It's not quite all doom and gloom in the property market. While the housing crisis continues to spiral out of control, while demand pushes prices upwards at the lower end of the market, and while prestige Dublin homes are feeling the first cool breezes of a moderating wind, up at the very top of the market business is 'robust'.
Or at least so says David Ashmore of Ireland Sotheby's International Realty, who has four of the country's top 10 most exclusive properties currently on the open market on his books.
"It's an international market," he says, pointing to a steady recovery in the number of foreign buyers since the latter half of 2012. The market has stabilised and comprises "65-70pc overseas-based buyers. That is where I think the market will settle out."
The UK buyer has always played a big part in the top end of the market and, more recently, so have London-based Irish who have made their fortunes and want to buy back home. But Ashmore is now seeing a growing number of US buyers shopping for high-end homes.
"A flight from New York to Los Angeles is longer than a flight ride from New York to Dublin, and certainly Shannon," explains Ashmore, "and people in the US have homes on the east and the west coast." And then there is the current generation of Irish in the US who have done well financially and want to buy in the old country.
Callum Bain of Colliers deals with many high-end properties and is currently selling agent for a unique proposition, Horse Island, a private slice of land off the coast of Schull, West Cork, with its own energy source, fresh water and helicopter pad. "We have had a little bit of interest from Ireland," says Bain. "And we have certainly had interest from the US, but there is also interest coming from east of this country, both Europe and beyond."
Still, selling a premium house or castle is a long game and vendors have to be prepared to wait it out. Michael Flatley's lavishly restored Castlehyde in Co Cork, for example, has been on the market since 2015 when it launched at €20m. Earlier this year that price dropped to €12.5m. The price tag for Rocketts Castle in Co Waterford has gone from €6m to €4.75m. And, most recently, Harristown Demesne, which launched to market in 2016 at €25m, has just been taken off the market for the moment.
"If you are priced correctly your property will sell," maintains Bain. "If you are 10pc over priced, as little as that, you will not get the people in to have a look at the property."
The price tag for this mini-Gothic castle includes 5,000 acres of the country's most beautiful scenery as well as a slice of Irish cultural history. For many years, it was home to Garech de Brun, a scion of the Guinness family and patron of the arts. De Brun, who died in March this year, hosted writers, artists and musicians as diverse as Mick Jagger, John Boorman and Seamus Heaney at his legendary parties. The 18th century hunting lodge sits in a deep and dramatic valley and looks onto the shore of Lough Tay. It comes with seven estate cottages, a guest lodge, gatekeepers lodge and boat house. It has potential to earn its keep too - films and TV series such as King Arthur, Braveheart and The Tudors have all been shot in its timeless landscape.
Joint agents: Ireland Sotheby's International Realty / Crawfords
Grange Con, Co Wicklow Californian commodity trader Rick Barnes reportedly bought Grangecon in the year 2000 after a visit to the Irish Derby and spent over two years renovating it. The result is superb - a historic building but with all the luxury upgrades the 21st century could provide, among them seven reception rooms, a wine cellar, gym, and five bedroom suites. The gardens are equally magnificent. Barnes, a respected horse breeder, also converted the former dairy farm into a state-of-the-art stud. Three gate lodges, a manager's house, and a groom's apartment complete the accommodation. All on 256 acres, just an hour's drive from Dublin airport.
Joint agents: Goffs Property/ Ireland Sotheby's International Realty /Coonan
If the romance of towers and castellations is high on the shopping list, Knockdrin Castle should be required viewing. The 19th century property sits in a commanding position in the midst of 1,140 acres near Mullingar, with extensive lakes and 415 acres of mixed woodland. Inside, it has fashionably Gothic Revival decorative touches alongside the elegant proportions and cornicework of the earlier Georgian period.
The hallway is a wonderful display of period drama with tiled red-and-white floor, large fireplace and ornamental vaulted ceiling. The ground floor also contains a ballroom, currently in use as an office. Winston Churchill is said to have slept upstairs in the Crown bedroom during the War of Independence, one of 19 or so bedrooms in the estate - there are umpteen staff cottages and lodges scattered about the grounds. Knockdrin Castle is 88km from Dublin.
