By John Spain Books Editor
A major study of the impact of the Celtic Tiger property boom on the Irish landscape has slammed the damage done to the countryside, to rural towns, and to people who have to endure long commutes.
In a devastating critique, a new edition of ‘The Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape’ ridicules the “muck mansions” built in the countryside by people who made money in the boom.
It also exposes the disastrous policies which have left many people marooned in unfinished estates and unable to sell because of negative equity.
Published by Cork University Press and written by leading academics, the illustrated large format book includes sections on landscape, archaeology, settlement patterns, houses, villages, towns, and cities.
But it is a chapter on the Celtic Tiger era that provides a scathing analysis of the property boom and its aftermath.
It says that the damage done by the ‘McMansions’ or ‘Muck Mansions’ of the past decade is worse than the effect of the ‘bungalow bliss’ era in the 1970s.
“The nouveau-riche accoutrements and prominent siting of these ‘muck mansions’ is far more intrusive,” the book says.
“The mark left on the landscape by the Celtic Tiger society has been profound. A sense of lifestyle entitlement is reflected in the one-off ‘McMansion’ housing in rural areas, with SUVs on cobble-lock driveways, satellite dishes and decking that is seldom used but always seen.”
The McMansions are on a bigger scale, the book says, referring to “a conspicuous two-storey house faced in either red brick or stone, with protruding conservatory and a detached garage. Frequently sited in commanding locations, they dominate the landscape, reflecting their role as status symbol as well as home.”
The book is also scathing about the lower end of the boom which saw housing estates spread to rural towns up to a hundred miles from cities.
“A decade-long housing mania began in the mid-1990s and infected the whole country. During the bubble, an unusually high (by international norms) proportion of housing output was constructed outside cities.” This is linked to high car usage levels, the authors say.
“At an annual average of 25,000km per car, the Irish drive more than any other nation. The environmental impact is seen in the increasing proportion of Ireland’s energy consumption accounted for by the transport sector, rising from 28pc throughout the 1980s to 30pc in 1995 and reaching over 40pc of all energy consumption by 2006.”
The book also points to the negative effect of long-distance commuting.
“Community cohesion has been stunted by the daily travel patterns of dual-income households leaving early and returning late to dormitory suburbs. Many hanker after their childhood area, typically the older Dublin suburbs, and fail to put down roots.”
“The longer-term sustainability (social, economic, environmental) of such new estates remains dubious,” the book says.
The most severe criticism is reserved for the plague of ghost estates across the country and the system of tax breaks that drove development to areas where there was no real need for so much housing.
It also attacks the tax-driven system that spread holiday homes to coastal areas that are empty most of the year. The authors are also critical of the planning system that allowed the building of so many new housing estates in flood plains in or near towns.
The editors are: FHA Aalen, Emeritus Professor of Geography at Trinity College Dublin; Kevin Whelan, director of the Keough Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin; and Matthew Stout lecturer in the Department of History, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra.