Co Kildare, where the living is easy - and it's a quick commute to the capital


Co Kildare has the Curragh, the K Club, loads of shopping centres, Punchestown and Oxegen festivals – and good transport to Dublin, writes SANDRA O'CONNELL

HALF THE country seemed to descend on Kildare for the Punchestown Festival last week. The other half will back for Oxegen in July. But what’s it like to live there? “There’s a great buzz about the place,” says Galwegian Bob Quinn, who lives in Sallins and has an office in Naas.

It’s also got the two most important factors people relocating to be near a job in Dublin look for: “Transport networks and amenities.” That’s according to Liam Hardagen of Jordan Town and Country, an estate agency in Newbridge.

“For people moving from Dublin but still working there, it’s a huge seller to be able to get in on the Arrow rail service in 40 minutes. With the Luas at Heuston Station, from there you can be at the IFSC in minutes. Or, if you work on the south or west side of the city, the M7 makes taking the car easy.”

As for amenities, open spaces don’t come much more open than the Curragh, he points out. “We’ve got 3,500 acres here and every day you can see people out enjoying it, walking, running, flying kites. It’s a wonderful amenity for the people of the area,” he says.

Golfers are well served too, with well known clubs including the K Club, Curragh and Craddockstown, while, in terms of days out, one of the country’s top tourist attractions takes pride of place in the county.

The National Stud is actually three days out in one, comprising as it does not just a museum and shrine to all things equestrian but the Japanese Gardens and the more recent addition of St Fiachra’s Gardens too.

Of course, what the county is most famous for is its position as the HQ of horseracing in Ireland, with three of the country’s top racecourses – Punchestown, Naas and the Curragh – all within 20 minutes of each other.

In terms of property in the county, there are ghost estates. One local newspaper estimates that one of every four homes in Kildare was, in October last, in a “ghost” estate and reckons there are 88 ghost estates in the county.

The only positive is that there might well have been more. “A number of developments received permissions in Kildare but were then held up because of the need to upgrade the Oberstown wastewater treatment plant in the mid-2000s. By the time that was done, the market had turned and so a lot of that scheduled building didn’t happen,” says Hardagen.

He estimates residential property prices in the county have fallen by between 40 per cent and 60 per cent, depending on the property in question, with apartments hit hardest. Rents have fallen by 20 per cent since the peak, he reckons.

On the upside, farmers are once again able to get their hands on all that prime Kildare land. Agricultural land prices have fallen from between €20,000 and €25,000 an acre to around €11,000. “During the development boom, farmers were priced out of the market. They’re now the ones buying,” says Hardagen.

The county saw massive commercial development during the boom too, including the building of the Whitewater centre in Newbridge and Kildare Village outlet shopping in Kildare Town.

The county also has the distinction of having the country’s largest Tesco, recently opened in Naas.

“Shoppers here are now very well served,” says Hardagen, who believes there are some positive straws on the wind.

For a start, the county’s vendors have become more realistic, which makes his job easier. “It is human nature to know that prices have fallen by 50 per cent but to still hope yours will be the exception. But vendors are being more realistic now.”

What’s more, first-time buyers are active. “First-time buyers are coming into the market now because they are conscious that mortgage interest relief will be going at the end of the year. The 1 per cent stamp duty is proving an additional incentive to buy,” he says.

The great appeal about Kildare towns such as Naas is that, unlike other towns within striking distance of the capital, they have retained their own character.

“So many places in the hinterland of Dublin become almost like suburbs – but Naas managed to retain a very strong identity during the boom. It has a nice town centre and is a very self sufficient town. You don’t need to leave to shop,” says Ian Smyth of Gunne.

“Many of the people I sold to during the boom came down for starter homes because they are cheaper than in Dublin but now, when they come to trade up at a time when it has never been more affordable to move back to Dublin, they choose to stay here instead. That says a lot about the quality of life here.”

It is good place to raise kids, he believes. “As a Dub from Terenure, I moved here myself in 1996 and now have two children, aged two and five,” he says.

“The schools are good, and, thanks to two new primary schools, including a Gaelscoil, massive pressure has been taken off the waiting lists.”

Kildare is not, of course, immune to the downturn. “Like everywhere, people are feeling the pinch. One of the main problems we have in Naas now is that we had a major shopping centre under development, Naas Town Centre, which has gone into Nama and ground to a halt. It is standing empty with two cranes over it and no one knows what is going to happen,” he says.

Given its location right in the middle of town, he believes it would have been a major boon to the local retailers rather than a draw away from the town centre.

As things stand, retail units in the town are changing hands at an uncomfortably speedy rate and many retailers remain wary of the effect the new Tesco will have on them.

“The town is fighting back, with initiatives such as a Christmas market and now a new International market planned. We also have nice cafes and restaurants, which help keep people shopping locally,” he says.

Working locally matters too, and according to Allan Shine, chief executive of North Kildare Chamber of Commerce, the indigenous small businesses in his region are ploughing ahead on the export front.

“Exports are huge in north Kildare. We provide the Certificates of Origin for companies exporting and we have seen a massive increase in those, which is a good sign,” he says.

The area is home to a number of major multinational employers too, including Intel and HP, plus the NUI college at Maynooth. Born and bred in Clane, Co Kildare, Shine is perhaps an unsurprising advocate of living there.

“We have seen enormous development in recent years but we still have a very rural feel. Go half a mile out in any direction and you are in the countryside,” says Shine.

He, too, would like to see the new shopping centre in Naas progressed. “It would have been a huge boost to the town. Even the car park alone would help,” he says.

But good things are still happening. “In the last three months we have only had shops opening in the town. It’s a very affluent area and what we need more than anything is to get people to spend their money here rather than in Dundrum, Blanchardstown or Tallaght, all of which are a short drive along the motorway. Getting people to shop local is the key.”

From D7 to Sallins - no regrets

BOB QUINN, from Tuam in Co Galway, went to college in Dublin and stayed there ever since, living first in Kilmainham, then in trendy Stoneybatter. Three years ago, he moved to Sallins in Kildare.

“At the time I was starting my own business,, and wanted to be able to work from home but the property my fiancee and I were in was too small,” he says.

They had an open mind about where to move. “We looked everywhere from Wicklow to Louth. The key considerations for us were space, affordability and access by train to Dublin, because my fiancee works in Dublin 2. Prior to that, I had never even been in Sallins.”

He was delighted by what he found. “It’s a lovely village, with the canal as its focal point,” says Quinn. What’s more, it is great value.

“We now have a three-bedroom apartment for €150 less than we were paying for our one-bedroom unit in Stoneybatter.”

Indeed, such is the value in Kildare that he decided to take an office in Naas too.

“For a 12-month lease you can get a three-month rent-free period and there’s always loads going on in the town so it’s a great place to work from,” he says.