The Flanagan ancestral seat – the place where my father and his numerous brothers and sisters were born and raised until the whole family was moved east shortly after the second World War – is a dilapidated, roofless two-room croft house in a spectacularly beautiful location in Co Mayo.
From the coast road, you turn up a narrow boreen and keep going uphill, take a right along an increasingly rocky track until eventually the road runs out at the start of a mountain trail. From there it is a fairly challenging 40-minute hike with only sheep, heather, mountain streams and some of the best scenery in the world to keep you company.
I never like more than two years to pass without going back, usually taking my whole family with me. Once I pass into the west of Ireland – whether on business or pleasure from Limerick to Donegal – then it is a racing certainty that I will also be heading back to the ruins of the old house in Mayo.
Knowing my considerable infatuation with the place, not a few people have suggested that a restoration project is calling out to me: why not restore “Reeky Bog House” and turn it into a holiday home?
It is certainly something I have given some thought. But, even assuming I could buy the land, there are considerable practical problems – this is a place without electricity, gas or water supply. How you would even get building supplies and tradesmen out there slightly boggles the mind.
But that alone is not enough to put me off. The bigger question is: would I actually like to live for parts of the year in this place?
It is true that I find it exhilarating to make a bi-annual pilgrimage, but even if I could magically transform what looks like archaeological remains into a pleasant cottage, would I really like to spend weeks on end in a cottage in complete windswept isolation, a 40-minute hike from my nearest neighbour?
I realise it worked for George Orwell, when he retired to the remote Hebridean island of Jura in the last year of his life to concentrate on the writing of his masterpiece 1984. But for me, there seems something slightly terrifying and lonesome about returning to live on the site of the childhood poverty of my father.
The “Reeky Bog” is a place where my soul eternally runs free: no matter where I am in the world a part of me always belongs to this place. But to build a house there, to colonise it, would feel like imprisoning my soul itself.
I have lived and functioned the best part of my life in places I feel infinitely less passionate than I do about this special place in Mayo – but that is as it should be.
Your “spiritual home” is a joker that you keep concealed up your sleeve and lay down on the table only when the time is right. It is the place of mental retreat, the place of greatest importance, to be reconnected with when the spiritual batteries are running low.
I often wonder: if you move to your spiritual home, is your spirit likely to rebel and look for somewhere else to wander? And yet, even as I write this, a part of me is thinking that it is long-overdue for turning my spiritual home into a real-life home.
Damian Flanagan is a UK-based property developer and writer @DamianFlanagan