Summertime and the living is easy
In beautiful Brittas Bay, Ireland's elite pay €10,000 a year to park their luxury mobile homes, writes Carol Hunt
You may have heard of all the angst and fear some 'campers' in Brittas Bay are currently experiencing? No?
Well, despite the past few years of falling land prices and tightening of belts all around, the landlord of a certain site is insisting on his right to increase the yearly land rent -- by a whopping 15 per cent. But lest you are tempted to weep tears of rage and sympathy into your Sunday fry up, I feel I have to advise you to desist. This is no ordinary campsite, these are no ordinary mobile homes and these are certainly not your average campers.
Tales of a place that the recession seems to have forgotten recently made their way to the capital, where they have been greeted with raised eyebrows of disbelief.
A place where Dublin's yummy mummies dress for cocktails in the evenings as they party on their 'patios' (some with hot tubs) with like-minded neighbours? Where 2010-registered BMWs and Range Rovers are frequently seen hauling beautiful children up and down the narrow roads? Where life, darling, continues to trundle along in pre-recession splendour, delightfully oblivious to the hardships experienced by the rest of the nation?
This, dear reader, I had to see for myself.
So, phone at the ready, contact book in hand, I talked to a few acquaintances that I knew were always up for a chat. Initially, the response was good. Of course I could come for a visit. Yes, they'd definitely fill me in. And so on and so forth.
Grand job, I said to myself as I packed a cocktail dress and a bottle of suntan lotion -- God love me, I was feeling hopelessly optimistic. The feeling didn't last long. The first call back came from a woman who said that on orders from her husband she was forbidden to speak to me.
"But why?" I asked. "Because you're writing a piece for a newspaper -- and whatever you do, don't mention my name." Strange, I thought. As far as I knew, there was nothing untoward happening in south Wicklow -- so why all the secrecy?
This call was followed by others apologising and explaining that -- yes, you've guessed it -- a chat was out of the question and talking to journalists was forbidden. I was beginning to feel like a Republican with herpes trying to crash a Democrat dinner.
Eventually, however, I did manage to get some brave souls to say a few words, but no amount of sweet talk on my behalf could persuade them to go on the record. As Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser.
The Ballinacarraig 'caravan' park in Brittas Bay is set in 88 acres of beautiful manicured parkland. In it -- as one of my secret informers told me (informers A & B I'll call them) -- families can enjoy a "really old-fashioned style holiday. Children can roam free, have picnics on the beach, play tennis or enjoy a range of activities at the clubhouse, without having to come near their parents all day.
"Few mothers work so they are able to hang around relaxing all day, having barbecues and dressing up for cocktails on the patios, while their husbands then commute down from Dublin at weekends and play a round or two of golf on the nine-hole course."
When I visited the park earlier this week, I was stunned by the sheer beauty of the place. There were 176 'mobile' homes set in their own private 'patio' areas -- all hidden by shrubbery and hedgerows from the prying eyes of nasty journalists.
And when I say 'mobile homes' I'm not talking about the one-bed, six-sleeper couch items that you and I may be accustomed to. These homes are bigger than your average
inner-city house and far more expensively decorated.
On a headland with stunning views of the bay, steps lead down to the park's private beach, where some lucky children were making the most of the last few rays of the day, splashing around in the clear blue water.
Yummy mummies walked expensive-looking pooches and a family pulled a motorboat onto a small pier on the other side of the sandy beach.
Ballinacarraig -- and its neighbouring park, Jack's Hole -- is the playground of Ireland's wealthiest citizens.
Maurice Pratt has a home here, as does solicitor Noel Smyth. Some people are not as impressed as I was, though.
Informer B tells me: "I was recently invited to a charity party at Noel Smyth's place. I put on a shirt and tie as I assumed I was going to a house, but we ended up in a mobile home. Which is fine if that's what you're into, but I'd prefer a house myself -- especially for that amount of money."
Ah, yes, the filthy lucre.
Such bucolic privacy does not come cheap. As informer A said: "A friend of mine bought a home here some years ago for €250,000. But it's now a depreciating asset and her husband is having a stroke. She may yet have to put it in her back garden!"
The reason for the back garden threat? According to informer A, for the past few years the well-heeled denizens of Ballinacarraig have handing over something in the region of €8,500 per year to the owner of the land, Malachy Stone. That's for the rent of the land their homes sit on and the upkeep of all the amenities the park has to offer.
This year, the rent was increased to €10,000 as part of an agreement made a decade or so ago when everyone believed that the fun would just go on and on and therefore demanded 35-year leases.
Said informer A: "Some people had no problem paying the increase and handed the money over. But when they realised that many hadn't, it caused a lot of resentment and the ones who had paid Malachy demanded their money back, so they could all be on the same level playing field."
No, it's not always sunshine and lollipops here at Ballinacarraig mansions.
Said informer A: "During the August bank holiday weekend, there's always havoc because teenagers come down to party. The residents have to lock the gates to keep these drunk and disorderly kids out.
"There's also far less partying this year than previously. Some people feel that it's inappropriate because of the recession but there are still plenty of people here with no money worries at all.
"There used to be helicopters landing on the grounds of the club but we haven't seen that this year. It's crazy money to pay for the privilege, really, because most people only use the place for eight weeks during the summer. That's more than eight grand (over and above the price of the home) for a two-month beach holiday, in a mobile home in Brittas Bay."
Said informer B: "The manager of the club was asked why should the tenants have to pay extra when they, as landlords themselves, are lowering their own rents? The manager answered that the tenants had signed an agreement, therefore they had to abide by it".
End of discussion.
And it's not just money worries that have plagued the sweet summer life at Elite Brittas. Recent rain- sodden summers haven't done much to merit the extraordinary cost of a holiday in Ballinacarraig.
Neighbour Gerald Kean, who owns a beautiful mansion not five minutes walk away, said of Ballinacarraig: "It's a magnificent place but it has suffered terribly from the weather lately. There's a lot of rent reviews that are still upwards only, but really that day is gone."