What’s rare about Kildare?
The beauty of Kildare is that huge swathes of the countryside are just verdant grassland, yet it has all the advantages of being near to Dublin
Thomas Berney of Berney Bros Saddlery & Riding Wear Kilcullen Co Kildare. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The by-pass has brought life back to Leixlip Village. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Listen to those radio ads for Kildare Village outlet centre, in which all roads lead to exit 13 off the M7, and you could be forgiven for thinking Kildare is the epicentre of Ireland. While obviously exaggerated, there is some truth to it, as rail and the upgraded motorway links make the county that rare thing: a happy marriage between commuter belt, and rural beauty, though it has had its share of ghost estates.
More than 100 years ago, people started to see how horses born and reared on the particularly lime-rich land had stronger bones and could therefore run faster. The world’s leading owners and trainers took note, and now have their bases in the county, keeping huge swathes of land under grass. Add to that the people who come from all over the world to Goffs, Punchestown, the Curragh, Newbridge and Naas to buy and sell racehorses, and to watch them run, and you have a uniquely exciting atmosphere.
Alongside all the horses and the shopping, Kildare also has an active cultural life. NUI Maynooth is a centre, and Paddy Jordan, of Jordan’s Auctioneers, notes that the county is more or less divided into two halves, when it comes to property, and property prices. “The beauty of living in Kildare,” he says, “is that the infrastructure and amenities are so good.” Jordan lives in the Curragh, near the racecourse. “I can get to the airport in 45 minutes, off peak, or to the city centre.”
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You could draw a line running from Kilcock to Maynooth to Naas to Newbridge, and find property prices strong in the north of the county, with a particularly good market for first-time buyers with two incomes, as they can now afford detached homes, instead of the three-bedroom semis that were once a staple of this market level. Farther south, and down to Athy, the market is softer and prices lower. Jordan says the delay in upgrading Osberstown wastewater treatment plant means that new developments have not been greenlighted in recent years, so there is a relative shortage of supply in north Kildare.
Meanwhile, at a different scale, and for anyone wanting to have space to indulge a horsey passion, REA Brophy Farrell has two properties of particular interest. With a guide price of €650,000, Gilltown, is a 42-acre farm near Kilcullen, located opposite the renowned Gilltown Stud, which is owned by the Aga Khan, and which was visited by Queen Elizabeth II, when she came to Ireland. Alternatively, and also with Brophy Farrell, Eagle Lodge in Kilcullen (guide €320,000) is a three-bedroom bungalow, with 11 stables, and outbuildings, on seven acres, laid out in stud railed paddocks, with a cross country course, and an all-weather sand arena.
Brophy Farrell’s Brian Farrell highlights other of Kildare’s sporting amenities and clubs, covering rugby and GAA, with golf courses at Carton House and the K Club, plus more at The Curragh, Kilkea Castle and Highfield. After that, he recommends the Hanged Man’s in Milltown, the Pepper Tree in Naas and The Elms, Punchestown for your post-sport meal.
Prices in Kildare have come down and private treaty sales still predominate. Given its dual nature as a commuter county, and a rural, horse riding and racing centre, housing stock and prices are also divided. Will Coonan of REA Coonan notes small increases in prices in properties that are 15 to 20 miles from the Dublin area, particularly near the motorways and rail stations. New development prices are picking up too, and in the Dublin radius, €175-€225 per sq ft is being achieved in most, he says. “The first six months of this year have been the most active year in terms of transactions since the downturn in the property market, with a noticeable increase in viewing activity by prospective buyers, and the follow-on of an increase in sales finalised,” says Coonan.
The county is rich in history, and heritage. There are the Japanese Gardens, alongside the National Stud, and by-passes have brought village life back to spots such as Leixlip. The Liffey runs through the county too, and Ireland’s finest Palladian mansion, Castletown House is here, its land running down to the river banks. Now run by the OPW, Castletown hosts exhibitions and concerts, while across country, its sister house, Carton House is a spa hotel and golf centre in Maynooth. Maybe those radio ads aren’t so far off the mark after all.
My Kildare: Thomas Berney, Berney Bros Saddlery
Berney Bros was established in 1880 in Kilcullen, Co Kildare and Thomas Berney is one of the fifth generation of the family, who are master saddlers. The business is famous around the world and their saddles and bridles are still handmade there.
“I love Kildare. Firstly, it’s about the horses. Eighty percent of farms here are horse farms, and 90 percent of farms will have a horse or two on them. It’s so much part of our culture here. You go shopping in the supermarket, and you’ll pass a fellow in boots and jodhpurs, and you don’t even give them a second glance.
“The land in Kildare is particularly rich in lime, which is needed to produce calcium, so the horses bred and reared here have strong bones. It’s also the ideal climate, and the land is very fertile – that’s why the National Stud is here. Drive across the Curragh, and you may see two hundred horses on the gallops. Some people stand on the shore to see the sea, and it lifts the heart. I get that from the Curragh.
“Kildare is also a very sporting county. I live in Athgarvan, which is about half way between Kilcullen and Newbridge. You follow the Liffey, another great attraction for swimming, walking and fishing, downstream.
“ Kilcullen is one of the best places in Ireland to eat and drink. We’re peppered with good restaurants and bars.
“It’s also great for kids, because all the towns still have that village atmosphere. I think that people take Kildare for granted, until they go away and come back again. They forget how extraordinary it is.”