The audience was paralysed...afraid to move a muscle in case it cost them €3m

How high stakes drama played out in the auction room as 100ac farm went under the hammer

A 101ac residential farm on the outskirts of Cork city sold for €5.8m or €58,000/ac at auction.
A 101ac residential farm on the outskirts of Cork city sold for €5.8m or €58,000/ac at auction.
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

In rural Munster, football and hurling are the preoccupations of the summer. In large swathes of the province, the hurling would probably come first. For those who live outside the Rebel County, it is deemed to be a good year when 'the hay is saved and Cork is bate'.

Cork is not 'bate' yet in hurling or football and it will take some performance in land prices to top the €58,000/ac paid last week for a 101ac residential farm located on the outskirts of the city at Douglas. It sold for €5.8m under the hammer of Fermoy auctioneer Mick Barry and was bought in trust by a Galway solicitor.

I walked the farm a number of weeks ago and it has everything - location, quality and a residence on a valuable site. I knew it would make a few pounds, so I went to the sale.

I arrived early to find the auction room at the designated hotel set up for a crowd. Not even the fine day and the opening ceremonies of the World Cup prevented a crowd emerging. From half past two the seats began to fill, mainly with people who have their work done, were out for the bit of lunch and came to see how the farm belonging to their late neighbours, 'God be good to them', might do.

As the minutes ticked down towards three o'clock others of similar vintage appeared, but these later arrivals had a son and heir in tow. They all nodded to one another and greetings were exchanged. Some looked around to find a seat near a neighbour, others wanted to melt into the crowd.

Then the suits began to strut in, young men with waxed hair and good shirts and phones as big as small televisions. They decamped to the back of the room to stand around tall tables where, on another day they might have sipped Dom Perignon and talked knowledgeably about tight prop heads, scrum halves or wingers.

I suddenly realised I needed to be at the back of the room, to have a good view of the proceedings. I was lucky to move when I did, the space was becoming crowded by a flurry of latecomers that included farmers in their prime, athletic men who had just jumped from the tractor, pulled on a shirt and a pair of jeans, brushed the hay from the heads and rushed off in the jeep not saying where they were going.

Do I hear €5m for this fine farm?

Soon the crowd was one hundred strong and a hush descended when auctioneer Mick Barry, led by the solicitor and his assistant, processed solemnly to the podium.

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The legal man read the lengthy conditions of sale before Mr Barry cleared his throat. It was show time. After a brief description of the property saying it was one of the finest he had ever brought to a sales room, he concluded the pleasantries and got down to business - it was time to separate the players from the spectators.

"Do I hear five million euro for this fine farm?" the auctioneer asked. The crowd sat in stony silence fiddling with phones, looking at the ground or flicking invisible flecks from their knees.

Others like me were scanning the room for signs of a nod, a wink, a raised hand, an erect index finger, a head shake or a twitch that might begin proceedings.

Not as much as an eyelid flickered.

The auctioneer retreated somewhat: "Do I hear four million?" he asked, "is there anyone will offer me four million for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy such a property?" He might as well have been talking to a hundred walls or a room full of poker players. There wasn't a budge, no one even appeared to be breathing.

"OK, have I three million?" he asked with a hint of frustration, "We are here to do business, we are not here for entertainment, will anyone offer me three million for this fine residential farm in the City of Cork? Have I three million? We are here today to do business."

It was beginning to look as if the room was full of spectators; no one seemed to have the slightest intention of togging out to play. The audience was paralysed, everyone afraid to move a muscle in case it cost them three million euro. The auctioneer made another appeal for some sign of life but even the birds in the trees outside the windows had stopped singing.

"Alright," he sighed, "do I have two million? I am not going any lower, I can't do that. This is the last opportunity. Is there anyone to offer me two million?"

A note of exasperation began to creep into Mick Barry's voice as the statue-like demeanour of everyone else in the room verged on the eerie. "Come on ladies and gentlemen, you didn't come here on this fine afternoon to look at me, I'm not that good looking. Two million, the house alone is worth that, do I have two million? Two million or I'll withdraw the property and we will have to go another route."

The only sounds to be heard were the involuntary grumblings of innards struggling to digest the last morsels of the recently consumed lunches.

"I have €2m in the middle!"

Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what a relief. It had started and the inquisition was over. A bespectacled gentleman in the middle of the room broke the impasse with an almost imperceptible nod and a slight raising of the hand. "Have I €2.1 million?" the auctioneer asked and a woman with earphones in both ears took a break from her furious texting and raised her hand. She had no sooner given him what he wanted than Mick Barry wanted more, "Have I €2.2m?" and he had, and so it went.

Bids of €100,000 were floating to the top table on winks and nods as the price rose in a stellar trajectory. At a dizzying €5m the auctioneer took a break to consult. We all needed one.

When he returned, matters continued apace as before until the opening bidder pulled up and the lady with the earphones went on to offer the last €50,000 of €5.8 million. At this, the zenith of the proceedings, Mick Barry solemnly intoned the closing doxology "going once, going twice, going for the last time, for five million, eight hundred thousand euro."

We clapped with relief and the birds started to sing again.

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