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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
A waterfront mansion formerly owned by football manager Harry Redknapp has broken the record for the most expensive property to be sold on Sandbanks.
Harbour Gate sold to a mystery buyer for a whopping £10million in the last week, almost £2million more than the previous record selling price on the millionaire’s playground in Poole Harbour, Dorset.
The six-bedroom house was sold by entrepreneur Barry Bester.
The Topps Tiles founder previously bought the property off Harry Redknapp and his wife Sandra for £6.9m in 2015.
Since then he has spent £2million on refurbishing the mock-Tudor mansion, including having a £40,000 golf simulator built on the grounds.
Harbour Gate has broken the record for the most expensive property to be sold on Sandbacks, after going for £10million
The six-bedroom property was once owned by former football manager Harry Redknapp and his wife, who sold it in 2015
If the sea is a bit rough, the new owners can always go for a swim in the indoor pool
As well as astonishing views, the house boasts a huge kitchen and breakfast room, dining room, lounge, and library
The £10million property also features a gym and sauna
The property has its own cinema room
Topps Tiles founder Barry Bester (left) bought Harbour Gate from Harry and Sandra Redknapp (right) for £6.9million in 2015
The previous record sale price on Sandbanks was £8.09million, which was paid for the mansion next door to Harbour Gate in 2018.
The £10million figure dwarfs the £400,000 price once paid for the same property in 1995. The Redknapps themselves bought it in 2001 for £3million, and lived there for 14 years, during which time Redknapp managed Spurs, Portsmouth, Southampton and Queens Park Rangers.
Harbour Gate sits on arguably the best plot on the Sandbanks peninsula, backing on to the entrance to Poole Harbour which is usually teeming with passing boats.
It has a kitchen and breakfast room, dining room, lounge, cinema room, library, indoor swimming pool, gym with sauna and an office.
The master bedroom has a large en suite bathroom, huge dressing room and a balcony that looks out onto the water.
Outside there are two sun terraces and a private jetty that has ‘parking’ for two jet skis which are hoisted into the water by way of a hydraulic lift.
Harbour Gate has parking for two jet skis
The waterfront property boasts huge bedrooms
Overlooking the seafront, the house also has breathtaking views
The property also comes with a three bedroom detached gatehouse which by itself would probably be worth £1million.
There is also a double garage which has a professional dog grooming bathtub and driveway parking for 10 cars.
Who is Barry Bester and how did he make his money?
Barry Bester was the co-founder and former chief executive of the retail company Topps Tiles.
He was responsible for day-to-day operations of the business and primarily the sales and store management.
He served as the non-executive director of the company from 1984 to 2011. He also served as executive co-chairman until 2005 and as non-executive chairman from 2007 to 2011.
In 2013, he sold his entire holding in the company – 22,956,790 ordinary shares of 3.33 pence each at 70 pence per share – which represented 11.95 per cent of the company’s issued share capital.
Steve Isaacs, of local estate agents Luxury and Prestige, who handled the sale, said: ‘We can confirm that the house has sold and it is quite a landmark sale as it is the most valuable house on Sandbanks to have sold.
‘We have a delighted buyer and seller for this beautiful home but as a matter of policy we never disclose details of our clients.
‘The house occupies arguably the best position on Sandbanks. It sits on a double-sized plot and comes with a lodge house on the grounds that would be quite a valuable house on its own merits.
‘It has had a lot of money lavished on it by the seller and every aspect of it if exceptional.
‘We have got unprecedented demand for high-end waterside homes at the moment, principally from buyers based in London and beyond.
‘There are now more buyers than there are sellers.
‘This has been fuelled by wealthy individuals relocating from London and other parts of the country as well as those looking for additional homes.
‘We have clients who have been able to run their businesses away from offices in town during the pandemic and want homes by the sea where they can work.’
The house that held the previous record for the most expensive property was The Moorings, next door to Harbour Gate.
