County Clare, Ireland February 2007 "Going Once... Going Twice..."
Still pursuing the perfect place to
retire, we / I have made several trips back to Ireland in the last two weeks. Two weeks ago,
BJ and I made the Thursday to Sunday run. Suspecting that you are tired of hearing
about what we ate and watched on the flight, I'll keep it brief; BJ went for the duck
while I sampled the excellent FlatIron steak, with "Marie Antoinette" and
"Man of the Year" being the only movies worth staying awake for. Note:
Delta is currently pouring Cline Zinfandel in Business Class. Finally, a red Zin!!!
We had done a good bit of www.myhome.ie and www.mapquest.com research, and had narrowed our list down to
about a dozen properties worth either an initial investigation or a follow-up visit.
Friday morning we hit the ground running, with good weather and working
electronics, in virtually the same rental car we had 3 weeks before; a different Nissan
Micra, but one also missing a hubcap on the front right, like our last rental.
The first property on our list was an
enchanting little cottage in a place called Ballina, overlooking the River Shannon.
Little is the
operative word here. There were two bedrooms, each large enough to hold a twin bed,
a cute little kitchen with a wood stove, and a bathroom.
The view of the river was lovely
though, so we decided to keep it on the list of places to consider. We looked at the
next place in Ballyartney. The house was larger, but the view more distant.
Another one to keep on the list.
Thinking that what we really
want is a view of the ocean, more than the River Shannon, we struck out for the next
property on our list, in the village of Cross. From there, we headed down southwest
to look again at the Pilot Hill Lodge. It's perfect, except for its extreme
remoteness (2 pubs within long-walking distance, although one of them was closed the day
we were in town; that may be seasonal. Everything else is at least a 15 minute drive
away). Then back northwards, to find a property that we had missed on the last
visit; "The Ruins" in Corbally/Coosheen near Kilkee. This time we were
able to find it (after two or three tries) and fell in love.
It's beautiful - close enough to the
water to hear the waves crashing (when the wind isn't blowing) and less than 2 miles from
the tourist town of Kilkee (with its restaurants, pubs and a full
service grocery store). For tonight, we checked back in at the Bay View, in Kilkee
(where we had stayed in January), although "Ms. Doubtfire" told us that there
wouldn't be any breakfast, since they were remodeling. It was an early dinner for us, at
an excellent Indian restaurant ("A Taste of Punjab"; a chain) before we headed
off to bed.
After a few early hours of sleep, we
both awoke to the sounds of a party downstairs, with kids voices among the sounds.
We were able to get back to sleep, occasionally waking to loud laughter, or more
children's' voices. I assumed that these were just pub noises, since the Bay View is
connected to Hickies' Pub. I figured that last call around would bring a halt to the noise, and since we
weren't having breakfast, we could sleep in. I was wrong. The noises lasted
well past , although I was able to sleep through most of
it. (BJ tells me she was awake for a long time after , reading her book through the sounds).
When I went downstairs Saturday morning around to settle the bill, I apparently woke Ms.
Doubtfire, since she showed up in pants, with her pajama top half tucked in, and she
mentioned not getting to bed until !!
Saturday was spent much like Friday,
with us driving northwards towards Lahinch and Lisconnor, to check out properties on our
list. After locating the last one (and being somewhat disappointed in it; they look
SO good on the internet), we headed into Lahinch for a pint at Paddy Murphy's, with free
Well, it was free for us. They
have wired PCs that they rent at 1Euro for 15 minutes of surfing, but "Baby" was
able to connect via wifi, so we checked tomorrow's flight, and looked at a few property
details that we needed. Ending the day with an easy drive back to the now familiar
Hunter's Lodge in NewMarket on Fergus, we again stopped by O'Neills
(where we cut off the complimentary Irish Flag shooter by announcing "We're
back" as we walked in.) We finally got to meet the REAL Ms. O'Neill (Anna), since on previous trips
we had managed to meet 3 of her daughters, who help run the place. After a walk
around town, we dropped back in to the Hunter's Lodge pub for a dinner of soup and chips,
then back to the room where we discovered we had free wifi. Since our flight out on
Sunday wasn't until almost noon, we signed up for a pair of Full Irish Breakfasts at 8:30,
then drifted off to (a pleasantly quiet) sleep.
Sunday morning, we were up, fed and
on the road back to Shannon by . Arriving at Shannon, we were somewhat surprised to see a VERY
long line at the Delta ticket counter. Perhaps we aren't used to departing Shannon when the flight originates in Dublin, but this was somewhat distressing to see.
