“Every time Heaney came to town to teach, I cut his hair”
Sydney Moss was in his late twenties when he opened his own hair salon in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1968. The Liverpudlian hairdresser had arrived in the United States six years earlier and was working in a salon in the city of Woodbridge, Virginia, before finding a job in Boston. When he started his own salon, professors from local universities – Harvard and MIT – came for haircuts. One day a man with a guest scholar with an Irish accent walked through the door.
“It was Seamus Heaney,” Moss said with a smile. “For 25 years, every time he came to town to teach, I cut his hair. I spoke to him about what it was like growing up in Liverpool. I had been brought up with all the prejudice that a Jewish ghetto in Liverpool can give a man. The Irish were considered the lowest on the totem and I grew up surrounded by those jokes. But Seamus Heaney really took me to task on this. It completely changed my idea of what Ireland and the Irish were like. I’ve done 180 since, I think this place is fabulous.”
Moss speaks to me via Zoom from his new home on Sir John Rogerson Quay overlooking Liffey Harbor and Dublin. His wife of over 50 years, Silke, sits next to him. The couple moved to Dublin from Boston in August 2021, joining their daughter who is married to an Irishman and has lived here for over 25 years.
“We kept saying while Trump was president, ‘If he gets re-elected, we’re leaving.’ Then Joe Biden walked in and we were really happy, but the evening news was so full of anger”
“Our granddaughter has an Irish name,” Silke said, after asking how I pronounce my name. “Her name is Aoise.”
The couple started thinking about moving to Europe – the continent where they were both born – a few years ago. They briefly considered Portugal and also Berlin, a city where they previously lived for three years. Then they started chatting about Dublin, the city their daughter moved to in the 1990s.
“Politics had really started to get to us in the last couple of years,” says Silke. “We kept saying while Trump was president, ‘If he gets re-elected, we’re leaving.’ Then Joe Biden came in and we were really happy, but the evening news was so full of anger. We were so frustrated and it really affected us.
Silke was 21 when she emigrated from Berlin to Boston with her mother and brother. Before leaving, the young graduate had also trained in retail and sales in Germany, and soon found a similar position at the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston. She rose through the ranks through the store’s training program to become an assistant buyer in high-end fashion.
Sydney began her hairdressing career in London before briefly moving to Wales and then returning to Liverpool. He moved to the United States in 1962. The couple met on a blind date arranged by one of the models who attended the Sydney show. The couple spent three months together, then separated.
Sydney then met another woman whom he soon married, but the relationship was short-lived and after 18 months they separated. He reconnected with Silke and the couple married in 1968 – “a little wedding with finger sandwiches and a pretty three-tiered wedding cake” – and later had a son and a daughter.
More than two decades later, their daughter announced that she had secretly applied to go to Trinity College after falling in love with Dublin during a brief trip to Ireland. So Sydney and Silke began traveling from Boston to visit their daughter.
“Each time we came we fell more and more in love with Ireland,” says Silke. “Everyone was so friendly and outgoing and no one had any air or grace about them.”
“There’s a certain civility in the country that I don’t even think can be written about,” Sydney adds. “It’s amazing to me that it’s so widespread. It’s an incredible achievement and we don’t talk about it enough.
In April 2021, the couple decided to put their things away and trade their life in Boston for a new start in Ireland. They were aware of the liberal bubble in Boston where they lived and grew increasingly concerned about the political situation unfolding in the rest of the country. Watching the storming of the Capitol building in Washington DC live on TV on January 6, 2021 was particularly chilling, they say.
“Dublin has all the culture we had in Boston without having to travel an hour to the theatre, museum or symphony orchestra”
“The denial afterwards as if nothing had happened, it wears you down. And then the racism and the guns,” Silke says, her voice trailing off. “You reach an age where you no longer have any we needed and we were lucky to be able to make that choice,” adds Sydney.
The couple traveled to Dublin in June to find accommodation and settled into a flat in the recently completed 22-storey Capitol Dock building. They arrived with their belongings two months later in the early hours of an August morning. “It was Sydney and Vanessa’s birthday [their daughter] filled the apartment with balloons and beautiful flowers,” Silke recalls. “It was 5.30am and we were dead tired after the long journey but we looked at the view over the Liffey, the Dodder and the harbor and it was just stunning. We felt really lucky, we knew we had made the right choice.
Almost five months later, the couple are still happy with their decision. “Dublin has all the culture we had in Boston without having to travel an hour to get to the theatre, museum or symphony orchestra. Here we literally walk everywhere and get used to the bus system. It reminds us a bit of Berlin. It’s not a pretty city but it has an edge and has all that culture and so much to offer.
“Then we hope to meet people our own age,” she adds. “We joined the Irish Georgian Society, the RHA and the Goethe-Institut, but it’s harder to meet people as you get older. It would be nice to create new relationships.
The couple love the international vibe of the city and hear languages from all over the world.
“Even with taxi drivers, you get all the nationalities of the world,” says Sydney. “Of course there are prejudices here, but from what I’ve seen I don’t think the racism that exists in other countries can get worse here. I think that’s nature There is a certain civility here which makes the place very good.