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‘We have such fond memories of going out in the boat with Dad’

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When you find a home away from home it’s not just a place: ‘It is a feeling. A feeling of peace and family.’ Gay Byrne’s daughter Crona, the television presenter Dáithí Ó Sé, the children’s author Sarah Webb and the writer Richard Hogan on their long-standing love of the Irish staycation

Gay Byrne’s family on Donegal

The late broadcaster Gay Byrne loved to retreat from the public eye to Co Donegal, where locals regarded him as one of their own and left him alone. “Our summers were spent up here,” says his daughter Crona Byrne, speaking from the holiday home that Gay and his wife, Kathleen Watkins, bought in Tubberkeen, outside Dungloe, more than 50 years ago. “It’s our happy place.”

This summer, The Irish Times will offer tips, advice and information for parents on how to help their children thrive during the holiday months. Read all about it at
 irishtimes.com/summeroffamily

The love for this home from home is one that Crona and her sister, Suzy, inherited from their parents, and they are now passing it on to their own children. It’s not they weren’t happy at home in Howth, too, Crona stresses, but being on holiday in Co Donegal was “our special time with him”.

This summer of the staycation is a reminder of the value for children of a sense of belonging in another place, to which they can escape, both in mind and body, in years to come. For newer parents, it may have been an opportunity to start the process of repeated visits to the same haunts, to ensure that these childhood pleasures will become ingrained.

“We have such fond memories going fishing, going out in the boat with Dad and hopping off at different islands for a picnic or walking the islands,” says Byrne, who lives in Killaloe, Co Clare, with her husband, Phil Carney, and their children, Kate, who is 15, and Harry, who is nearly 12. She reels off recollections of trips to Glenveagh National Park and being taken out by local fishermen to check on lobster pots, all part of one big happy childhood blur.

Her own family now spends chunks of the summer in Co Donegal, and she sees her children following in her footprints – “they want to go to the beaches, they want to go out to Arranmore, they want to go to Glenveagh. That is what is incredible: all these years later it really is Groundhog Day.

“Even here now, on a normal day we would walk Maghery beach, have coffee and a toasted sandwich at the Ionad community centre or go across to the Strand bar for a pint.”

Crona Byrne with her husband, Phil Carney, and their children, Kate and Harry, in Co Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne
Above and below: Crona Byrne with her husband, Phil Carney, and their children, Kate and Harry, in Co Donegal. Photographs: Joe Dunne
Crona with her husband Phil Carney and two children, Kate and Harry in the sea near their holiday home in Dungloe Co. Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne

Byrne is 100 per cent sure that her children will never stop coming back here either. “The other night it was a high tide, 9.40pm, and my two got into their togs and were swimming around the bay until 10.30pm. That is what childhood is about – the freedom, away from the technology, out and enjoying themselves, running and having fun.

“We love it up here, we really do. It’s hard to explain it, but we’re looked after by the locals; we have lovely friends up here, and the children have the freedom to explore, and that’s wonderful.”

But it took time, she says, for her Limerick-born husband, who lacks their childhood connections to the place, to adjust to it. “It took a while for him to settle here, [going] from a fast-paced area to somewhere it’s a slow, slow pace and quite relaxed. But he has done and he loves it here as well.”

The couple, who run the Owl and the Pussycat creche in Ballina, Co Tipperary, spent the first Covid lockdown of 2020 in the Co Donegal house with their children. It wasn’t planned, but it proved fortuitous. “We were up for the weekend and got caught, and we stayed here for 10 weeks. We were able to work remotely. Because we have a creche, it was closed, and we could do all our paper work from here. Kate did her classes from here, and in the afternoons they were swimming, walking or whatever. It was the best of both worlds.”

Byrne has no doubt that the love of this spot in west Donegal is a gift to Kate and Harry. “It’s a way of life children need to learn. A lot of them only know a chaotic life these days – it’s go, go, go. I think people are realising more and more from the lockdown that they don’t need to be in such a fast pace any more: they can step back a bit.”

Dáithí Ó Sé on the Dingle peninsula

For the TV presenter Dáithí Ó Sé, who has lived in Co Galway for more than 20 years, it is a sense of his native Gaeltacht village of Baile na nGall (Ballydavid), on the Dingle peninsula, in west Co Kerry, that he now wants to pass on to his seven-year-old son, Micheál. As we speak, the two of them have just returned from three days there, visiting Dáithí’s mother.

