Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

On St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll find me dancing in O’Leary’s Irish pub

Photo: Robert Oosterbroek

“The world used to seem a lot bigger. In the seventies, Ireland was a conservative, isolated island, where the Catholic church had a lot to say.” Kathy, then in her twenties, wanted to broaden her horizons. “I was curious about other cultures. I met my husband, who comes from Vreeswijk, in 1976 in Belgium where we were both on holiday. Afterwards, we wrote each other letters. It was very romantic.”

Her then boyfriend (now husband) visited Ireland a lot, but the couple decided to settle in the Netherlands – she liked the idea of living in a liberal country and Utrecht was the place to be in those days. She particularly remembers the summer of 1976… “A sultry summer’s day on the quay, everyone looked so happy. It gave me a very distorted impression of the climate!”

Kathy moved to the Netherlands in 1982 and found a job immediately. She spent twenty years working for an international department of the Dutch Railways, and has worked for an NGO for the last nine years. She walks to work from her home on Minrebroederstraat. “Along Oudegracht and Lange Rozendaal. I see the city waking up and think to myself: this is my town.”

Civic integration didn’t take long in the eighties, but she still did her best. She learned the language as quickly as she could, realising just how much she was missing by only speaking English. Jokes, for example.

“I didn’t understand the dry Dutch sense of humour. I thought people were being serious and often got the wrong end of the stick. Humour is one of the last things that you ‘get’ in a foreign language.” So what’s Irish humour like? “The Irish can defuse a difficult conversation with a single witty comment.”

During her Dutch courses, Kathy met people from very different global backgrounds. It was a welcome eye opener after living in Ireland.

Singing and dancing

Although Kathy is firmly committed to the Netherlands, her roots are still a big part of her life. Ireland is the country where she was born and bred, where her family lives, where they go on holiday, where the taxi drivers will happily recount their entire life stories. Kathy often misses Ireland and is proud of how the country has evolved.

“It’s a great young republic now, nothing like as isolated and conservative as it used to be. A European country full of Nobel Prize-winning writers, poets and musicians.” She continues: “Other Irish ex-pats in Utrecht are proud too. I know a lot of them though O’Leary’s Irish pub on Adelaarstraat. They´re like a surrogate family; coming from the same country means that you share something unique. We often meet up, organise meals or go to the pub. We have a great party on St. Patrick’s Day every year, dancing to Irish music in O’Leary’s, singing at the top of our voices. It’s hard to control our emotions. The Dutch probably think we’re mad.”

“If I’d stayed in Ireland,” she says, “I probably wouldn’t have appreciated Irish music and traditions as much as I do. These things only become important if you live somewhere else. They help you to stop you feeling homesick.”

Name: Kathy Bassett
Place of birth: Dublin, Ireland
Motto: ‘Broaden your horizon and learn from new experiences’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.

Article by Fenna Riethof.