Property: Portrait of Ireland

The euro and the silicon chip may be transforming Ireland's economy and property market but its traditional bucolic charm has lost none of its allure. Robert Liebman reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
We gotta get out of this place. For many Irish seekers of fame or fortune, the best thing about Ireland was bidding farewell to it. Think of James Joyce's alter ego in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus, whose personal and professional credo is a trinity that explicitly embraces expatriation - "silence, exile and cunning". Joyce himself lived and worked in France and Italy before settling in Switzerland, where he died and was buried in 1941.

Many young Irish professionals today, their wallets stuffed with cyberloot earned at home or Eurolucre earned on the Continent, are doing a most un-Irish thing with their money. They are buying property in their own homeland.

Despite soaring prices in recent years, Irish property still represents good value. Improved and expanding transport links have brought remote locations closer, and places that have always been relatively easy to reach are now even more convenient.

"Although the property market here has definitely been slowing over the last three months, the rise which began in the early Nineties is continuing," says Patrick O'Hagan, associate director of the estate agents Hamilton Osborne King in Dublin. "We expected it to maintain a high level because of the strength of sterling, and because interest rates in Dublin are low and likely to fall further. We still expect a further 2 per cent drop in the New Year, with the introduction of the euro."

Ireland remains attractive to a wide range of British buyers. Stephen Jeffery, who runs one of two Irish offices for the UK firm County Homesearch, says: "Some British buyers are involved in corporate moves to Cork and Limerick, but others come here on holiday once and become hooked. For many British buyers, Ireland offers the better quality of life that they associate with a bygone Britain. We still have traditional greengrocers' and butchers' shops. The pace is slower. The countryside is unspoilt." There is no language barrier and, says Mr Jeffery, even the omnipresent rain has its plus side in that "the Irish climate is more temperate and has fewer extremes than Britain's".

He adds: "Some British buyers are looking to set up a business such as a guest house or restaurant." Further up the scale, "Ireland has traditionally been a mecca for hunting, and with the decline of hunting in the UK, many British enthusiasts are buying Irish country houses to pursue their sport."

Ireland is still affordable. "Even though property prices have been rising in south-west Ireland, the cost of property here is still only half the price of equivalent homes in the south of England," says Mr Jeffery. And travel is easier now, thanks to more ferry and air services to Cork and Kerry. You can fly direct to southern Ireland from Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Plymouth, Southampton and Stansted."

From his urban base, Mr O'Hagan says: "Many UK buyers are weekly commuters between Ireland and Britain, mostly London and Dublin but also other British and Irish cities. Flights are frequent and you aren't delayed by luggage, so you can fly out and be in the office in two hours." A two-hour commute is hardly a snip, but Mr O'Hagan notes that many Home County commuters contend with roughly similar journeys daily.

In Dublin, the trip from home to airport has been shortened by people living close to the airport, which is in the north of the city, and the road infrastructure has improved. The stranglehold on fashionable property once enjoyed by the south has been broken. Many businesses have set up in the north to be near the airport, and many people are now buying homes there in order to live near their workplace.

"Our new ring road provides an improved infrastructure serving the airport and business areas," notes Mr O'Hagan. "Our M50 is like London's M25, except that traffic really moves." The M50 doesn't extend fully to the south yet, but in varying degrees all airport-bound travellers benefit from it.

Convenience is not the main selling-point for Dinish Island, which seems to have just about everything a private 28-acre island would require, except a heliport. The main house has eight bedrooms, four reception rooms, an attached three-bedroom guest annexe, a separate five-bedroom cottage for staff or other guests, and additional outbuildings, as well as a boathouse and pier. Mature woodland shelters the main house on its northern and western exposures. It is on the Kenmare river, County Kerry, on the Irish west coast, and the nearest land is a quarter of a mile away by boat. Kenmare is a further four miles away.

Farranfore airport in Killarney, which provides limited UK service, is 35 miles away - 30 miles closer than the busier Cork airport. About UKpounds 1,350,000 should seal the deal through Knight Frank.

For country properties, says Mr O'Neil, a Georgian house with outbuildings on 15 acres in County Tipperary would sell for about pounds 250,000. Properties with considerably more land can cost as much as pounds 2m. In Dublin, second- hand flats start at about pounds 80,000, and new apartments start at about pounds 100,000. The very best detached homes in south Dublin cost close to pounds 2m. With Irish people vying with foreigners to buy Irish properties, prices are higher than when the Irish preferred to run, and stay, away from home.

But these houses are still relatively cheap.

County Homesearch, Dublin (00-353-1) 661 1888; Cork (00-353-29) 52400; Knight Frank 0171 629 8171; Hamilton Osborne King (00-353-1) 618 1300

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