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Saturday 17 March 2018

Ahern's chips are down in Abbotstown

the white elephant in the boom

Declan O'Brien

It may be a reflection on the overblown ambition of the Celtic Tiger that spuds are now growing on the site of the proposed Bertie Bowl at Abbotstown, Co Dublin.

Ground that should have played host to the English and Irish rugby teams this afternoon for their final World Cup warm-up game is covered instead with a crop of potatoes that should soon be ready to harvest.

Ironically, the closest these fields will now come to scrummaging is when the harvesters start to roll at the end of September.

The development of a multi-purpose stadium at the west Dublin location was a pet project of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern -- so much so that the official title of Stadium Ireland gave way to the more populist moniker.

The 80,000-seater stadium was touted as a future home for the Irish soccer and rugby teams. It was also to act as the hub for a wider sports complex which would provide world-class facilities for Ireland's top athletes.

However, the planned development fell by the wayside when the projected cost of the arena ballooned from an original estimate of €280m to €1.1bn. Only the Aquatic Centre managed to make the transition from design room to reality.

Bertie described the failure to complete Stadium Ireland as one of the "greatest regrets" of his political career.

But in returning the ground to farming, the owners -- in this case the Department of Agriculture -- were merely mirroring what was happening across the country.

As the fallout from the collapse of the property market gathered pace, thousands of acres which were bought for commercial and residential development were put back on the market at a fraction of the original sale price.

Where farmland was once sold with development potential, development land was now being sold with agricultural potential.

In the process, the value has been knocked from €100,000 or €200,000 an acre to around €10,000 an acre.

The 320 acres at Abbottstown were leased rather than sold and generated heated competition. In the end, high-profile potato growers and merchants Keoghs, from Oldtown, Co Dublin, secured the farm for the two-year lease period.

Locals say it is the first time in living memory that the farm has been ploughed and spuds sown on the land. The Bertie Bowl has turned into a simple bowl of spuds.

Irish Independent

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