From churches to barnyards, outhouses, factories and unidentified piles of stone. All you have to do is drive through Ireland to know that it’s a graveyard of ruins. They seemed so romantic and mysterious to me as a child. I remember how I would implore my dad to stop the car and let me out, desperate to look around and search for whatever vestiges of life I imagined to have existed within these walls before me.
But Ireland’s Celtic Tiger ghost estates twist the concept that so enthralled me as a child and turn my idyllic visions of Ireland’s abandoned buildings into a reality much more in line with cautionary tales of Brothers Grimm.
No longer just an archaic quirk of the past, Ireland’s ruins are monuments numbering in their high hundreds, all commemorating the economic optimism that all came crashing down in 2007.
Deserted, unfinished and blotted from memory: the tombstones of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger economy.
What is Ireland’s Celtic Tiger?
‘Celtic Tiger’ is the affectionate term that was used to describe the booming Irish economy between the mid-1990s and late 2000s before the recession hit. Now the term is usually used in conjunction with Ireland’s ‘unfinished’ or ‘ghost estates’.
Unfinished and Ghost Estates
There is a subtle difference between an unfinished and a ghost estate.
An unfinished estate is the official term for an estate still under construction or has been completed (post-2007) but 10% or more of its properties are empty. The term unfinished purposefully gives the illusion that the government intends to resume building and maintenance eventually.
A ghost estate is a more extreme example of an unfinished estate, where 50% or more of buildings are empty or under construction.
In October 2011, there were 2,876 known unfinished estates in Ireland. Seven hundred and seventy-seven of these were ghost estates.
Although the number of ghost estates have significantly decreased in the last eight years, numbering around 256 in 2018, there are still over 650 completed but empty houses across the country .
In response to these statistics, the Department of Housing claims that there is no demand for social units in these areas. This claim is hard to swallow though when this August Focus Ireland recorded that there were 10,388 people in Dublin alone who were homeless or relying on emergency homeless accommodation, 3,848 of whom were children.
Shannon Valley, Co Roscommon
Smashed windows, open excavation pits, awol pavements, contaminated sewage and unstable buildings. These are the kinds of features you expect to find in war zones. Not in Roscommon, a county known for its idyllic countryside views and ideal locations for a mini-break.
Shannon Valley is considered by many as one of the worst ghost estates in the country. With 23 of its 38 houses standing empty and, for the most part, uninhabitable, it is not the kind of place you would like to walk through at night, let alone go for a mini-break. But for a few misadventurous optimists who invested during those saccharine years of economic prosperity, these ghost estates are home.
“The roads and the lighting – they were on the plans to go in next,” one resident told The Irish Times, “but they [the building company]ran out of money and that never happened.”
Being so isolated from the outside world and privileges we take for granted – neighbours, medical services, schools, shops – the residents of these estates have been subject to much crime and anti-social behaviour.
“They’ve forgotten about us,” another Shannon Valley resident says, “they only care about Dublin.”
But What Can be Done?
The cost of repair, however, is huge. And despite initiatives by the government to make them look like they’re tackling the issue, like the Repair and Lease Scheme, where grants were given to landlords to fix up these places as long as they leased them out, the initiative failed, with only 48 homes being repaired and leased in 3 years out of the 3,500 that was anticipated .
However, even if there was enough money to repair the estates, which some figures suggest would be the same cost or more than simply rebuilding them, the estates were started so long ago that upon completion they would no longer comply with current housing regulations and legislation.
Is letting them rot out of sight worse than demolishing them? It seems hard to accept that over ten years after Ireland’s recession these housing estates still exist in such high numbers and disrepair.
So when I drive through Ireland now and press my nose against the window as I pass all the abandoned structures that so captivated my imagination as a child, I wonder now about what caused them to fall into such utter states of disrepair. Did they stand empty when they were still habitable, tall and proud? No longer can I look at these places like I once did without thinking of places like Shannon Valley and its residents. Ireland’s ghost estates are not just monuments of economic tragedy, but pillars of shame.