Living in Ireland
reprinted with new movies and picture
With St. Patrick's Day here, it always takes me back to the many very fine memories I have about our time living and working in Ireland.
As our 747 descended into Shannon Airport the country was a gray blank…and then, at about 1000 feet we dropped through the mist to see the most amazing values of green ever.
That first sight of Ireland took our breath away.
Just three weeks earlier we were out in L.A. visiting our friend, June Foray (the voice of Rocky the flying squirrel, Natasha – and 100's of other characters).
We thought we were going to Ireland, but now, I was out looking for a job.
We had sold our house and its contents, given away our cars, and were primed to travel to Dublin - so I could direct a popular TV series.
A former employee, BG artist, Mike Lowery was already working for them.
It was at least a six month stint, with the possibility for more.
We were up for an adventure!
But then, at the last minute, a change in distribution deals had altered everything - most of all… the course of our lives.
An E.U. program would give funds if the major participants were from the E.U.- that, included the director of the series.
Here we were essentially homeless (though we did have the money from the house) and jobless.
We decided to travel to L.A. and "chat" with the "mother" animation company and while there, take the kids on their first trip to a Disney theme park.
The "mother" company just stonewalled me for 2 hours.
When they first contacted me about working overseas, I had asked for a contract.
"No, that wouldn't be necessary, they assured me, we do this all the time".
At the time, I had no reason to doubt – like I said, Mike Lowery was over there having the time of his life.
The kids really enjoyed Disneyland!
We rented a car and drove out to see June.
The kids could enjoy her pool and we could visit and maybe even obtain some leads for jobs.
We told her our story about the "mother" company and Ireland, etc., etc.
When we mentioned Ireland, June perked up.
"Well, you know Dave Brain, a then Disney TV animation director, was working in Ireland with an animation school."
She insisted we give him a call to see if there was still a chance of a job over there.
Now, it was probably around 5:00 pm Pacific time- add three additional hours to the East Coast time zone…and, an additional 5 hours to the time for the hop over the pond- that made it about 1:00 am in the morning in Dublin.
Amazingly, Dave answered the phone!
We spoke for a couple of minutes…I had met Dave through ASIFA Hollywood almost 16 years ago…and he remembered me.
Then, he said the most amazing thing, "I am leaving here in three weeks and Disney doesn't have anyone to replace me.
"How would you like to teach?"
I had always taught part-time, my way of giving back to the people and industry that had helped me so much.
I also trained all the folks who animated with me at my studio- teaching was a natural for me.
So…I said, "Yes".
There was only one hitch; the school's head of the Design Department (which presided over the animation course of study) was on vacation on the Aran Islands.
You see, the Aran Islands have no phones- or electricity.
We thought, okay, we will go to Ireland for a month's vacation and if something didn't pan out we would return to the States and really scour L.A. for a job.
Back then, all flights flew to Shannon then on to Dublin.
We landed in Dublin with me, my wife, our three children, and 7 duffle bags FULL of clothes, favorite toys, and other stuff.
Our adventure had begun!
Dave was kind enough to let us move in with him and his family.
He showed us the ins and outs of life in Ireland.
Before he returned to the States, Dave asked me to call Des Fahey, a friend from the IDA (Irish Development Authority) to tell him "goodbye and thank you" for all his support.
The very next day, we decided to buy a one day family rail pass and travel the length of the Dart system, a distance of almost 40 miles.
We began in Dublin and traveled south to Bray in County Wicklow…climbed Brayhead and then hopped back on the train and traveled north to the Isle of Howth.
While on the train we heard a conversation in American- actually it was a Texas drawl.
He was having an animated discussion with a bearded Irish fellow in the next seat.
We engaged them in a chat.
When we explained why we were here and that I was an animator, the bearded Irish fellow said, "Are you Larry Lauria?"
We sat there, stunned - as fortune would have it - that bearded Irish fellow was Des Fahey!
Ireland is just like that…
Ireland was a perfect place for animation!
