County Councillor John Paul Feeley; Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien; Acting Chief Executive of Cavan County Council, and director of Housing, Eoin Doyle; Elaine Ryan and Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council, Cllr Clifford Kelly (FF).

This house ‘means everything to us’

The lowest ebb Elaine Ryan recalls was trying to sell the family’s furniture in order to pay the bills. Not long after she made contact with the Community Welfare Officer.

Those months spent waking, worrying, living a perpetual nightmare of mounting bills are now a blur in the rear-view mirror says Elaine speaking to the Celt last Friday, May 21, the day she and her family finally received the keys to their new council appointed home.

“People have no idea [what this means to her and her family]. It means stability, a place for the future. A new start,” says Elaine of how she’s feeling.

Like many others, Elaine arrived in Cavan via the N3, having first sold her house in Dublin, to start afresh in Virginia. Then the recession hit. At the same time Elaine lost her job, in part due to ill-health.

The former teacher tells the Celt that her son had been killed in Dublin, and the struggle of coming to terms with such a deeply terrible loss, on top of everything else, caused Elaine to suffer a “breakdown”.

“I just panicked. I could see the recession coming, the house had already [dropped in value] over €200,000, so I just put the whole lot up for sale.”

Elaine had forked out close to €350,000 for the house in Virginia during the height of the Celtic Tiger boom and, though she obviated much of the immediate financial burden from the earlier Dublin sale, she still borrowed heavily from the banks in order to furnish her new home.

“I’d a small mortgage, €700 a month at that time, it’d be a couple of thousand now, and so I took the left over money [from the sale of the Virginia house] and paid it up front on rent. But that only did us nearly three years. After that it was to the Community Welfare Officer. What else could we do?”

It was a humbling experience, says Elaine, someone who had never before relied on State support.

But, with “everything gone,” she had nowhere else to turn. “Everything I’d worked for. All the things I’d been brought up to believe [were measures of success], all was gone. We owned nothing, only the furniture. Even that I was selling off to pay maybe gas bills and things like that.”

Elaine first entered the Rent Assistance Scheme (RAS) almost a decade ago, before being placed on the county’s social housing list. “My age isn’t exactly on my side trying to get a mortgage,” she offers good humouredly.

To compound matters further, Elaine, who is widely known for her work as a coordinator with the Older People’s Council and Cavan Positive Age, was diagnosed with cancer. Through lockdown she battled the illness, undergoing radiation treatment. The journey “brought about a whole new way of thinking” for her.

“A permanent home is what I knew I needed. [Being sick] you see values you maybe never took time to notice before, like stability in where you live. I’d beaten myself up so much for losing my home in the first place that I’d totally forgotten that I had a basic human right to housing as much as anyone else.”

The call Elaine received about receiving her new home at Drumalee Manor came totally “out of the blue”.

She will now soon move in with her daughter, who gave birth just five weeks ago, and Elaine’s two grandchildren for whom she cares.

“Beyond excited,” she says of the prospect of moving in. “It’s a new start, in so many ways. I can only start believing now that it’s happening, can start making this our home, getting involved in the community.”