After six years of dramatic decreases in home costs countrywide, from 2008 through 2013, property prices in parts of Ireland are on the rise again. The capital has shown the greatest growth in the last 12 months. Prices in Dublin have increased as much as 15% to 20%. The average house price in the city today is 242,600 euros, up almost 44,000 euros since 2013.
Elsewhere in the country, growth figures are more conservative. The national average for the first three months of the year was 7.8%. But not all of Ireland is emerging from the deep recession of the past half-dozen years. One region in particular, the area around the town of Kilkenny, in the southeast of the country, remains far removed from the rebound. In fact, property prices in this corner of Ireland have fallen further by 28% this year, the biggest percentage decrease of any county in 2013. While this is bad news for existing homeowners who want to sell, it is good for retirees dreaming of owning an Irish cottage.
Kilkenny and its environs is, in many ways, the best of Ireland. Life in this rural southeastern corner is traditional, friendly and undressed for tourists. This is a region steeped in history, boasting some of the best landscapes in the country, some of the best weather anywhere on the Emerald Isle and is a top choice for fishing, boating, and other river activities.
Two villages in this area are of particular note. The first is Graiguenamanagh (pronounced Graig-na-MAN-ah), a happening little village on the west bank of the River Barrow. During the summer months, colorful barges moor along the shores, families come to swim and coax each other down from the landmark diving boards and the annual regatta attracts rowing enthusiasts.
The second village of note is tranquil St. Mullins. Without the quayside facilities and mooring of Graiguenamanagh, the river life here is dominated more by fishermen and the occasional kayaker than by rows of pleasure boats.
Graiguenamanagh is in County Kilkenny, while St. Mullins is in County Carlow. They are separated by the Barrow River, the life and soul of the area, and each has its appeals. You could choose to base yourself in one or the other but enjoy both day-to-day. The two villages are connected by a 4-mile riverside towpath. All around are some of the most stunning Irish landscapes all but untouched by time.
Living in this area, you’d be just under an hour from Kilkenny town, 25 minutes from the town of New Ross in County Wexford (the closest “big town” for amenities) and just over two hours from Dublin City.
Graiguenamanagh (“Graig” to the locals) comes from the Gaelic “Gráig na Manach,” meaning the “village of the monks.” Founded in 1204 at the point where the Douskey tributary joins with the greater Barrow River, Duiske Abbey, in the middle of the village, is today a buried treasure. Behind its basic exterior you’ll find a vast, bright and uplifting space where the light bounces off the white stone walls and radiates through the stained glass windows, drawing your eyes gradually to the high vaulted ceiling.
The River Barrow, the second longest river in the country (after the River Shannon), was a commercial canal waterway from the 18th century until the 1950s, when the railways took over as a more efficient way of moving goods. The Barrow canal started in Athy, where it joined with the Grand Canal and had important ports at Carlow, Graiguenamanagh, and New Ross. Through the series of waterways and locks, the boatmen carried malting barley to Dublin for brewing by the Guinness company and later transported the finished ale back downstream.
Activity on the Barrow canal is purely recreational these days. If you’re not up for jumping in the water yourself, it’s entertaining to take a seat on the shore (at either side) and watch the swimmers, divers, kayakers, fishing boats, and small cruisers drift slowly by, finally disappearing under an arch of the bridge.
Ireland’s southeast region is rich with enough old estates, gardens, castles, and period homes to satisfy the history aficionado. Kilkenny Castle and its gardens are an obvious attraction, but Rothe House, also in Kilkenny town, is a lesser-known treasure. It’s the only surviving merchant’s townhouse from the 17th century. It houses a museum, and its recently opened gardens are a reconstruction of landscaping in the 17th century. From Graig, it’s just under 20 minutes to Woodstock House and Gardens in Inistioge.
New Ross, 25 minutes away, has the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a reconstruction of the coffin ships that crossed the Atlantic during those hard times. If you’re a Kennedy fan, you’ll appreciate a trip to Dunganstown, New Ross, where you’ll find the Kennedy Homestead. Here you can trace the Kennedy family’s fortunes from humble beginnings in New Ross to the big names they became across the Pond. The Kennedy family is revered around these parts. In his 1963 presidential visit to Ireland, JFK came back to the old farm in Dunganstown where his relations continue to live today. In 2013, 50 years after her father’s visit, Caroline Kennedy officially opened the visitor center here.