“It was the first time I really, really felt that, oh God, I need to bring him down here more, that he’s missing out. In the last 10 years I would not have got home to west Kerry as much, due to work and the fact that my mother loves travelling and comes up to us all the time,” he says.

As a child, Dáithí never went on holidays, except for a trip to Trabolgan, the holiday village in Co Cork, one October when he was about 12, after a long period of accumulating 2p and 5p coins in an empty glass vodka bottle. “That was it.”

In contrast, being married to the American Rita Talty, his own son is accustomed to transatlantic trips to visit her family. But, for Dáithí, going to the local beach on a fine day – once all the jobs at home were done – was his summer holiday. “The treat at that time was I could get an ice cream. There was no such thing as bringing a lot of stuff with you.”

As he tells Micheál: “My father had the car gone to work; we had to walk to the beach, boy, which was very, very exciting when you’re going, but when you have four miles to walk back home after being at the beach all day…

“Dingle and west Kerry has everything for me,” he says. “It has the scenery, it has the beaches, it has the people there as well. It is only when I am down there that I realise what I am missing.”

He was out every day with Micheál during this brief trip, retracing his childhood, back in a boat, going around Dunquin, walking the beaches and sharing stories. “I got him the local [football] jersey that we used to wear when we were younger, and he was walking around in that. I brought him back to the football pitch we always played on for years, and we were pucking the ball around there. It really drove it home to me that, yes, it is nice that Mum comes up, but I really need to get down.”

Ó Sé admits, “I had to put legs and tails on a few of the stories.” How, for instance, Dad scored all the goals in a particular match.

Dáithí Ó Sé with his son Micheál.
Dáithí Ó Sé with his son Micheál

Micheál, who attends a Gaelscoil in Co Galway, “only talks Irish to me”, says Ó Sé. “But down there everybody was speaking in Irish to him, and he kind of got it, although he’s only seven.

“I took my eye off the ball, unbeknownst to myself, and I learned a lesson there. I need to go home more,” adds Ó Sé, presenter of the Rose of Tralee festival, which has been cancelled for the second year in a row because of the pandemic, as has the Fleadh Cheoil, although he copresented a TG4 series to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the latter.

The late Gaybo also helmed the Rose of Tralee, from 1974 to 1994 – with the exception of 1977, when his wife did the honours. But the only public engagement he undertook each summer in Co Donegal was as compere of the Mary from Dungloe competition.

“It’s such a fun time for Dungloe,” says Crona. The contest was held “virtually” for the first time this year, over the August bank holiday weekend, but in normal times “the whole town comes alive with tourists. Music, dancing on the streets, parades and the crowning cabaret.

“We were able to go behind the scenes and watch. Nowadays,” she adds, “I have taken Dad’s role as a judge and I am loving it.” Local and family traditions entwined live on.

Sarah Webb on Castletownshend

As far back as the award-winning children’s writer Sarah Webb can remember, “Dad used to trundle us around the country looking for ancestors – we did a lot of graveyards”.

But as soon as her parents, Michael Webb and his wife, Melissa, went to Castletownshend, in Co Cork, “they felt a real connection there, even before they found the final bits of the puzzle”. With Townsend being one of his middle names, her father found Townsends from generations ago, to whom he is distantly related, and one has become a very close friend.

“He discovered a place and he also discovered a best friend” – although grown men don’t talk like that, she concedes.

For 50 years her parents, their children and, now, the grandchildren have been leaving south Co Dublin at almost every opportunity to spend time in that west Cork village. “When I was very small we rented a house with a tennis court in the back garden – that was the height of glamour in 1970s Ireland, ” says Webb. Her parents ended up buying a house just opposite.

Standout memories for Webb include “going to the beaches and catching crabs with bits of  meat”. It was a “very outdoorsy” existence, she explains, not very different from what she has done with her own three offspring there. “A lot of boating and swimming. The beaches all look exactly the same as they did when I was a child; nothing has really changed, particularly in Castletownshend, where there is one big main street and no space to build between the houses. It still has its phone box.”

