Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Lost World: Ghost estates

Ireland now has 621 ghost estates - housing estates of ten or more houses built since 2005 with at least 50% of the buildings empty.

Some of these estates were built, with terrible judgement, around tiny towns and villages around the countryside. The village of Killucan in county Westmeath has unfinished houses standing outside one estate: vertical chimney stacks sitting on a concrete base waiting for a fire that's unlikely to ever be lit.

It is an eerie phenomenon, but not unprecedented.

When I was growing up in county Mayo during the 1980s and early 90s I was surrounded by empty houses. Emigration had devastated the region; the young had fled to Dublin, London or Boston, leaving the old to gradually die out.

There was one entire village near my home which had been totally abandoned in the 1960s. By the time I came along, it was a haven of ivy and moss, with sycamores growing out of collapsed roofs and roads leading nowhere, dense with ferns. Today it still is abandoned, sheltered from the outside world by a thick conifer plantation.

It was full of small surprises. I noticed a deliberate gap running under one old road. This is what it looks like from inside.

On the same visit I found the skull of a wild animal.

One of the more recently abandoned houses had plaster on the walls and the rotting remains of a door.

On the inside it looked like this.

Tellingly, there was a rusting plough dumped on the ground outside.

A road...

The ruined architecture rose from the ground like something organic, swaddled in moss.

Stone lintels held up walls with no roof.

Last spring I went there when the bluebells were blooming. The village, lost to humans, was swamped in bluebells.

Sometimes wartorn regions with abandoned No Man's Lands become unexpected wildlife sanctuaries. What is bad for human population growth is often good for other species.

So perhaps these ghost estates will go the same way as those violent buffer zones, and of my neighbouring ghost village. Perhaps children in the future will play among the ivy-heavy ruins of Ireland's recent indulgences.


  1. Beautiful pictures, Shane. I think it's pleasing in a twisted way to know that if we remove humans from the equation, nature will go on pretty much as if nothing had happened...

  2. You read my mind again ;)

    While of course I'm bothered by the economic problems facing many people here now (including me), a wicked little part of me will enjoy watching nature reclaim these estates. Its infinite patience will do away with all of us in due course!

    I like the Shelley poem Ozymandias, a bit fitting here:

    'I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

  3. Hey Shane, phew, just got through your entire blog there. It's all good stuff. You make some very interesting points and communicate them well. Nice work, keep it up. Adam.

  4. Cheers Adam - the entire blog in one sitting?! Good man!


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