Its former owners, entrepreneur Chris Thomas and wife Sue, built the palatial home on the 13,000sq ft of land before selling it in 2018.
The Moorings has five en suite bedrooms, three reception rooms, an office, cinema room, indoor swimming pool, sauna and steam room, gym, changing rooms, garden room and a wine room.
There is also a guest suite that has its own en suite bedroom, kitchenette and living room.
Outside, there is a gate house, a boat house, terraces and balconies make the most of the harbour views and the sunken garden leads to a private jetty.
The exclusive Sandbanks peninsula where a property has just sold for £10million
There is also a grand wine cellar in the property featuring grey stone tiled floors and brick alcoves stacked with bottles of wine and champagne
The area has been dubbed the ‘millionaire’s playground’
The £10million is a record for Sandbanks, above the £8million and £7million spent on neighbouring properties
It occupies arguably the best position on Sandbanks and sits on a double-sized plot and comes with a lodge house on the grounds
Local estate agents Luxury and Prestige said the new owner of the property was ‘delighted’
Outside the property, there is a private jetty that has ‘parking’ for two jet skis which are hoisted into the water by way of a hydraulic lift
A “significantly enhanced” scheme will be needed to help the owners of severely damaged and crumbling homes with mica problems, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
He told Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that he could not make any definitive commitments on it at the moment but “it will be a matter for Government to decide before the end of the month”.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was committed to working with the homeowners to find a resolution to the problem and he acknowledged that a “resolution is long overdue”.
He also accepted that “we need a significantly enhanced scheme” which was being developed.
Mica is a mineral that can absorb and store water, resulting in excessive amounts in building blocks which over time causes cracks and crumbling in blocks. The number of affected homeowners in Donegal and Mayo is estimated at between 7,000 and 8,000 “and possibly more”, according to the Government source. Claims have also been made in Mayo, Limerick and other counties.
A 2018 redress scheme opened for applications in 2020 but required owners to pay 10 per cent of costs, unlike the pyrite scheme for Dublin homes which was 100 per cent Government-funded.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that with the mica scheme the 90 per cent in Government funding did not turn out to be 90 per cent “because of other costs including rent when people move out of their house, engineering reports and such matters”.
Mr Doherty called on the Tánaiste to “lift the burden off so many families” and commit to establishing a 100 per cent redress scheme for homeowners and families “in Donegal, Mayo and other counties who are seeing their homes crumble before their eyes”.
He said that several family homes had been demolished including that of Donna and Mike Price and their three children. Their home “was reduced to rubble by a digger”.
He said “others continue to live in the conditions that put them and their children at risk with walls and ceiling crumbling around them”, and the problem had placed a heavy toll on their mental health and relationships.
“They cannot be allowed to wait any longer. They are victims of self-regulation, no-regulation and light-touch regulation regimes.”
Mr Varadkar, who previously visited Donegal to witness the impact of mica, said “not only have I seen it with my own eyes, but I have felt it in my fingers when I touched those walls.
“One can see how easily they can break and crumble. I know the devastation it has caused people.”
He said: “I agree that we need to bring forward an enhanced scheme, a better scheme, than the one we put together under the last Government to deal with this issue. We are committed to doing that.”
Speaking in Limerick on Thursday, the Minister for Housing appeared to open the door for a 100 per cent redress scheme for homeowners. When asked about the possibility, he said: “I’ve taken nothing off the table.”
Mr O’Brien said the Cabinet would “assess” documents to be handed into Government by Donegal and Mayo campaigners on Friday, adding: “I want to be able to bring improvements to the scheme, and try to bring a resolution to this in the next few weeks.”
“I’ll have to go to Cabinet with some of the changes, if they require additional expenditure, which I expect it will do so.”
On Thursday, Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said the problem had become a “national emergency” and it was time for Government “to bite the bullet”over the mica scandal.
Mr McHugh said the original redress scheme – ostensibly offering homeowners 90 per cent of the cost of repairs – was reluctantly accepted at the time by those affected but was scuppered by changes made by Department of Public Expenditure officials.