Sarah Webb in Castletownshend, Co Cork.
Sarah Webb in Castletownshend

With Webb’s love of a sofa and a book on holiday, she has never minded the rain, and her children didn’t know any different when they were young. “Now they say, ‘We never went to the sun.’ Yes, I did inflict west Cork weather on my children, but we did city breaks as well. We went to Iceland, and we did go to France, so they can’t look back and say, ‘You never took us anywhere.’”

But it’s west Cork that’s lodged in their hearts. In 2019 there was a big extended-family reunion in Castletownshend, with some coming from the US and the UK, as well as Michael’s own four children and nine grandchildren, who now range in age from 27 down to three.

“It is, I suppose, the family happy place, where we spend time together away from the busyness of Dublin. Last summer it was a real godsend,” says Webb, who is there as we speak, with her youngest, 15-year-old Jago, and two of his friends.

Becoming teenagers didn’t diminish her children’s desire to go there. “I think they like the pace of it. They like showing their friends it. They take their bikes out every day – they can go swimming or kayaking. I just turf them out. They also realise the whole village knows who they are, so they can’t really get up to much! It’s funny: I thought it would reach a stage where there would be pushback, but there hasn’t been.”

For Webb “it is not just a place. It is a feeling. A feeling of peace and family. It is much closer to nature.”

That sense of calm persists even when she’s working in the house, going there on writing retreats three or four times a year, with just the dog for company. “When I am driving towards the village I always put on the same song. I have no idea why I chose this song. I think it was just on the radio or my CD player one time when it was just so lovely – David Gray’s Babylon. I always put it on now to remind myself to chill.”

She can see that some of Michael and Melissa’s grandchildren are also likely to develop long-lasting links with the place. Webb’s eldest son, who is 27, already goes down sometimes with his friends, independent of her.

They want to introduce friends to the place because they think it’s special – “and it’s a free house”, she points out pragmatically. “I think for children, and especially teenagers, the importance of a sense of belonging is not to be underestimated,” she adds. “Belonging in two places is a lovely thing – in your home and then in a second home.”

Richard Hogan on Sam’s Cross

Another part of west Co Cork is shaping up to be a lifelong memory for the three young daughters of Richard Hogan, the family psychotherapist and author of Parenting the Screenager. He and his wife, Erica, who live in Malahide, Co Dublin, regularly bring their children, 10-year-old Hannah, seven-year-old Lizzy and four-year-old Sophie, to the home of their maternal grandparents in Sam’s Cross, where the revolutionary Michael Collins was born and just over 30km from where he died, in an ambush, at Beal na Blath, in August 1922.

“The magic for us is that, when we go down, the grandfather brings my kids for a walk along what he calls Nature’s Way, where Michael Collins lived, and he tells them stories, the Black and Tans coming and burning down the houses. The kids come back with their eyes wide after hearing all these stories about Michael Collins and how he was a freedom fighter.”

There’s a famous pub in Sam’s Cross, the Four Alls, “where the oral tradition is still very vibrant,” says Hogan. “When we go up to it we bring all the kids with us. My eldest daughter will sing a song, and I play the guitar. She loves singing. Then people stand up and recite. It is incredible for kids to see a man stand up and recite a story about Michael Collins. They deliver it like Brad Pitt,” he says, laughing.

Richard Hogan, author of Parenting the Screenager pictured at home with his wife Erica and children Hannah (9) Lizzy (6) and Sophie (3). Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Richard Hogan with his wife, Erica, and their daughters, Hannah, Lizzy and Sophie. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Such never-to-be-forgotten experiences can anchor children for the rest of their lives. “We can access memories at any point; we don’t have to be in the place,” Hogan explains. “Something can just trigger the memory and you’re right back in the skin of that young girl or young boy. I think that’s what sustains us over our lives, those lovely moments when we were innocent and knew nothing about life and death – and we had the magic and wonder of it all, when everything is possible.”

Describing himself as “very nostalgic and sentimental” at the age of 45, he says, “I reminisce a lot”. It is something he encourages in his daughters too. In today’s world, he says, communication is so abbreviated: everything is so quick, and people are watching TV while on their phones, and nobody is concentrating on anything. “I get the kids to try to stop and interpret what is going on for them.”

