Thursday 19 September 2019

Millions of reasons to enjoy an oasis of wealth

Not so far from the madding crowd, the millionaires live like country squires, writes Liam Collins

WELL-HEELED RESTING PLACE: The ruins of the old Norman church in Rathmichael
WELL-HEELED RESTING PLACE: The ruins of the old Norman church in Rathmichael

With its winding roads, leafy lanes and wisteria-clad mansions discreetly hidden behind imposing stone entrances, Rathmichael is an oasis of aloof tranquillity in an otherwise frenzied world.

When you pass under the huge old railway archway behind the Silver Tassie on the Bray Road you leave behind the real world of bustle and rush and enter a verdant enclave where new and old wealth co-exist in a state of mutual silence. The bleating of sheep, the clap of a pigeon taking fright, the barking of a dog, a tractor working in a distant field and the faint murmur of the traffic on the motorway are the only intrusion.

If you didn't know it, you would find it difficult to believe this place is right on the fringes of the capital city.

Rathmichael makes the neighbouring enclave of Foxrock look cosmopolitan and Carrickmines positively garish, with its massive shopping centre dominated by international chain stores selling the most modern global merchandise.

But it is this contradictory state of detachment and proximity to the outside world that makes Rathmichael what it is.

You don't go through there to get to anywhere else, and so it has preserved its charming old farmhouses jutting out unexpectedly on a corner, quirky lanes and names that hark back to the old estates that once defined this attractive and largely unknown part of south county Dublin.

There are no shops, pubs or public amenities, even footpaths seem to be largely discouraged.

Amenities are not public, they are very private.

Swimming pools, tennis courts and games rooms are attached to the multi-million euro homes, mostly hidden behind high beech and laurel hedges or cut stone walls hewn from the local quarries. The bar, complete with old enamel tobacco signs, is in the neighbour's basement, for it would be extremely hazardous to drink and drive on these treacherous roads in the darkness.

There are stables for the horses and trails for walking the dogs for those in the know.

Public transport is nearby, but it doesn't go there, so there are relatively few stray people from the busy roads running along its periphery.

The cars cruising out towards the city and the big bad world in the morning are of the dark Mercedes or Lexus variety. The ''mom's'' on the school run favour boxy black and chrome ''Rathmichael' Rovers.

This is certainly car country, in the same sense as The Hamptons or the Hollywood Hills.

The single public amenity is the picturesque cut stone Church of Ireland chapel which was consecrated on December 12, 1864 in the presence of Sir Charles Domville, on whose lands it was erected - at a time when he was harshly clearing his tenants from their small holdings and cutting the population of the area in half.

These days the great estates like Lordello and Clontra have been broken up, but nothing as garish as a housing estate has been constructed. Instead, there are high hedges running through areas like Old Rathmichael, which in fact is relatively new, with mansions in Tudor and other colonial styles lining the only wide road in the area.

Bounded on the east by the Bray road and the M50, it also has the Luas running close by and links to the DART line. Carrickmines and Dundrum provide huge, anonymous shopping plazas where the children can lurk after school until they are ferried home to their privileged existence of live-in maids and the essential ''mod-cons'' of luxury living.

One unassuming professional living in the area left €25m in his will when he died recently. Who would have known?

But that is the sort of place it is, the old and the new, but rarely the brash.

This weekend housing economist Ronan Lyons turns what many of those who live there might consider an unwelcome spotlight on Rathmichael in his commentary on the Property Wealth Report 2018.

"To take one example, the South Dublin Mountains - including the area of Rathmichael - has joined the ranks of the country's most expensive markets. It is estimated that there are now almost 200 dwellings worth a million or more in the area."

People living in Malahide or Montenotte might find such commentary flattering, but along the winding tree-lined lanes of Rathmichael that rise through farmland towards Golden Ball and the mountains, they really don't need to be told. They already know in this bastion of privilege how much they're worth as they avoid the unwanted attention of the outside world.

If you flick through the property advertisements, whether you are looking for an ivy-clad mansion or an ultra-modern architect-designed home, prices rarely dip below the €1.5m mark and €2.5m or €3.8m may be the norm, although in truth there is not a lot for sale, even for the multi-millionaire house hunter.

While some of the luxury homes carry a whiff of ostentatious new money, the majority favour discretion. Set in large plots, they turn sideways to the road or are hidden altogether by high walls or can only been seen at a distance up long and winding avenues.

Unless you live there, Rathmichael is not a place you can linger without feeling self-consciously out of place and intimidated by its suspicious and opulent gaze. Outsiders may have heard it mentioned, but it remains aloof as the world rushes busily by on the nearby motorway.

Sunday Independent

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