'. Others are drawn by an exceptionally rich cultural tradition that can claim authors and poets as well-known as Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, as well as bands as globally renowned as The Undertones, Thin Lizzy and U2. Other students may be intrigued by the chance to see other famous Irish landmarks, such as the St James Gate Guinness Brewery, once the largest brewery in the world and now home to a museum and tour paying tribute to one of the world's most famous beers. Of course, whether you're keen to walk the Giant's Causeway, study in the spiritual home of some of the world's great literature, or just enjoy an authentic pint of 'the black stuff', you'll also find excellent opportunities in Ireland's forward-thinking PhD system.

Key facts for PhD students in Ireland

  • The Republic of Ireland has a population of around 4.5 million, around a quarter of which is concentrated in the region of the capital city, Dublin.
  • The country is governed as a democratic republic, with an elected presidential head of state appointing a Taoiseach (prime minister) as head of government based on a parliamentary majority.
  • Ireland has a fairly temperate climate maintained by its placement within the Gulf Stream. Extremes of temperature are rare, but rainfall is fairly regular.
  • Ireland is a popular tourist destination, with over 6 million visitors per year and has been voted one of the friendliest and most welcoming countries in the world by various travel organisations.
  • Roman Catholicism is the most popular religion, but freedom for all faiths is constitutionally guaranteed.
  • The official language of the Republic of Ireland is Irish, but English is the dominant language and the first language for most of the population.
  • The currency of the Republic of Ireland is the Euro (€).

Culture, leisure and everyday life for PhD students in Ireland

Ireland has a rich and vibrant cultural heritage dating back to the country's Gaelic roots. Many of the country's traditions are unique within the British Isles, whilst others derive from its shared history with Great Britain and the UK. A widespread Irish diaspora has led to many traditional customs and celebrations such as Irish folk music and country dancing becoming well known around the world. You'll still find much to surprise you in Ireland itself, and will be more than welcome to share in unique local pastimes during your PhD study. Traditional Irish sports are very popular and you'll be free to try your feet (and hands!) at a match of Gaelic football, the country's most popular sport. Ireland's own St Patrick's Day parades will also easily surpass anything you've experienced abroad.

Food and drink

If your expectations of Irish food are informed by the lingering stereotype of bland dishes based largely on potatoes your time as a PhD student in the country will be an education in more ways than one! In fact, it won't take more than a visit to a decent Dublin pub for you to discover the range of dishes available in Ireland. Many are hearty stews, with variants of traditional Irish Stew (usually involving mutton or lamb) and Coddle (based on pork and bacon, sometimes with barley) being popular. Ireland also has its own version of the cooked breakfast, with white pudding and soda bread accompanying more common ingredients. One version of this dish, the 'ulster fry', has become somewhat notorious with all of its ingredients being fried (including the bread!). As such, it's probably not a meal to sample every morning of your PhD (unless you're a particularly dedicated nutritionist, given to self-experimentation) but it might be just the thing after the occasional long night in the lab.

Other Irish dishes do make use of the potato, but do so in ways that will surpass your expectations of this humble root vegetable. Boxty, for example is a fine potato-pancake often served wrapped around meat with gravy or other sauces. Other foods such as Champ or Colcannon are based on seasoned mash mixed with different vegetables.

Ireland's most famous beverage needs no introduction, but if Guinness isn't to your taste you'll be able to enjoy a range of whiskeys and liqueurs. Ireland even produces a small amount of wine!

Accommodation and living costs for PhD students in Ireland

Accommodation

A range of accommodation options are available to PhD students in Ireland. Most of the country's universities operate their own halls of residence and rooms in these may be made available to postgraduates. Costs will vary depending on the facilities provided, with basic single-rooms and shared facilities costing from around €3,500-4,500 ($4,500-5,795) per year whilst options with en-suite utilities may be closer to €6,000 ($7,725).

Ireland's main university cities such as Dublin and Cork will also offer a range of private rental options designed for students. Again, prices for these will vary, but average rent for a room in Dublin is estimated at around €6,500 ($8,370) per calendar year.

Living costs

Living costs in Ireland are roughly on par for those in other parts of the British Isles. As a rule, prices will be higher in Dublin than in other cities, but basic food and leisure activities should be affordable for postgraduates in all parts of the country. As a rough estimate, you should budget around €40-50 per week for food (with the exact cost varying depending on your catering options). If you're eating out to celebrate a research breakthrough, a three course meal in a reasonably priced restaurant will probably cost you from €20-40 ($26-52). The cost of a pint of Guinness in Dublin, in case you're wondering, is around €5 ($6.50).

Working in the Republic of Ireland as a PhD student

As an international PhD student you won't usually need a permit to work in Ireland during your studies. Exceptions exist where students are studying for a period of less than one year or on a course that is not recognised by the Irish Department of Education and Skills, but this will not be the case for PhD students whose programmes of study usually last at least three years.

Opportunities for part-time work will vary depending on the region you are based in, but large cities such as Dublin are used to hiring students for work in hospitality and related sectors. Depending on the nature of your degree programme you may also be able to find teaching or mentoring work at your university once your studies have advanced sufficiently.

You can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These can help top up your funding if you have any difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Other useful information for PhD students in Ireland

By now you should have a good idea of what to expect from life as a PhD student in Ireland. You'll know how much to budget for accommodation and living costs (as well as how much to keep aside for an authentic pint of Guinness) and you'll have some idea of what your employment rights might be whilst you study. There are a few other areas you'll want to read up on though. Click 'more' for a quick introduction to travel in Ireland and to the country's banking system.

Travel and transportation

Ireland has three main international airports: Cork Airport, Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport (near Limerick). These are well served by major carriers and provide easy access to the country's major cities. If you are travelling from the British mainland you will also have the option of taking a ferry to Ireland, with various crossings available. Some ferry operators also conduct services between Ireland and other European countries such as France. Within Ireland itself you can use inter-city trains for regional travel, whilst individual cities are well served by bus services. Dublin also offers a modern tram service known as the Luas (Irish for 'speed') which runs on two lines within the city. You can find out more about Irish public transport at the website of Transport for Ireland.

Money and banking

Banking in Ireland operates similarly to elsewhere in Great Britain, with numerous high street branches open during the working week and ATM machines also available in shopping areas. You will be able to open an account provided you can show at least two documents proving your identity and your address (your passport will suffice for this, along with a utility bill or a letter from your university). Most banks will be able to exchange foreign currency, as will other bureau de change in towns and cities.

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