In the car on the way home from west Cork he will ask them what was so good about that particular trip. “I try to punctuate it for them; develop it, actually.” It just takes a bit of that intentional parenting, he suggests, to help them reflect in their own minds.

“What you are developing there is gratitude, which is an incredibly important attribute to develop in your children, because if they don’t appreciate things they are never going to be happy.”

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Japanese knotweed saves £11.8billion off property values  

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Japanese knotweed is responsible for shaving £11.8billion off the value of Britain’s property market, new research by a removal specialist claims.

As many as 4 per cent of British homes are affected by the invasive plant – either on the property itself or on a neighbouring property.

The invasive plant makes homes significantly more difficult to sell as buyers can struggle to secure a mortgage on a property where it is found.

However, Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders told us that is possible to get a mortgage for a home affected by knotweed, but conditions may be imposed.

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed on a property reduces its value by an average of 5 per cent, according to the figures from removal specialist Environet.

It used that to estimate that with 890,000 households across the county are being hit by a typical reduction of value of £13,200 due to knotweed, this equated to £11.8billion in total.

The plant can be stopped from spreading – although this process can be costly, at around £2,500 for a 10sq m area for a herbicide treatment or £5,000 for a 10 sq m for an excavation.

Environet claims that removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth.

It said that despite the lower costs, herbicide treatment is increasingly recognised as a control method only. 

This is because above-ground growth can disappear, but the root system beneath the ground is often induced into dormancy meaning it’s capable of regrowing in the future – particularly if the ground is disturbed by landscaping or building work. 

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Nic Seal, of Environet, said: ‘Those buying and selling property are legally required to declare if the property is or has been affected by Japanese knotweed, but if an infestation has been professionally excavated with an insurance-backed guarantee to satisfy mortgage lenders, it is possible to restore the property value to close to the original value.’

He added: ‘Herbicide treatment of knotweed has always been very popular due to the lower costs, but the message is getting through that it’s only a control method and won’t solve the problem definitively.

‘Buyers are much more wary of buying a property which still has knotweed rhizome beneath the ground as there’s no way of knowing whether it’s completely dead. There’s also an environmental cost to using chemicals, which is of growing concern.’

Environet explained that the excavation element can be carried out during the winter months, allowing for full use of gardens during the summer.

What mortgage lenders say about knotweed 

Mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, explained that those buying a property where Japanese knotweed is found may find it less of a deal breaker than in the past where the lender may have automatically declined a mortgage application.

SPF Private Clients’ Mark Harris, said: ‘Should Japanese knotweed be identified, there are four categorisations assessing its severity, with 1 being best-case scenario and 4 being worst-case. 

‘Depending on which silo the property falls into, and whether there is specialist eradication work either ongoing or planned, and insurance in place, lenders may be willing to consider the application.

‘Depending on the severity of the problem, lenders may tailor the amount they are prepared to lend, or not lend at all.’ 

While securing a mortgage on a property with knotweed can remain challenging, lenders confirmed that they are open to providing finance if a management plan is in place. 

A Nationwide Building Society spokesman said: ‘Our policy on Japanese Knotweed depends on how far the plant is from the property. If it is less than seven metres away from the property, we would request a specialist report about eradicating it before deciding whether we could lend. 

‘If the plant is more than seven metres away, we would need written confirmation from the borrower that they want to proceed with their mortgage application despite the presence of the plant. 

‘What may be required is assessed on a case by case basis. Where the valuer identifies the presence of Japanese Knotweed, they may advise that a specialist report is required with respect to eradicating the plant and, where applicable, to report on repairing the property. Any report for eradication of the plant should include an insurance-backed 5 year warranty against re-infestation.’ 

And spokesperson for Halifax explained: ‘The presence of Japanese Knotweed itself is not a barrier to lending. 

‘We will be guided by the surveyor’s, and any subsequent expert’s, report on the scale, location and effects of any presence on or around the property.’  

How were the figures calculated? 

Official figures from the ONS show there at 27.8million households in Britain.

Environet disregarded 20 per cent of households that are flats as these are less likely to be affected by knotweed. 

That produces a figure of 22,420,000 homes in Britain. 

Environet’s survey conducted with YouGov in 2021 revealed that around 4 per cent of homes are affected by knotweed, either directly – meaning that it grows on the property – or indirectly where a neighbouring property is affected. 