They have a disproportionate number of artists compared to the size of the population.
Being a poor country – drawing, playing an instrument and singing were cheap pastimes.
Plus the fact it took hundreds of people to work on an animated films… and with the Irish there was no language barrier.
The country struggled with a 33% unemployment rate- needless to say folks needed work and the IDA offered many incentives.
All the major studios were looking at the possibility of setting up there.
The Gulf War changed that a bit – but until then it was on course to become a major player in the industry.
I did get the job at Dun Loaghaire (said dun Leara) college of Art and Design.
Taught some really wonderful students there. (still another story)
One day our kids awoke to some commotion in the back garden.
A curious cow was peering into our backyard.
It turns out the small field behind our house belonged to a farmer who brought his cows there to calf.
The next year, I moved to Senior College Ballyfermot to head up and help teach their Classical Animation Program.
This program had a strong relationship with the Don Bluth Studio, in Dublin, and Sheridan College, in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
The program was REALLY intense and the students were mostly from Ireland and other countries in the E.U. - we only selected the top 5% from all the portfolios submitted.
It was a great experience!
Along the way we moved three times…from Foxrock to Lucan to Ballyowen (another section of Lucan).
The girls learned to ride horses, our son learned to skateboard.
He also joined the Irish Boy Scouts – which took regular "smoke" breaks during meetings.
We had plenty of "family" time and plenty of "couple time", too.
The bus, rail and ferry systems allowed us to travel without the need of a car (for 5 years).
We walked everywhere!
We became fit - and were no longer "mushy Americans"
We lived simple lives. I would walk to work (1.5 miles each way).
Because of our tiny frig, I stopped on the way home each day to shop for dinner.
The food was fresh and from all over the world.
We began a collection of stickers with lemons from Israel, Kiwi's from New Zealand, etc.
The Irish say," …they work to live- not live to work!"
Some of my professional highlights included:
I persuaded Chuck Jones, and his wife Mariam, to visit us at Senior College, and to participate in the Dublin Film Festival (another story, another time).
My wife and I were guests of the Cinemagic Festival in Belfast and Derry, Northern Ireland for several years.
We worked with the Northern Ireland Film Council to create and direct ANIMAGIC- an innovative North/South film project about Cultural Heritage (32 students, 16 from the North. and 16 from the South participated (another story).
I attended the animation festival in Annecy- twice…found it to be one of my favorite places in the world.
I also attended the Cardiff Animation festival in Wales- where I ran to an old professor, Bill Moritz.
The Ballyfermot school became one the best animation schools in the world.
We were visited by Irish President Mary Robinson, the Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, even the President of Hungary, and of course, every major studio in the States and the E.U..
I worked for and with some VERY wonderful and talented people!
The Irish truly are the friendliest people on the Earth.
We got to see the U.S. from the "other side of the pond" – an eye opening experience.
We lived there during the Gulf War.
We weren't glued to the TV like folks in the States - it was just another news item.
At the time, there were 3 million in the South and 5 million on the entire Island…and there were 54 million Irish-Americans in the U.S.
Back then, Ireland was the poorest country in the E.U. - now they are the most prosperous in the E.U.
In 1995 – when we left the South of Ireland, it was pretty much 100% Irish – except for a few African-American basketball players in the premiere Budweiser league…and of course - one American animator teacher.
Now 10% of the country is Chinese - plus they have need for 45,000 new service workers every year (mostly from Eastern Europe and Nigeria).
The Irish have a wonderful fascination with words- especially the "f-bomb" Colin Farrell, Bono, Daniel Day Lewis- you've heard them - they are all from Ireland.
There, the "f-word" can be used as noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, and direct object – sometimes all in the same sentence.
I was a member of Cartoon Ireland for three years and an advisor to the Irish Film Board
And, I was all-Ireland shortstop or third basemen for the Irish Softball/Baseball Association, 3 years in a row- this while playing in my 40's (another story).
Heck, when I got to Disney, and wanted to play - they wouldn't even allow me on the field.