The distress, however, was unnecessary. We cleared security, made yet another
tour of the Duty Free, passed through U.S. Immigration, then boarded the flight for the
obligatory glass of champagne. After a few moments, a gate agent came aboard, and
asked to see our boarding cards, and asked whether anyone had inspected our hand luggage.
Somehow, they had a record of issuing us boarding cards, but no record of us
getting on board. Once all of the nitty gritty little details were ironed out, we
settled into our seats, chowed down on chicken (BJ) and pasta (me), grabbed our books
(since none of the movies seemed worth watching) and napped our way home.
For 4 days
As soon as we got home, I started
"bugging" (via eMail) the real estate agent representing "The Ruins".
At the same time, I started looking at flights back to Ireland for the coming weekend. Since BJ
doesn't have as much "vacation time" as I do, and since my brother Terry (of the
$1300 lunch) was on vacation that week anyway, I invited
him to come along with me.
I finished my Atlanta legwork, and arranged for my brother and I to
meet at the DeltaEmployeeServiceCenter for check-in. Of course, between
inviting him to go (on Tuesday) and departure day (on Thursday) a snowstorm in the
Northeast and midWest managed to make a dramatic change to seat availability.
Forewarned that seats (in Business) were more limited than previously thought, we checked
in and headed for the gate. Ninety minutes later, I was seated in Business Class,
and Terry was headed home. A group of 40 or so rugby players from Baltimore, and
their groupies, showed up shortly before departure. Several of the players did not
have seat assignments and were upgraded to Business. The last remaining seat, a
center in the back of coach, was offered to Terry, but he wisely declined, since the agent
was not sure she could confirm him from Dublin to Shannon. You know the drill by now; champagne,
Flat Iron steak, Cline Zinfandel, sleep, Dublin, then Shannon. As I was passing through Irish
Immigration control, the officer remarked that I was "just here last week".
I acknowledged that "Yes, I was. My wife and I were looking at property,
and we found something we liked, so I came back this weekend to see about buying it".
This seemed to interest him and he asked me where the property was. When I
said "near Kilkee" (which I pronounced KIL-kee and he pronounced kil-KEE), he
followed with "Whereabouts?". So I said "It's actually in an area
called Corbally/Coosheen" (which again, I pronounced as cor-BALLY and he corrected it
with COR-bally). To my surprise, he said "Is it on that road that runs down the
hill into the village?" Wow! This total stranger, 50 kilometers from
where I wanted to buy a place, knew the street we were looking on! Small World, I
thought; it would soon get even smaller. When I mentioned that, in addition to
seeing the real estate agent, I would be opening an account at a bank, and would need a
Solicitor (we call 'em Lawyers "over here") he suggested that I contact Michael
Nolan, a solicitor in Kilrush that he had used before, with the recommendation the Mr.
Nolan was both "honest AND reasonably priced". I made a note
of the officer's name, and headed upstairs. After a short visit at Alamo Rent a Car
(this time, a nicer Opel Corsa), I was ready to strike out towards Kilrush, to meet with
the real estate agent. The route to Kilrush, from the airport, is via Ennis, and
takes about an hour and 20 minutes.
On arrival in Kilrush, I quickly
located the office of Sherry Fitzgerald McMahon Real Estate, and met with Richard Morgan,
the agent I had spoken with. He showed me the plats of the "site" and we
chatted for a few more minutes. I assured him that I was interested in the property,
even without Planning Permission, and we discussed details on how to "close the
deal". Things are done a little differently in Ireland. A buyer makes an offer, puts down a
(fully refundable) "booking fee" (sort of like Earnest Money, but doesn't commit
one to anything) then the offer is presented to the seller. There's a back and forth
until an agreement is reached. Only THEN is anything put on paper, along with a 10%
deposit. At closing, the balance of the funds are transferred to the seller.
Andeverything that goes
on paper is handled by the "Solicitor". So I made my initial offer
(without the Booking fee; the agent knew that my NEXT stop was the bank, to open an account) and I
headed down the road to get to the bank before they closed for lunch around . It took only a few minutes to realize
that I wasn't going to be able to open an account "today"; their banking
regulations are at least as complicated as ours, and although I had several forms of
identification (a passport, a driver's license), I didn't have "proof of
address" which requires a Utility Bill! I picked up a form to complete when I
got back to the States, and headed around the corner to see if I could meet with the
Solicitor, Michael Nolan.
Michael Nolan was, of course, out of
the office, but his daughter Michelle, also a solicitor, was able to see a drop in without
an appointment. When she heard that I was considering buying a piece of property
"without planning permission" she told me that she would not even write the
contract for me. Without the "subject to planning permission" clause, she
was UNWILLING to write the contract. This worried me!! We talked a bit more,
about the site, and it's location. When I described it to her, she knew exactly
where it was, since her uncle apparently lives within 200 meters of the place! And
did I mention that she also knew Paddy Deagan, the Immigration Officer that referred me to
her father? There's that Small World again. Michelle's assistant who routinely
attends meetings at the Planning Commission, suggested that I contact the Planning
Commission and show them the plats that I had gotten from the real estate agent.