It means 889,600 homes are affected in total, according to Environet.

The average value of a property in Britain is £264,244, according to Land Registry’s figures for August. 

Environet claimed that Japanese knotweed reduces the value of a property by 5 per cent on average. This is based on its own anecdotal evidence of what a property is worth once a knotweed management plan is in place (ie the 5 per cent reflects the amount that a buyer might try to reduce an asking price by due to the stigma and risk of the knotweed returning after treatment or removal). 

The 5 per cent reduction translates into £13,212 being knocked off the average home.

As such, the total amount knocked off property values in Britain as a result of Japanese knotweed is therefore 889,600 households multiplied by £13,212, which is £11,753,395,200.

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Ikea offers personalised design service in Ireland

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Ikea is piloting a home design service in Ireland. The Swedish furniture giant opened the new service in Naas on Monday.

Customers will be able to consult the retailer’s in-house home interiors specialists at the new store. The company said the service would be free, personalised and one-to-one.

It said people would be able to talk through ideas for upgrading their kitchen, living room or wardrobes with a designer. They will also be able to order any Ikea products from the store for delivery. Unlike Ikea’s other smaller store in Carrickmines, south Dublin, there will be no items available on site to bring home on the day.

The company said Ireland was one of eight markets worldwide in which it is piloting the new service.

“This new service allows us to bring our home furnishing expertise to the many, with bespoke design solutions that best reflect our customer’s unique style and design challenges,” said Martyn Allan, Ikea’s market manager in Ireland. “At the same time, we get the opportunity to listen to and learn from our customers to continue to develop our store formats.

“We are so proud that Ireland is part of this pilot, offering us the opportunity to move closer to our customers in towns and cities currently without IKEA stores,” he added.

People looking for a design consultation will need to book in advance online. When the company confirms the booking, it will let the customer know what to bring with them, such as measurements or photographs.

Over one or two consultations – which will not cost anything – the designer will draw up a 3D plan which will be accessible on the Ikea website to the customer up to five days after the consultation.

The store on Naas Main Street will feature some room sets and the company says the consultations will operate in strict compliance with current public health guidelines.

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Dubs get exercised over digital dollars

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Dubliners are to be “paid” for a walk in the park with “civic dollars” they can cash in for coffee and cake and other goods and services, in an effort to encourage outdoor exercise.

Visitors to five parks in the Dublin 8 area can earn the community currency if they sign up for a new smart phone app to allow Dublin City Council to track their park use.

The scheme is being piloted in the area from the Liberties to Inchicore, following research by the council’s Smart D8 team which found just 40 per cent of local residents took regular exercise, but 92 per cent said they would use a park for exercise if it was available to them.

Visitors to St Audoen’s Park, St Patrick’s Park, Weaver Park and Oscar Square in the Liberties, and Grattan Park in Inchicore who use the app will be rewarded with civic dollars for every 30 minutes they spend in the park up to a limit of 5 dollars a day.

Data anonymised

The system uses GPS data and allows users to opt in once they enter a park. Their data is anonymised, and a user’s session will end automatically once they walk out of the park. Data gathered will be used by the council to analyse park usage and allow for future planning and infrastructure improvements.

The dollars can be cashed in for discounts in a number of local businesses including Little Bird cafe, the Bike Hub, Mobility Genie, the Digital Hub and Epic Ireland. The dollars can also be donated to community organisations for more expensive services including marketing or IT advice and legal consultations, with participating companies including Core Tech IT, Paul Saxon Consulting, Éire Graphic Design and VAVA Influencers.

The Smart D8 project was established earlier this year to investigate innovative approaches to improve citizens’ health and wellbeing in Dublin 8, with the involvement of St James’s Hospital and the Digital Hub.

The civic dollars pilot will run for five months, with the aim of attracting 1,000 users in the first two months, and could be rolled out to other parks in the city if successful.

Organisations accepting dollar donations include Warrenmount Community Education Centre, Robert Emmet Community Development Project, Solas Project and Fatima Groups United.

The scheme had the potential to “improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens”, Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland said.

“We need to encourage increased use of our parks, and the civic dollars project will do that while having the added benefit of contributing to local businesses and community organisations.”


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