Self-Sufficiency in Style


Where should we look for our house and land in Ireland?

Of the four countries, and a few islands, that make up Britain and Ireland, Ireland is by far the most rural.

The Irish have, historically, been so keen to leave, that it is surprising that any are left, but there are. The Irish Republic is now a young country that has recently changed from a backward rural economy to a modern busy prosperous state.

The North is also facing change and the prospect of happier times, something that will give great pleasure to all of Ireland's friends.

The writer has known Southern Ireland for more than fifty years and views some of the changes with pleasure, others with distaste.

Ireland is strikingly like England in many ways and very different in others. The former would, of course, be hotly denied in public by the entire population and agreed to, in private, by even more.

The Irish have spent generations emigrating and settling in other countries and seem to be unusually fair about welcoming those wanting to live with them.

What is sometimes unknown to Britons is that the British and Irish have always been free to move between the respective islands and to settle without restriction or passport.

The holiday homes' issue and the question of incomers depriving locals of low cost housing do not seem to be problems.

There are few traditional Irish cabins left and most of those that remain are tourist accommodation.

The Irish do not believe in re-inventing the wheel. They change nothing that they think does not need changing and are quite happy to copy anything they think worthwhile.

The legal system and most institutions originate in shared policies prior to independence, so most things are familiar albeit sometimes with their Irish names most commonly used.

Most Irish people have British relatives and through this, regular visits to England, and avid watching of BBC TV, are exceptionally well-informed on what is going on in the UK. They will quickly explain and often warn of any differences in practices or regulations.

So many Irish people have settled in the UK, that something like a quarter of all Britons are actually eligible for an Irish passport.... "Plastic Paddies" to the Irish. Nevertheless, many native born Irishmen and women have acquired various British accents and the Irish are never quite sure whether an English accent means a visitor or a returning native.

The question "are you on holiday?" is usually a polite attempt to check your status.

So house-hunting in  Ireland is easy, pleasant, understandable and can be rewarding.

Driving, on the left of course, is easy. Accommodation is usually good, especially in Bed and Breakfast, which is generally better than the equivalent in the UK. 

Always stay in private homes if you can and visit the pub....you are house hunting, don't forget and local information is a great help... once you have understood that your host will try to sell you his uncle's farm.

He will also tell you whatever you want to hear. You will believe him and still forgive him when you finally find out he has been filling your head with rubbish all night.

The Irish call it "craic." (crack)

The official map...


...and another way of looking at it.

If you imagine Ireland as an oval saucer...there are mountains around the rim. There is another in the very middle, otherwise it is flat and often boggy.

History has taken a slice from the top right, the British call it Northern Ireland or, sometimes, Ulster. The southern Irish call it the North of Ireland and remind you it is only a part of Ulster.

The River Shannon is a great forward slash running through most of the country. 

All parts have smallholdings. They are most numerous in the west. As a generalisation, the south and east have the best land and the best weather.

The west is wet, very wet, and the land often rocky or boggy. That makes for sheep or cattle country, and sometimes completely unsuitable for gardening or arable.

The west is also often hauntingly beautiful. Many smallholders are attracted to a unique landscape and way of life.

West Cork has many small farms and smallholdings always available. It has fashionable yachting centres and some beautiful scenery.  It is the warmest part of the "British Isles." in winter, but wet.

Prices are lower than the UK. It attracts many artists, writers and celebrities both to settle and to spend a summer. There is some good arable land and some bog and mountain.

A long convoluted coastline means plenty of houses overlooking the sea.

The smarter quarter.

The south and east is good smallholding country. Although there is still mountainous terrain, the land is often good and drier. Farms are larger and more prosperous than in other parts. Smallholdings are fewer.

This is also "horse country" and prices in those areas and close to Dublin approach English levels.

Prepare to be seduced by the West. Connemara, the Burrens, Yeat's Country, Mayo and Donegal.

Prices are low by English standards and there are many smallholdings. Historically, this area was poor, but you can't eat the lovely scenery and the people had to leave.

It is often still a very crowded countryside, where the land was good enough to scratch a living there is a house, or more usually a bungalow every few hundred yards on an acre or two.

Breathtaking and sometimes bleak.

For sale?

Although the legalities of buying a house and land are very similar to England and Wales (as against Scotland, which is very different), you will notice some surprising differences.

The Estate Agents, usually called Auctioneers in Ireland are a breed apart. Those in West Cork and Dublin are highly sophisticated, but some of the practices in some country areas are a little disconcerting.

You will find the vendors sometimes reluctant to name a price and it is not unusual to find that the fact that a place is up for sale is a closely guarded secret. You may even be taken to a place that is not officially for sale and watch with amazement as the Auctioneer apparently attempts to persuade the owner to part with his patrimony.

Once you do get into discussion you will be faced with a bewildering choice of Sterling, Irish Punts (no longer in existence) and Euros. Land may well be measured in acres and antiquated measures long abandoned in the UK.

Take it all in your stride. If you can't survive an Irish country Auctioneer, you had better settle for Surrey.

All, in all, Ireland is a real possibility, especially for anyone wanting to concentrate on livestock. Prices are much higher than they were, but still less than English levels.

The drawbacks, as reported by those who failed to settle, are probably generally fair.

The weather in the scenic west is frequently gloomy and depressing for weeks on end. 

This last is an important point for a smallholder. As you move north and west, the range of crops becomes quite restricted - especially for fruit.

Once away from Dublin, Cork or any of the big provincial towns, Ireland can be a bit parochial. That would not trouble many would-be smallholders but for anyone with a couple of lively teenagers used to the bright lights?

The occasional Irish disregard for the finer points of the law can be greeted with relief. Eire is, away from the cities, very crime free and the impatience of the population with anything that inhibits their traditional freedoms generally enviable. 

This can be easily illustrated by their obvious and open tolerance, even sympathy, of "travellers" taking residence along the roadsides.

Most smallholders will warm to this, however make sure rights of way and boundaries are clearly marked and agreed. It may be insufficient to assume local acceptance merely because the paperwork is right.

The stories are true.

Tactless and tasteless returnees can be resented.

A word of warning; rural Ireland will happily accept outsiders coming to live amongst them, but there can be a certain intolerance of "Plastic Paddies" returning.

The tactless returning "home" after a generation or two can cause themselves problems. They sometimes flaunt their wealth by buying a plot on a hill overlooking their ancestral village and build a large, tasteless hacienda. This, not unnaturally, gets up the noses of those who stayed behind to battle poverty.

However Celtic your ancestry, when necessary, it is best to claim a nationality matching your accent and leave it at that. 

To summarise, Ireland is a real possibility for hassle free smallholding. Prices are low by UK standards, but do remember not to be seduced by scenery, or the Irish.

They make it a point of honour to show their best side, especially to visiting English.

How do I know?

Many years ago, the writer took his young, somewhat puritanical, wife there. She had her very English nose firmly in the air determined to disapprove of everything. Particularly the pubs.

Less than a week later, she was standing on Dun Laoghaire quayside crying her eyes out and refusing to go home. They had poured bucketfuls of charm, and blarney, all over her. 

Ireland became a love that has never left her. A familiar story.

That's a tale for another day.

You can return to Moving Away or go to England, Scotland or Wales


"searching Ireland"

whilst staying at home at

 the remote Hangman's Cottage, just to the south of Misery Corner.