Some things don’t change. Friday night’s throb of bodhran drums in Cryan’s bar. The shy Sika deer flitting out of the woods like shadow creatures from a Celtic twilight. The man with the van selling home-grown potatoes…
Others things do change. In Lakeland counties and villages along Ireland’s longest river—the Shannon—numerous properties are now selling for under $150,000. The starting figure for cottages with a small piece of land is down to the $67,000 level.
With the euro tail-spinning, Ireland now looks temptingly affordable for buyers with dollars. A year ago, a 100,000 euro property would have cost $145,000. At today’s exchange rate, it’s $128,000.
Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg are the main loughs (lakes) that dangle like diamonds from the Shannon’s necklace. Dozens of smaller loughs also embroider the countryside’s green backcloth with silver-blue. But most visitors only discover these locations by accident.
Lakeland counties like Roscommon, Leitrim, and Offaly don’t attract the same visitor attention as Cork and Kerry. Why, I don’t know. But if you seek an “Ireland of the Welcomes” that’s free of Blarney stones, over-priced woolen mills, and pseudo-medieval banquets, this is it.
Smudged by little towns and villages, the Lakelands’ countryside offers far more than 40 shades of green. In spring, carpets of bluebells appear in the woods, hillsides are white with May blossom, and riverbanks froth with angelica and celandines. Fall brings a free harvest of hazelnuts, blackberries, elderflowers (for home-made wine), and wild mushrooms.
This part of Ireland has been my home since 1989. My own cottage looks down on Lough Key and its scattering of islands where scholarly monks penned their Annals over a thousand years ago.
One of my favorite walks is beside the Boyle River, a tributary of the Shannon flowing into Lough Key. It’s a rare day when I don’t see swans, the turquoise flash of kingfishers, or a gray heron flapping across the reed-beds.
Life is tranquil, but things weren’t always so. Now mainly used by pleasure craft, the river Shannon was once one of the country’s main trading routes. Studded with castles, abbeys, and crumbling tower-houses, its villages are scrapbooked with stories of early Christian monks and Viking raiders.
For romantics with a passion for history, there’s always something to fire the imagination: holy wells, prehistoric tombs, and ring forts—the fairy forts of legend. Only last year, archaeologists working near Lough Key discovered a “deviant burial” site going back 1,300 years. Two of the skeletons unearthed had large rocks wedged in their mouths.
It’s believed some corpses were buried this way to prevent their rising from the grave to haunt the living.
I adore such tales, but even writers can’t live on myth and home-made blackberry jam alone. The practicalities of Irish living include a cool and rainy climate—and that won’t suit everyone. And while property prices have tumbled, day-to-day living costs are high compared to many other European countries.
During winter, my monthly electric bill sometimes goes over $250, and I usually spend around $120 a week on groceries and household necessities. Petrol (gas) is currently about $2 per liter ($7.60 per gallon)…and life without a car would be difficult. That said, I have no plans to move elsewhere.
I mostly shop in Carrick-on-Shannon, county Leitrim’s principal town. It’s an attractive marina settlement with riverside walks and a five-arched stone bridge on the border with county Roscommon. Even though its population only numbers around 4,500, it has everything I need—entertainment included.
The Docks—Carrick’s restored former Courthouse—is a venue for art, music, theater, and even poetry readings. The traditional music “sessions” in Cryans have been a weekend feature for as long as I’ve lived here.
Twenty years ago, “pub grub” meant a ham or cheese sandwich. Nowadays, we have gastro-pubs. My favorite is the Oarsman—pan-fried mackerel with fennel, tomato, and olives costs $9.76.
On the edge of town, there’s a 10-pin bowling center, a multiplex cinema, and a sports center with indoor pool. Supermarkets include a 24-hour Tesco (a major UK supermarket), and a German-owned Lidl that stocks Continental delicatessen products. On Thursdays, the Market Yard hosts a farmers’ market with an array of organic produce.
With its program of classical, jazz, and traditional music, the highlight of Carrick’s festival year is July’s Water Music Festival. There are lots of smaller festivals, too, both in towns and villages.
Carrick’s parkland course on the banks of the Shannon is only a five-minute drive out of town—midweek green fees are $25.
There’s no excuse to be bored here.
Dublin and Belfast are both approximately a two-hour drive from Carrick, and I can be in Yeats country (county Sligo) and the unspoiled beaches of the Atlantic coast within an hour. Clonmacnoise and Lough Ree are around the same one-hour driving distance.
Although it’s doubtful that $10,000 cottages will resurface again (that’s what I paid for mine in 1989), property prices have tumbled.
Near where I live, three-bedroom houses on a new estate in the riverside village of Cootehall have been slashed to $83,000. You can buy two-bedroom apartments in Carrick-on-Shannon for $57,500.
For $67,000 you’ll get a 753-square-foot traditional country cottage with lake views and outbuildings on one acre in Kilnagross village, seven miles from Carrick-on-Shannon.
Once the lodge of Kilronan Castle, Shannon Lodge is a restored stone cottage with 1,500 square feet of living space and 1.75 acres of land near Battlebridge and the Shannon-Erne Waterway. Price: $134,000…
Editor’s note: Read the current issue of International Living magazine to get Steenie’s pick of rental properties and home-buying resources in Ireland.