Sunday 26 May 2019

Leave the rat race behind and live the dream in an offshore haven of your very own

Why not live the dream in an offshore haven of your very own, writes Gabrielle Monaghan

Mermaid Isle
Mermaid Isle
Stairwell
Bathroom in the house on Mermaid Island
The hall
The bathroom in Horse Island
Bedroom at Horse Island
Horse Island's six-bed house
Horse Island
Inish Beg

It's not for nothing that the National Lottery's ad campaign for Euromillions tempts ticket buyers with the hope of buying a deserted island. For most, it seems like a dream true.

But it hasn't always been that way. In 1947, the appeal of life on Irish offshore islands appeared to have soured for good when a young man fell ill with meningitis on Great Blasket Island, off the Dingle Peninsula.

In January that year, he died when doctors couldn't cross the choppy waters of Blasket Sound to reach him. By April, the storm-beaten Great Blasket Island had been cut off from the mainland for weeks, compelling its residents to send a telegram to then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera pleading for food.

Supplies duly arrived two days later, but the events of that year sparked a chain reaction that led to the evacuation of the entire island in 1953.

Yet, in this modern, over-connected world, a whole new generation now dreams of leaving the rat race behind in favour of a secluded life on an Irish island.

Last month, Lesley Kehoe and Gordon Bond, a young couple in their 20s, documented on Twitter how they had left their jobs and moved to Great Blasket Island for seven months to run an accommodation centre - albeit with no electricity, save for a wind turbine to charge their phones.

Bathroom in the house on Mermaid Island
Bathroom in the house on Mermaid Island

Dominic Daly, an estate agent who has been selling Irish islands for almost half a century, says the country's private isles are even more attractive to foreign purchasers because "a lot of Irish people are fed up with the dampness and go for warmer climates".

Ireland has had its fair share of high-profile buyers seeking tranquillity, unspoiled beaches and isolation off its coast. Former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey bought Inishvickillane, the southernmost Blasket, in 1974 and built a holiday home, famously hosting former French president Francois Mitterrand there. The Haughey family still visits the house in summer.

In the late 1960s, John Lennon sent one of his people to successfully bid for Dorinish Island in Clew Bay at an auction in Westport.

The late Michael Jackson also had designs on owning an Irish island. In 2007, Daly brought the King of Pop, his three children and their nanny out on a boat to view one off west Kerry. But when the singer discovered he was unlikely to get planning permission to erect a security fence around it, he lost interest and, as Daly recalls, Jackson "had also run out of money at that stage".

Horse Island's six-bed house
Horse Island's six-bed house

* Buyers with deep pockets may want to book a viewing of Horse Island, situated in Roaring Water Bay off West Cork and selling for €6.75m through Kinsale-based Engel & Voelkers and Colliers International, and also listed on Toronto-based marketplace Private Islands Inc.

One of few Irish isles that has been fully re-developed as a private island, Horse Island has its own electricity grid and water supply, as well as a few luxuries in the form of a tennis court, a gym and a helicopter pad. From its 150ft-long pier, the 157-acre island is only a few minutes from the mainland.

The price-tag includes a six-bed main house, guest houses and two cottages.

At 4,500 sq ft, the main house has a large living room with double-height ceilings and views all the way to Cape Clear Island and the Fastnet Rock lighthouse. To the rear is an enclosed, decked courtyard with a barbecue and wood-fired pizza oven.

* If you're not a people person and have €1.25m to spare, you could pick up the uninhabited High Island, so named because it is 63.3m above sea level at its peak.

Ardoileán, as the 80-acre island is also known, is 3km off the west coast of Connemara and went on the market earlier this year. High Island has two freshwater lakes and the ruins of a seventh-century monastery believed to be founded by St Féchín of Fore.

* Daly, meanwhile, is selling half of Mermaid Isle, in Kenmare Bay, for €1.9m. This comes with a waterfront three-storey home, complete with two outdoor hot tubs, a library, fitness room, a separate cottage for guests - and even internet access.

* But private islands are no longer for the super-rich: Daly is also selling Mannion's Island in Dunmanus Bay in west Cork for €150,000, which is about the same price as a one-bed apartment in Ballymun.

This four-acre retreat is not inhabited, has no buildings, and is just 200m from the mainland (in case the solitude becomes overwhelming).

But don't let the guide prices fool you: the cost of developing an uninhabited island without an existing structure can amount to multiples of the price of the island itself. The glamour attached to owning an island can fade in the struggle to win planning permission for a home, carrying out construction, and getting an electricity and fresh water supply. And that's before buying a boat.

If your budget doesn't stretch towards buying an island, but you really need to get away from it all, you could consider renting an island estate like that at Inish Beg Island, off the coast of West Cork, just a few miles from Skibbereen and the little port of Baltimore.

This island is home to gardens that have been listed in the Hundred Best Gardens in Ireland and to a fitness complex with a 13m-long indoor heated swimming pool.

Paul Keane from the Inish Beg estate says its 97 acres amounts to "about one third of the total land mass of the island. We do offer the whole estate, with the exception of Inish Beg House itself, on an exclusive basis."

The estate has 10 self-catering properties that can sleep 48 people, costing a total €3,000 to €4,000 a night, depending on the time of year.

After years of island viewings, Daly has developed a strategy for weeding out tyre-kickers from bone fide island-buyers. "If people are genuine about wanting to buy an island, they have to put up the cost of renting a boat or hiring a helicopter for a viewing," he says. "Otherwise you'd be giving out free trips to islands. You'd be a busy fool."

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