Somewhat discouraged by all of the pessimism, I did what anybody in my position would have
done; I headed to Crotty's Pub for a pint of lager! At the pub, I called the
Clare County Commission and talked with them. They asked if I could bring the plat
by their office (back in Ennis) so they could see what and where I was hoping to
buy. I finished my Heineken, stopped by the Sherry Fitzgerald McMahon office to tell
Mister Morgan that I was having to rethink my earlier decision, then headed off back
towards Ennis, about 45 minutes away. At the planning office, I met with a
representative who was very concerned about the location of the site. "That's
an area of special environmental concern" (translated to say "even harder to get
permission") she said, but when I dropped the phrase that the real estate agent
suggested "But what about the West Clare Derelict Renewal Plan?" she asked me to
wait a moment and went into the back office for several minutes. When she returned,
she suggested that I speak with Richard Cronin, the Conservation Officer, who was, of
course, out of the office. As I was about to depart, she noticed that I had copies
of the "folio" (plat) and offered for me to complete a "Pre-Planning
Application" (which is, after all, FREE!). I dropped off a rather hastily
put-together PPA and headed out. Being a creature of habit, and beginning to think
that this trip was turning into a bit of a bust, I headed to Lahinch, where I knew I'd
find a decent place to stay (The Golf Lodge) and plenty of places to enjoy the hospitality
of the Irish (nee. beer). A pint at Paddy Murphy's, dinner at Ms. O'Brien's Kitchen
(they call it Cajun Chicken; we would call it BBQ Chicken) and I headed back to my room to
Saturday morning, I decided I would
"walk the property" at The Old Ruins. Heading southwest, and thinking that
maybe properties that already have "planning permission" might be a good idea, I
stopped at a site in Doonbeg (that I had "found" via Mapquest between last week
and this week). It is nice; not as nice as the Old Ruins, and a bit more expensive.
Then I stopped at another place we looked at last weekend, also in Doonbeg, that
also has "planning approved"; an RV Park. Continuing down the coast, I
stopped at The Old Ruins for a photo session and a walkabout. It is very difficult
to tell, from the documentation that I had, exactly what is "for sale" and I'd
hoped that a walk on the land would make it more obvious. It didn't. In fact,
it appeared that there may not even be any road frontage! After about an hour, I
headed southwest, towards Kilrush one more time. Back at the real estate office, I
obtained an additional plat, that shows that there is, in fact, road frontage.
But the additional plat confuses the
situation even more; it's impossible to tell whether the "shed" (shown above) is
"on the property" (critical) or not. Then I nipped into Kelly's Pub for
soup and a pint o'Harp (the proprietress was from New Jersey, but was too busy to shed much light on how
she came to live in Ireland). Still discouraged, I headed back
towards Newmarket, where I'd hope to stay again tonight,
stopping at Mitchell's Corner Bar in Kiladysert on the way.
In Newmarket, I checked in at the dependable Hunters'
Lodge, checked out a pint at the dependable O'Neill's Pub, watched Manchester United play
Reading to a tie at the never-before-visited Sports Bar before returning to Hunters' Lodge
restaurant for a plate of chips. By now, it was late enough for bed, so I called it
a night; tomorrow I would head home, report to BJ, make a few telephone calls on Monday
(to try to hurry my pre-planning application through the channels) and see where we stand.
More to come soon (since "today" is Monday the 26th of February, and I am
thinking of returning on Thursday. I now have an architect-contact in Ennis who may
be able to assist!!) Will advise.
Update (12APR): I did go back the following Thursday and met with the architect. He was
encouraging about our ability to get permission to build and drew up some plans to present
to the Planning Commission. We still did not have a commitment, but it looked
promising enough that we thought we were ready to firm up a deal with the seller.
The plans that the architect had drawn were for a modest 2 bedroom house utilizing the
footprint of the original house as the front with 2 level extension on the back. It
would be about 1300 square feet. Before we made our offer, we asked the architect to
give us a ball park estimate of what it would cost to build the house he had drawn.
He estimated 150-200 per square foot! WOW! Factor in the cost of the lot
and the exchange rate ($1.33 = 1) and we were looking at WAY MORE money than we were
prepared to spend on our retirement home! So, we notified the agent and the
architect of our intent to abort the pursuit of this piece of property. We are back
to the drawing board. Stay tuned...