“I believe to this day if that scheme was honoured in the way it should have been done, in terms of the conditions applied therein, we may not even be here today because that 90/10 [90 per cent redress, 10 per cent paid by homeowner] scheme effectively became a 70/30 and in some cases a 60/40,” he said.
Different caveats and different cost measures were brought into it, the Donegal TD told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne.
“The scheme was politically signed off on, and like anything in politics, you have a policy as a government, and once the officials start digging down and delving into it, we came out with a scheme that is not workable.”
Separately, a survey published on Thursday by the Mica Action Group, found that mica householders are “suffering a major negative impact to their mental health” and that some are medicating for the first time ever in order to cope with the stress.
Representatives of the mica action group are to hand in their survey as well as a document calling for 100 per cent redress which will “detail exactly what is needed to end the homeowners’ turmoil and allow them to move forward”.
“It can only be hoped that it is treated with respect and gravity, and is acted upon with urgency,” said Lisa Hone, a spokeswoman for the group.
Ms Hone said 483 registered members of the Mica Action Group responded to the survey, and they admitted to “dealing with unrelenting anxiety about safety and finances, the distress of having homes demolished and worries about future homelessness”.
“A common theme running through comments from defective block homeowners was the constant nature of the anxiety seeping into all corners of their lives, with 50 per cent feeling unsafe in their home.”
The rental shortage hotspots have been revealed, with the Isle of Wright, West Devon and Cornwall leading the way.
Rental shortages are so acute that in some towns and villages in these areas, there is only one property available to rent.
In the West Devon market town of Tavistock, for example, the only property listed on Rightmove to rent is a basement studio flat costing £460 a month.
The rental shortage hotspots have been revealed, with the Isle of Wright, West Devon and Cornwall leading the way
In other areas, the listings are reading that ‘viewings are fully booked’ within a day of the property being advertised online.
Rightmove’s findings were based on more than 400,000 rental listings in June and July this year and comparing them to the same period two years ago.
It revealed the true extent of a lack of homes to rent compared to pre-pandemic levels, with the Isle of Wight topping the list with a fall of 82 per cent in available rental stock.
We have picked a property in each of the top 10 rental shortage hotspots to provide a snapshot of what is on offer to rent in each of these locations. (Scroll down for the selection of property listings.)
The Rightmove research did not analyse what type of homes were hardest hit – such as a flat or family homes – and instead focused on locations only.
The areas with the biggest reduction in stock compared to the summer of 2019 are in seaside locations and holiday resorts.
The only property to rent in the West Devon market town of Tavistock is a basement studio flat costing £460 a month
Tim Bannister, of Rightmove, said: ‘Landlords in the typical tourist destinations around Britain have been chasing the huge surge in demand for holiday lets this summer, which has led to a temporary drop in the stock available for permanent tenants.
‘However, as the summer holidays are coming to an end, agents are now reporting more landlords turning their attention to longer-term tenants as a more secure and stable option for the rest of the year and into 2022.
Landlords in the typical tourist destinations around Britain have been chasing the huge surge in demand for holiday lets this summer
Tim Bannister – Rightmove
Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said: ‘As the commitment to commute has declined, so has demand to live in coastal or country areas increased.
‘Others have enjoyed being by the seaside so much they have turned temporary stays into more permanent ones.
‘The result has been an increase in demand, which supply has struggled to match, particularly recently in the staycation season. Other owners have taken refuge in the short let and Airbnb market, which also kept longer-term rental stock levels down.
‘Although traditionally September and October are the busiest months for rentals, the demand and supply imbalance is likely to continue at least until the end of the year when poorer weather should dampen demand to the extent that rents will inevitably soften.’
Properties to rent in ‘shortage hotspots’…
1. Three-bed semi-detached house, Isle of Wight, £895 per calendar month
This three-bedroom semi-detached house in Brading on the Isle of Wight is available for rent for £895