Agent: Ireland Sotheby's International Realty
Famously, this is the heavily restored house of Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley. He bought it in 2001 for €3m and spent €27m bringing the Palladian mansion back to life. The work included employing gilders used on Buckingham Palace, and adding a gym, cinema, whiskey room, hunting room, and the piece de resistance, a three-storey library panelled in walnut. The property first came to market in 2015, priced at €20m but, in June this year, that figure was slashed by €7m to speed up the sale, though it now comes without the furnishings. The mansion is on 150 acres of lush Cork land.
Agent: Ireland Sotheby's International Realty
Dollanstown has run as a successful stud farm for many years now, producing, under various owners, many a Derby winner. The current owners, the Bjoerks, have carried on the tradition and the property has 71 stables, an all-weather gallop, an indoor and two outdoor arenas, and railed parkland, all in the heart of horse country. But at the centre of the estate of 364 acres is a seven-bedroom Georgian house that was completely restored in the 2000s. It boasts a fine example of a hand-carved period staircase as well as some elegant Bossi mantelpieces and other original features. There is an entertainment wing to the north of the house, comprising drawing room, kitchen and dining room. To the rear is a two-storey traditional stable yard laid out as a courtyard which also includes staff accommodation.
Joint agents: Jordans/Savills
Viewers of this property can, if they wish, get a foretaste of what it would be like to become owners, by booking in for a stay - the Victorian house has functioned as a boutique hotel for some years now. It has 25 bedrooms, but just six in the main house - the others are spread over the mews, lodge and coach houses - and so it could easily be reconstituted as a family home. Liss Ard sits in 163 acres of mature woodland, around a 40-acre lake that is a magnet for fisherfolk. Artist James Tyrell's Irish Sky Garden, a grass-lined crater for stargazers, is a masterpiece.
Joint agents: Sherry FitzGerald/Charles McCarthy
Not all the premium properties on sale at the moment are period pieces. Financier Adrian Fitzgibbon's private island features a discreetly expensive modern build in the traditional style, a 15-minute boat ride from Schull. While the main house has a modest enough six bedrooms, a mini-village by the island pier has six guest houses, also in the local style, to accommodate overflow. Luxury items include a heli-pad, tennis court, games house, gym and three glorious sandy beaches. Views of Fastnet Rock included in the price.
Joint agents: Colliers/Engel & Volkers
Business man Michael Noble and his wife, Astra, the owners of Castlefield House in pretty Delgany, built this modern mansion in 2005 to the highest standards. The six-bed house features luxury items such as a sound-proofed cinema room, gym, games and snooker rooms, sauna, bathrooms decked out in marble and baths with built-in tv screens and, unlike many a premium property, it comes with an A3 BER rating. There is a separate two-bed cottage, a lodge, and a four-bay garage. The grounds are a manageable two acres, and immaculately manicured.
Agent: Knight Frank
Rocketts Castle made headlines recently when its sales price dropped from €6m to €4.75m This 19th century property has all the bells and whistles you'd associate with a milionaire's playground - helipad, steam room, sauna, tennis courts, billiard room, bar, library, and has been fully restored to grandeur by a previous Russian owner with trimmings such as Swarovski door handles and Waterford crystal chandeliers. The large and elegant conservatory adjoining the house is stunning. The original fishing lodge has been transformed into a mini spa and adds five bedrooms to the six suites in the main house. The property sits on 250 acres of excellent land.
This 19th century property has also functioned as one of the country's finest studs, producing numerous winners on its 186 acres of limestone-rich fertile land over the last 30 years. Owned by renowned trainer Bob Lanigan, the eight-bedroom listed castle has five ground floor reception rooms, a library and a large and comfortable country-style kitchen. The back door leads out to the walled garden with glasshouse, kitchen garden and yard office. There is additional staff accommodation in a four-bed house attached to the stable yard. The property was once home to Pamela, one of the six celebrated Mitford sisters, who included Nancy, the writer, and Diana, wife of Sir Oswald Mosley. And though she didn't ride herself - childhood polio left her lame - her husband Derek Jacobson was both an amateur steeplechaser and excellent horseman.
Agent: Goffs Country