Retire to Ireland’s South Coast

The hills are gentle, rolling, and impossibly green. In the fields, cows graze fetlock-deep in the lush grass, while clouds scud across the blue sky overhead. Leaving the modern motorway, you immediately plunge into a world of narrow, hedge-lined country lanes, primrose-colored houses, and gray stone manors. Now and again a curve in the road opens up vistas of blue sea. Down the road, round the bend and over the hillocks, lies sandy beach or rocky shore…

Suddenly the skies turn gray and ominous, drop a brief, misty rain, then clear once more. I honk the horn to warn oncoming traffic as I take a sharp curve, imagining a pony trap jogging to market just around the bend…

These days, though, any oncoming vehicle is more likely a modern SUV. But I am in Ireland, and it’s hard not to think in clichés. That’s because most of them are still, thankfully, true. Here the land is indeed green, the people friendly, the pubs cozy, the music lilting—and yes, it rains almost every day.

It is also—thanks to the global recession and drastic property-price reductions—more affordable than it’s been in years. That’s why I’ve come to explore Ireland’s southern coast, mostly in County Cork. Colorful fishing villages dot this coast.

Here, sailboats bob tranquilly at their moorings offshore, the smell of salt is in the air, and fish is on every restaurant menu. You’ll seldom find beaches here—rocky shingle is more common. But if you love seaside living…and that special way of life that exists in places that make their living from the sea…then this region is heaven.

To top things off, it’s known for having a milder climate than a lot of the country…making it near-perfect for expats looking for a place to call home in the Emerald Isle. Hopping in a car, I take a four-lane motorway to Bantry, about two hours west of Cork City. This village is known for its stunning location on the shore of a narrow, deep natural harbor, Bantry Bay, in Cork’s far-western reaches. (See a video of Bantry here.)

Bantry itself looks a bit like a small New England coastal town (though in stone, not clapboard). Gaily-painted two- and three-story homes and shops line the village streets, while a tidy town square faces the water. Bantry is the market town for a large three-peninsula area in southwest Ireland, and it has the snap and verve that go with a market center.

Germans and Swedes began moving here as early as the 1970s. Today’s expats are mostly British and French. Actor Jeremy Irons has a house near here. So does Fred Astaire’s daughter Ava.

The British, especially, come to this part of Ireland because it has the lifestyle they remember from their childhoods and can no longer find in their own country. That is, safe, neighborly, and small-town, with beautiful, unspoiled countryside.

Bantry even has a beach. A large float offshore indicates that people swim here in warm weather. It was too windy and chilly for swimming the afternoon I was there. But children raced along the sand and several people walked their dogs. You can enjoy a seaside stroll—even at high tide, when the beach disappears—on a long railed boardwalk that extends around a bend to a neighboring inlet.

For all its cachet, you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a home in Bantry. For example, a three-bedroom row house in town lists for $194,000—and the price is negotiable. Prefer country living? A four-bedroom farmhouse in rolling countryside five miles from Bantry, renovated and with grounds for fruit and vegetable gardens, is going for $273,000. If you’re willing to invest the time and money to renovate, you can even snap up a two-bedroom fixer-upper in town for about $105,000.

My full story on Bantry…and my three other “south coast” recommendations in Ireland…including property contacts…is in the current issue of International Living magazine. Subscribe now to get instant access and a whole lot more.


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