Robert Lawson

Senior Data Engineer at Auth0

County Offaly

Co. Offaly

One-On-One with Robert

Could you tell us a bit more about yourself, your job and how long you’ve lived in County Offaly?

I’m a Senior Software Engineer for Auth0. I moved to Offaly in Jan 2019.

What attracted you to living and working in Offaly ?

My wife and I decided our flat in Dublin was too small for a baby, and we couldn’t find anything affordable in the city. On top of that, though, we realized that we wanted our child to be somewhere they could walk out the front door and encounter trees and meadow, not cars and exhaust, where they could see stars in the night sky (though light pollution is worsening 😦 ), and where we could live free of an enormous mortgage payment (that last one was the tough part – we needed it to be under 100k, and even in 2019 prices were quite high!). 

On top of that, though, we wanted to be able to cycle to the train, have decent broadband, be near an Educate Together school, and if possible have a bit of land to rewild or, in years to come, maybe start a market garden.

Of course, this was all enabled by fully remote work. I never go to an office. This job was fully remote even before covid, which is a huge factor.

Can you walk us through a day in the life of living in Offaly?

My kids wake me up around 7 AM, I make breakfast and do some chores with them until about 9, I head to the attic and work until lunch, at some point there the neighbour might pop by with eggs from their hens, then I come down to take the older kid to preschool in the nearest town while her sister naps, I might run an errand or two while out, head home, work until 6 PM (6:30 sometimes; I have calls with US west coast so this gives us some overlap), then head downstairs and we have dinner, do bath time and dishes, stories, and then I finish up chores and spend a little time hacking or reading.

How would you describe transport within Offaly ? Is it easy to get around ?

Unfortunately it’s very car dependent. I’d really like it if my kids could walk or cycle to school. That being said, it’s a pretty easy 15 minute bike ride to the nearest train station, and if the road were safer it would be an 8 minute walk to the nearest village – it’s only 800 metres – but the roads are not safe to walk on.

For all that, progress is being made! I have the ear of a local councillor who seems keen on active transport, and the NPWS recently put in a walking trail (though the odd farmer still drives on it) which can get me from home most of the way to the train station without encountering anything but local access traffic. The proposed Clonmacnoise greenway should aid cycling connectivity as well. I’ve used the Mullingar->Athlone Greenway to cycle to Athlone and it’s great – once you get on the greenway. Before that it’s dodgy.

Once at the train station, though, there’s 12 trains a day to Heuston and Galway, and Westport, which is really nice. We’ve used the train a lot to get to Dublin (less so during the pandemic, sadly). It’s amazing to me that I can be in Dublin city centre faster than some people in Dublin suburbs. Having the train also makes things like getting to the airport much, much easier, not to mention that a day out in the city is much nicer by train than car! A folding bike makes it particularly convenient.

How fast/reliable is your home internet connection ?

It’s the fastest, most reliable internet access I’ve ever had. Gigabit fibre. I built tooling to map out fibre broadband and homes for sale before buying. My colleagues in San Francisco don’t even have internet access this fast.

Can you tell us about some of your favourite locations or attractions within Offaly ?

Right next door to my house is Clara Bog, the largest intact raised bog in western Europe. It’s a great place to see birds and flora which were once commonplace throughout the island. It’s a fantastic carbon sink as well!

The Slieve Bloom mountains are nearby, and that includes Knockbarron Wood, which is a beautiful forest of native broadleaf trees. The bluebells are gorgeous, and there’s babbling brooks, moss-covered tree trunks, and singing birds. 

Clara has a fantastic library, especially considering the size of the town. We’ve gone to musical events for kids there and get books there often.

We visit Birr castle often. The grounds are stunning, and the Giant Sequoias are a wonderful reminder of home. In addition to the fascinating (and huge) 19th century telescope, the modern LOFAR observatory is there, along with a pleasant waterfall and meandering trails through woods. Nearby Woodfield Cafe and Garden centre is a great place to eat and ogle fun plants afterwards, too. 

It’s actually in Westmeath (sorry!) But nearby Athlone has a really nice old town – I feel like it’s very under-appreciated. The architecture and winding, narrow streets rival Galway’s and if they ever pedestrianise them they’ll be a great place to take the family for a day out. Great Thai restaurant too – Kin Khao!

What advice do you have for individuals or families interested in relocating to Offaly ?

Research your amenities ahead of time! None of this would be possible without decent broadband. Also, being able to bike to the train station is huge – it’s let us be a 1-car family. Chat in the local post office and corner shop, and check out the schools ahead of time, though it can be hard to know whether you’d actually get a spot in the one you want. 

If you’re interested in building, or knowing what might get built around you, look at nearby planning applications, and county development plans. A lot of changes are going in to effect in 2022, making it harder to build one-off houses. On the other hand, there are new supports for village-centre living, which has a lot of advantages for being in a community.

Finally, I’ve been impressed by how approachable the local councillors are. Drop them a line! I’d suggest email but realistically speaking most respond better to phone calls, though mine uses whatsapp which helps. They’ll be able to tell you about plans for the area and share local knowledge. They also like hearing about newcomers  interested in their area – it’s a sign they’re doing something right!

(I don’t want to plug it but I built to address this exact challenge)

Thank you very much Robert for taking the time to talk with us and thank you for representing Co. Offaly as a Rural Ireland Tech Advocate.

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