Friday, 20 April 2007

Donegal dream

The big dream of many people in Northern Ireland is to retire to a little cottage set in the stunning scenery of County Donegal and spend a blissful decade or two doing all those things they didn't have enough time for when they were working - angling, golf, walking, maybe even surfing or scuba diving.

A cabbie this morning was telling me that in eight years' time, when he's 60, he hopes to buy a little place in Donegal and put the urban hurly-burly behind him. He'll sit on the river bank with his fishing rod thinking of nothing in particular and just waiting for something to bite.*

The only trouble is, too many other people have the same idea. For years now Donegal has had a serious housing crisis as outsiders muscle in to buy retirement and holiday homes, pushing property prices sky-high and preventing the locals getting a home of their own, particularly the children of low-income farmers. To add insult to injury, the second homes (a quarter of the housing stock) lie vacant and unused most of the year while the homes of local people are bursting at the seams as children and grandchildren are squeezed uncomfortably into them.

Why is Donegal the great Mecca anyway? Yes, it's very beautiful but so is most of Northern Ireland. Which is why the same problem afflicts the more desirable parts of this country too, like Portstewart and the north coast towns. It's getting more and more fashionable to have a second home you can tootle off to when the mood takes you. People are snapping up extra homes not just here but all over Europe, now the low-cost airlines have widened everyone's horizons.

Personally, I steadfastly refuse to buy a second home, whatever breathtaking bargains are screaming at me from Bucharest or Sofiya. I'm sure such purchases can only be bad news for indigenous citizens desperate for a place of their own. Why this frantic land-grabbing? Isn't one home enough for anyone?

*what a horrifying image for us vegetarians....


  1. Oh the old song, Nick
    "My Little Grey Home in the West."

    I have known a few who tried this but the damp and isolation got to them. The lack of carryout, the huge drives (in the rain) for any kind of entertainment. The few I knew packed up and went back to the cities. One of my uncles gave it 3 years. He didn't like the sound of his own thoughts.

    PS Take a peek at my blog on bullying where I have a link to your article on same.


  2. An interesting flipside to the dream. Perhaps some local people who are driven out actually find it's a blessing in disguise and they have better lives than being in rainy, under-provided Donegal?? As long as they don't head for drought-stricken Australia....

  3. I so agree. Even in our home towns and cities, buying a second property for 'investment' purposes simply reduces the properties available and increased prices, further blocking first time buyers in an already almost impossible market. And meanwhile the national tabloids talk about rising house prices as though they're an intrinsically good thing, when in fact they simply indicate that most of us would no longer be able to afford our own homes.

    I also have no desire to retire, or holiday-rent, in Donegal (unlike most members of the legal profession in NI, who seem already to have property there). I like the hustle and bustle of cities too much.

  4. Good for you, John. Like you, I like some urban buzz, though the teeming London ant-heap just got a bit too much. Belfast is just big enough to be stimulating without being overwhelming. But it's those desperate first-time buyers I feel sorry for.

  5. Completely in agreement. Second homes are a plague as bad here in France as they are back home; it is shocking to see the amount of homelessness here in Paris alongside the amount of private properties lying vacant for most of the year.

    With regard to Donegal and the West of Ireland, the blight of bungalows is another issue (though, to be fair, second-home-owners are far from the most culpable on this count). Just as the right to build a house wherever you want is a spurious notion, so is the right to buy as much property as you want. Seeing the Irish turn into absentee landlords in Eastern Europe, given our own history in that field, is one of the most sickening experiences of contemporary Ireland.

    Perhaps a better option would be co-operative timeshare homes, or, like in Sweden, compulsory purchase orders after more than twelve months of a flat or house being continuously unoccupied by its owner or unlet to others.

  6. Hi Seanachie. I do agree that the unrestricted right to build anywhere and to keep buying property is absurd. And yes the shocking irony of the Irish being absentee landlords in impoverished E European countries. The Swedes have got the right idea with CPOs after a year.