Cnoc An Iuir is a ghost estate located in Drumshanbo in County Leitrim, Ireland. Although not exclusively an Irish phenomenon, the term ghost estate was coined to describe the housing estates left unoccupied and incomplete following the collapse of the Irish property bubble after the recession of the late 2000s. In total, it was estimated that there were 600 ghost estates in the Republic of Ireland in 2010 with approximately 230,000 empty homes. The Irish language term is Eastát na Sí which directly translates as Fairy Estate.
Beginning in the mid 1990s, Ireland experienced dramatic economic growth with the boom being referred to as the Celtic Tiger. The population began to rise with an influx of labour from Eastern Europe. House price inflation in Dublin spiralled upwards causing a shift to new housing estates built in or near commuter towns. Easily available credit from lenders helped fuel the property market. Tax incentives were offered under the Rural Renewal Tax Incentives Scheme to attract developers to towns previously seen outside Dublin’s commuter belt in places like Cavan, Roscommon and Leitrim. Irish banks lent billions to developers to construct these estates.
The global financial crisis of 2007 caused the Irish property bubble to burst and the country’s banks all came close to collapse. Ireland received a financial bailout from the IMF with assistance of the EU and the economy plunged into recession. Unemployment from from 4% to 15% in a matter of months.
The property market spiralled with large numbers of housing estates being built all over the country however as a result of the global economic crisis of the late 2000s, Ireland’s property market collapsed plunging the country into a recession. Many of these housing developments and their associated debts have been taken over by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) which attempts to recover money from bad debts owed to the now nationalised Irish banks.
In January 2010, the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis revealed that there were more than 300,000 vacant new homes in Ireland, and 621 ghost estates. Given that a ghost estate is defined as “ten or more houses where 50% of the properties are either vacant or under-construction”, not all vacant new homes were included. It is worth noting that the population of the Republic of Ireland in 2010 was 4.5 million.
The housing surplus in some counties greatly exceeded the number required. In Leitrim where Cnoc An Iuir is located, the housing surplus was 401%. The reality was that these areas marketed previously as commutable to Dublin were too far from any major population centre.
In 2009, the Irish government created the National Asset Management Agency, or NAMA, to take on all non-performing assets owned by Irish banks for land and property development deals. This included everything from ghost estates to Battersea Power Station in London. NAMA were instrumental in finishing many ghost estates and as Ireland’s economy began to pick up again, the number of vacant properties declined drastically. By 2015, only 2,542 houses remained vacant in unfinished estates.
Ghost estates like Cnoc An Iuir may be a thing of the past in Ireland but they remained a symbol of the country’s problems with borrowing for a long time after the recession ended. Today, few would claim Cnoc An Iuir and Leitrim are within commuting distance of Dublin.
By the time the COVID-19 Pandemic slowed the economy in early 2020, it was estimated that Ireland had a severe deficit of housing stock. As the country recovers once again, ghost estates will not feature in the narrative.