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Covid sparks peak interest in sanctuary of Irish islands

Pandemic sees surge in enquiries about our coastal gems from buyers at home and abroad, writes Celine Naughton

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You can buy the 55-acre Duvillaun Beg in Mayo for less than the price of a two-bed apartment in Dublin

You can buy the 55-acre Duvillaun Beg in Mayo for less than the price of a two-bed apartment in Dublin

Horse Island off the west coast of Cork features seven houses, a tennis court, gym, games house, three private beaches and a helicopter pad

Horse Island off the west coast of Cork features seven houses, a tennis court, gym, games house, three private beaches and a helicopter pad

Mannion's Island just off West Cork

Mannion's Island just off West Cork

West Calf is popular with scuba divers

West Calf is popular with scuba divers

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You can buy the 55-acre Duvillaun Beg in Mayo for less than the price of a two-bed apartment in Dublin

Selling agents Dominic Daly and Colliers, both of whom have Irish islands for sale at the moment, are each reporting a surge in enquiries for their remote charges since the Covid-19 lockdown, not least among foreign investors like Irish Americans with money to spend - and even the odd Russian - but also from home buyers.

While, for decades, the islands dotted around our coastline were places that inhabitants left in droves, now there's a new wave of people who want to go back to the simple life described in Tomás O'Crohan's book The Islander: "We were imbued with the sound of the wind that blew in from the seashore, beating in our ears every morning, clearing our brains and rinsing the dust from our skulls."

Duvillaun Beg

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Mannion's Island just off West Cork

Mannion's Island just off West Cork

Mannion's Island just off West Cork

It's the theme of a long-running TV ad for the National Lottery, but when it comes to owning your own private island, you don't need millions to buy one any more. Not least because the latest one to come for sale just this week is Duvillaun Beg in Mayo, which is guiding at €200,000 at auction later this month.

From the Irish Dubhoileán Beag - Little Black Island - the guide price for the 55-acre island comes in at less than the price of a two-bedroom apartment in Dublin.

Currently uninhabited, the only remaining sign of past life is a former house now reduced to a pile of rubble. They may not be much to look at, but those ruins and surrounding land are causing quite a stir among would-be buyers at home and abroad.

While any building would be subject to planning, selling agent Will Coonan points out that permission was granted for a house by the Mayo Council on a neighbouring island, where construction is near completion. And the remains of a former occupation would likely be a help in obtaining permission for a new abode.

Currently used to graze sheep, Duvillaun Beg may attract other local farmers, as at €3,500 an acre, the land is well below the average agricultural land value of €10,000-€15,000 an acre, depending on location, according to the agent.

But more unorthodox has been an interest from Dublin investors seeking an escape from the stresses of city living in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, while foreign investors looking for a hideaway on the Wild Atlantic Way have also been eyeing up the island since it recently came on the market earlier this week. One of a cluster of islands located south of the Inishkea Islands off the coast of the Mullet peninsula, Duvillaun Beg is 2.4km from the mainland and is accessible by boat from Blacksod Pier in Belmullet, a Gaeltacht town with a population of 1,000. Amenities there include the Carne Golf Links and popular bars and restaurants, including An Builín Blasta, the Corner House, and McDonnells Bar and Undertakers - professed by actor Stephen Mangan to be his favourite bar in the world.

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West Calf is popular with scuba divers

West Calf is popular with scuba divers

West Calf is popular with scuba divers

Duvillaun Beg will be up for online auction on July 22, 2020 at 12pm with Coonan Property (01 6286128).

Horse Island

For an investor with much deeper pockets, Horse Island, off the west coast of Cork, has all the trappings of a luxury holiday haven. On the market at €5.5 million with Colliers International (01 6333700), this 157-acre island has seven houses, a tennis court, gym, games house and extensive walkways leading to three private sandy beaches. For sailing and watersports enthusiasts, there's a 150-foot pier and a harbour to moor several boats. The island also has its own helicopter pad.

While it has been on the market now for the guts of two years, the agents report a spike of interest lately thanks to Covid-19. A private island, is after all, the optimum in social distancing.

Spanning 4,500 sq ft, the main cut-stone six-bedroom residence has two wings, one designed for an owner/manager to live in and another distinct area for guests. Accommodation includes a ground floor living room with double-height ceilings, mezzanine and an open-plan kitchen, a first floor master suite with ensuite bathroom, dressing room and access to a roof terrace. A separate guest wing incorporates the five guest bedrooms and bathrooms over two floors.

Outside is an enclosed courtyard with sheltered seating, barbeque and wood-fired pizza oven. At the centre of the island, close to the pier, are two three-bedroom guest houses, two two-bedroom guest houses and a pair of one-bedroom cottages, all with views over Roaringwater Bay right across to Fastnet Rock Lighthouse and Cape Clear Island. In terms of utilities, Horse Island is self-contained, with its own electricity generators, wind turbines and water aquifier.

West Calf

Also for sale (price on request from privateislandsonline.com) in the aptly named Roaringwater Bay is a 62-acre island called West Calf. Located 4km from the mainland, with access from the pier at Schull, it commands views over the West Cork coast and across to Cape Clear and Sherkin Islands. Having reached a peak of 21 in the 1840s, West Calf's population slowly declined until its last inhabitants left a century later. The ruins of some old stone cottages still remain.

The waters around West Calf are popular with scuba divers, who report on diving.ie: "The scenery is magnificent, with extensive beds of deadman's fingers and jewel anemonies." An asking price of over €6m was reported two years ago.

Mannion's Island

Another uninhabited West Cork sanctuary is the four-acre Mannion's Island, on the market for €150,000 with Dominic Daly (021 4277399). Set in the sheltered bay of Dunmanus, which lies between Mizen Head to the south and Sheep's Head to the north, it's a five-minute boat ride to the mainland at the village of Durrus. While any building would be subject to planning permission, one prospective buyer - an American with Irish connections - is so keen, he's already in talks with an architect to design his dream Irish bolthole on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Back in the 1970s, a group of islanders off the coast of Donegal became renowned for clearing their brains in a surprisingly primal way. They were the 'Screamers', otherwise known as the Atlantis commune, who arrived in Burtonport and later moved to the island of Inishfree where they stayed till 1989.

International celebrities lured by Irish island living include John Lennon, who bought Dorinish Island, better known as 'Beatle Island,' off Clew Bay in Mayo, for £1,700 in 1967. His widow Yoko Ono sold it after his death in 1980 and is said to have donated the £30,000 proceeds to an Irish orphanage.

And in 2007, while Michael Jackson was staying in Ballinacurra House in Kinsale, he viewed a number of islands with Dominic Daly with a view to setting up a remote Irish hideaway for himself and his children. The deal never came to pass, however, and the King of Pop went back to LA to pass on two years later.

Indo Property