How to buy a piece of the old sod: when a week’s golf vacation in Ireland seems like not nearly enough, there’s an obvious next step: move there
It’s safe to say that every golfer who visits Ireland, every Irish-American for sure, will dream of buying a piece of this misty green place, preferably around the corner from a links. Golf, Guinness and Irish music until you die. That’s the vision.
Well, Terence Mcsweeney, 56, did it. Not only did he buy the land, he bought a ruin of a Coast Guard station on the rugged West Coast town of Ballycastle, County Mayo, a few minutes from two of the nicer links, Enniscrone and Carne (Belmullet), and turned it into the Stella Maris Country house hotel (stellamarisireland.com). Stella Maris, which Mcsweeney operates with his wife, Frances Kelly, was named the Irish Golf tour operators’ association small hotel of the year 2006. Frances is a trained chef, a key to Stella Maris’ success. Terry’s duties apparently give him a bit of time for golf. “Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Carne,” he says. “Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday: Enniscrone.”
Mcsweeney fell for his piece of Ireland in 1992–about the time he was falling for Frances–bought the property a year later, put more than $1 million into it, and would probably get many times what he paid today. (The purchase included his onetime transfer tax of 9 percent; there is no other property tax in Ireland.) His hotel serves a clientele that is about 40 percent American, and about 40 percent come for golf. European visitors like the spot partly because green fees are about half of what they are in the more celebrated southwest of Ireland. Mcsweeney has a “stupendous” view of the Atlantic, and is about 15 minutes from Bartra Island, where Nick Faldo plans a new course.
The road to Brigadoon, er, Bunatrahir Bay, is not always as smooth as Mcsweeney’s. Whether building a business or fixing up an old farm as your “holiday house,” proceed soberly, say experts. Buying property, obtaining Irish residency or achieving citizenship is a process that takes patience, not unlike Irish golf. It will also take cash, Ireland not being the land of bargains it once was. “Ireland used to be very poor,” says Liz Hodgkinson, London-based author of the Complete Guide to Buying Property abroad. “Now, because of the euros being poured in, it’s a very rich and very desirable country.” average home price: $352,000, with anything in Dublin much dearer.
Buying property in Ireland is much like in the U.S., minus our efficient Multiple Listing Service. Retiring to Ireland, provided you show proof that you’ll not be a financial drag on Irish social services, is also not so complicated. But settling there to live and work prior to retirement? Much trickier.
“My impression is, it’s not very easy for Americans to settle there,” says Hodgkinson. “If you want to stay beyond the 90-day visa, there has to be a good reason.”
A work permit, usually acquired through your employer, requires you to offer skills an Irish citizen cannot. Starting a business, as Mcsweeney did, helps. After two years’ residence you’ll be eligible for Ireland’s national health insurance; prior to that, you’ll need your own, according to Adrian Bourke, a prominent Irish attorney.
The Mcsweeneys’ new life is “not without its hiccups,” including a 17-mile ride to the nearest bank, but it’s more than worth it. “It was an opportunity for Frances to operate her own facility, which she’s doing very, very well,” says Mcsweeney, who spends seven months a year in Florida consulting with his former employer, the PGA of America. “It has allowed me to experience a different world, culturally and professionally. I belong to two world-class clubs. I have a beautiful home and fall asleep and awaken to the sounds of the Atlantic at my front door.”
Another American transplant is tom Broderidge, 59, a former Florida outdoors columnist. He and his wife, Sharon, moved to County Clare, not far from Doonbeg Golf Club, in 2004. Broderidge, who writes fiction and caddies part-time, applied for post-nuptial citizenship, then easier for the spouses of Irish citizens. He’s glad he made the move. “Life is really just a series of moments,” he muses Gaelicly. “Each of the moments we’ve spent in Ireland has been absolutely wonderful.”
BEING THERE: TOP TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOVE
There are loads of books and websites devoted to moving abroad and specifically to moving to Ireland. Liz Hodgkinson’s the Complete Guide to Buying Property abroad is very good, as is Buying a property: Ireland, by Cathy Gerrard and Joseph Mcardle. One of the best by an American is an e-book available through escapeartist.com, a survivor’s Guide to living in Ireland, by tom Richards, who moved to Ireland with his Irish wife, Bernadette, 25 years ago. His book covers the legal and financial questions, as well as the social and psychological aspects. start by learning a bit about the real Ireland, says Richards: “Most Americans, even if they make a blood claim to Irish ancestry, seem to possess no sense of Irish history whatsoever.” Get beyond the travel brochures and the Clancy Brothers, he says. Other expert tips:
1. see the country, not just its golf courses. Make several trips, and stay in different areas. Weather a winter. “It’s nice to be romantic,” says Mary Deady of the Irish Consulate in New York, “but one has to take all the practical things into account.”
2. Rent before you buy. Don’t rush, say experts like Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of International living, who moved her business and her family to Ireland. Rent, and use your rental as a base to find the right property. Be honest. Is it really for you? International living (internationalliving.com.expat_matters) offers an online quiz to help you decide.
3. Be as cautious as you would in the U.s. locate a real-estate agent–they’re called auctioneers–and remember that they work for the seller. Don’t expect bargains. hire a lawyer (solicitor) to be sure the deed is clear, and find a scrupulous engineer to inspect the place. Be prepared to oversee construction just as you would at home.
4. If you plan on working in Ireland, study the job market. Medical professionals, architects, certain kinds of engineers, some bankers, financial professionals and computer technicians are in high demand. There are special considerations for writers and artists, but you must show some past success–your hope of writing the Great Irish-American Novel will not suffice. Establishing a business that creates jobs is another way, says Richards. Regardless, you’ll need to network like crazy.
5. Americans now have three ways to earn citizenship. For those with a parent born in Ireland, citizenship is automatic; for those with at least one Irish grandparent, citizenship may be applied for through foreign-birth registration; an American resident in Ireland may seek naturalization if he/she has lived there for the entire year preceding application and for at least four of the eight years prior.
6. Don’t forget those taxes. A great education system and a comprehensive national health-care system aren’t free. You’ll be taxed in Ireland (though the U.S. and Ireland have a dual-tax agreement allowing taxes paid in one place to be used as a credit in the other). This tax includes inheritance. “We’re a very greedy little country when it comes to taxes,” says solicitor Adrian Bourke, “which is in part why we’ve been so successful.”
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