THE thing about Skerries is you have to want to go there. This picturesque north Dublin seaside town is far enough away from the M50 and M1 for drivers to rarely happen upon it by chance. If you are already familiar with its crannies, coves, and abundant pubs, restaurants and amenities, chances are you are already living there. But if you're not, and you're thinking about moving there, there's a lot to recommend it.
Skerries came second in all of Ireland in last year's Best Place to Live in Ireland awards and it is the only place to have won an award as an entire community at the RTE/Rehab People of the Year Awards (2011). This was in recognition of the town's incredible support for the families of fishermen Ronan Browne and David Gilsenan, in the dark days after the two men disappeared while fishing off Skerries, in April that year.
In an unprecedented local effort, the whole town came together for the massive search operation and some €80,000 was raised locally to fuel lifeboats searching for the two men. Over 10,000 took part in a "walk of solidarity" for the grieving families - extraordinary for a town with a population of 11,000. Sadly, the bodies of the two men were finally recovered off Co Louth.
Community spirit has always been strong in the town with any amount of community groups active, including the tidy towns - Skerries won 10 golds at national level in the Tidiest Large Town category, and in 1996 won gold representing Ireland in the European Entente Florale competition for towns and villages.
Skerries comes from the Norse word skere, which has descended into the Irish words na sceirí, or group of rocky islands. There are five islands visible from the sandy shoreline of the long South Beach: Shenick, St Patrick's, where our national saint reportedly first landed, Colt and Rockabill (actually two islands, the Rock and the Bill, separated by a narrow channel).
Dominating the Skerries skyline is the restored old water mill complex. Guided tours are available, whereby you will be told of the long history of milling locally, which goes right back to the 12th century, and you can try your hand at stone grinding flour, then see the water wheel in action.
Red Island and the adjacent roadway form the quay wall of Skerries Harbour. The playground there is also close to a grass promenade along the south beach. After a brisk walk there, or a run out in the playground, one of life's great pleasures is an ice cream or frothy cappuccino at the quaint and quirky Storm In A Teacup right on the harbour.
The town is well served with playgrounds and amenities, but the best is the splendid Ardgillan Castle and Demesne, between Skerries and Balbriggan.
This 18th-century castellated country house sits on acres of rolling lawns, but the real draw is the setting, at the edge of the Irish Sea, with miles of walking paths and coastal views, as well as a magnificent rose garden and herb garden. Behind the rose garden, there's a decent cafe.
There is also a large playground with arguably the most scenic backdrop in the country, the sweeping sea view taking in the majestic Mourne Mountains to the north east.
There are seven festivals each year in Skerries, from the Skerries Trad Weekend attracting hundreds of the country's best musicians, to the Sailing and Rowing Regattas, Water Festival, Soundwaves Arts Festival and Skerries 100 Road Races. An eighth, Skerries Harvest Festival, is being added this year.
The shallow and relatively calm waters of South Beach make it safe for even the youngest beachgoers.
Skerries Harbour is hugely popular when the weather is any way good, and after a bite at the popular Blue Bar or a libation or two at Joe May's old-style pub, a stroll along the pier will often lead to sightings of grey seals and birds. There is also the usual bustle of boats docking and going out to sea from nearby Skerries Sailing Club.
You can venture out yourself on a guided tour of Rockabill Lighthouse, the Skerries Islands, and Lambay Island off the nearby town of Rush with Skerries Sea Tours.
Social, tourism, sport and amenities: Skerries is surrounded by good beaches, coves and islands. You will see groups of kite surfers and wind surfers out blasting around the coastline, or surfers catching the waves, or people paddling.
Skerries has a thriving live music scene with four pubs offering weekly trad and ballads. There are more than 20 eateries. The emphasis tends to be on sit-down restaurants and cafés.
At the last count, there are more than 65 clubs, associations and societies, covering a diverse range of sports, including GAA - Skerries Harps is the home club of former Dublin captain Bryan "See yiz all at Coppers" Cullen. Every year, motorbike racing comes to Skerries with the hugely popular road races. The Rás cycling tour of Ireland usually ends in the town too.
The arts are also well represented, with the Raygart Art Club (Skerries Mill), Skerries Theatre group, at Little Theatre, Community Centre; and the Daffodil Art Gallery.
Shopping: The town prides itself on its opposition to anything larger than the local SuperValu, resulting in a strong shop-local ethos.
This has kept two excellent on-street butchers thriving as well as an award-winning fish shop and several deli and greengrocers. There are giant supermarkets in nearby towns, though.
Transport: Dublin Bus - the 33 bus (on the hour, mostly) and Iarnrod Eireann (the train station is actually in the town).
Schools: There are five national schools: St Patrick's (co-educational); Holmpatrick NS (Church of Ireland); Scoil Moibhi, a four-teacher NS in Milverton; Scoil Realt na Mara, on the Balbriggan Road, and Educate Together NS at Skerries Point.
The secondary school is Skerries Community College, within walking distance. Others choose to go to Loretto in Balbriggan which is well served by train.
House prices: The most expensive houses are those along the seafront, from the Edwardian terrace on the way in from Rush, to those on the coast road to Balbriggan. Here, you would expect to pay up to €700,000.
Recently, a three-bed semi in St Patrick's Close, near the train station, went for €345,000. In some of the newer estates, prices range from €250,000 to €330,000. In more established estates like Shenick, an average three-bed semi is closer to €400,000.
A good example of a mid-range house for sale is The Rosefinch, a three-bed with study, in The Fulmer development, Barnageeragh Cove, on the Balbriggan Road; prices start at €295,000.
At the lower end, sale was agreed recently on a "fixer-upper" for €200,000.
Skerries Area CV
A Rock solid community spirit
A scenic seaside
Loads of sports and recreational activities
Train station in the town
20 miles from Dublin city centre
It's hard to get a seat on the train at peak times
Needs a hotel
WITH a population of almost 32,000, the North Wicklow town of Bray today squeezes into Ireland's top ten most populated urban centres. Twelve miles from the capital, it was first opened up by the railway's link to Dublin in 1854, boomed as a holiday resort before fading again, but was given its current lease of life in the eighties with the arrival of the DART.