Pretty vacant: Empty houses in Blacklion Co Cavan

Census figures reveal that the Cavan town is the least occupied municipality in Ireland

It's Thursday evening, on the day the latest cohort of census data has been released, about housing in Ireland.

At Blacklion in Co Cavan, there isn't a tourist bed to be had for the night, such is the popularity of the town's anchor establishment, Neven Maguire's House and Restaurant. He's booked out, and so is the Olive Grove B&B next door, and the Customs House Country Inn, on the other side of the bridge from Blacklion, at Belcoo.

However, the data released this week revealed that, when it comes to residential property, on census night last year Blacklion had the highest percentage of vacant dwellings in the State, at 46.4 per cent.

"I'm not surprised," says Roy Street, owner of the Olive Grove Restaurant and B&B. "So much building went on during the boom, because people thought there was going to be an explosion of jobs in Sligo and Enniskillen. But that didn't happen. The houses were built, but they didn't sell."


Evidence of vacant houses and apartments is clear on the town’s main street, whose population was 229 in the 2011 census figures, and estimated to be 194 for 2016. Some are boarded up, or have For Sale signs on them. One apartment block has 16 bells, indicating 16 separate units; many of which appear empty. Two vacant houses on the corner have planning applications for two-storey extensions pasted on their windows. The applications are dated March 2013. The extensions were never built.

Sealed letter boxes

The town’s largest and most recent residential development is An Bonnan Bui Way. There are some nine units at the left of the entrance to the housing estate, all of which appear to be vacant. The ground-floor units were clearly intended to be businesses and above them are apartments.

The paint is blistered on the wooden fascia, letterboxes are sealed up, and on the concrete floor inside one of the empty units is auctioneer Noel Keegan’s original sign. “An Bonnan Bui Way. New development of houses, apartments and shop units. Viewing by appointment.”

There are some 30 houses in the development, and several of those in a row at the farthest side from the entrance appear unfinished. Bags of concrete are on floors inside, the French windows in one are broken, and another has a wheelbarrow inside full of masonry. Front gardens are overgrown.

Joe O’Donoghue lives in one of the houses in this development. “There were only five people living on this estate seven years ago,” he says. “The estate was never finished, and I don’t think it ever will be.”

The Property Price Register shows that 17 of the Bonnan Bui Way properties sold in three lots in October 2015. Nos 23, 26, 27, 28 and 29 sold in one lot for €195,000. In November of last year, both Nos 23 and 29 were sold again for €73,775 each, although they currently remain unoccupied.

Gabriel Gilmartin is one of the customers in the Dug Out bar. He's not surprised by the census figures. 'There's a lot of greedy people who bought up land during the boom. Then they went bust."

Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim

At Keshcarrigan in Co Leitrim, the picturesque town is located between the Shannon-Erne waterway and a large lake. The town came in with the second-highest percentage of vacant residential dwellings in the State, at 45.6 per cent.

It also has a cordoned-off, half-built housing estate; houses which were abandoned at breeze-block stage a decade ago. Like Blacklion, Keshcarrigan no longer has a post office or a local shop. Its former Garda barracks is currently for sale.

Its population is estimated to have risen to 160 in 2016, from 110.

Julian Craggs bought his three-bedroomed house in the housing estate of Lake View two years ago, for €61,000. At the time he bought, he was one of only two families living in the unfinished development, which had run into financial difficulties. There's a row of terraced houses to the front of the development, which he says were built as phase One. Phase two, where his house is, has 16 houses.

“There was supposed to be lighting in the development, and maintenance of the amenity area near the lake, but that did not happen,” he says. He estimates about half the houses in the estate are vacant. Several were previously bought by one individual, and then sold on.

He points to three houses opposite him. “Those three have all been bought recently by the same person. I’ve heard the plan is they’ll be finished and rented out either long-term or as holiday houses for €700 a month. There’s only two houses now on the estate that we’re not sure when they’ll be finished.”

“I’m surprised to hear those census figures, because this estate has been full pretty much all the time we’ve been here,” says Joyce Tiernan, who has been renting a house in the An Gairdin estate for two years. She and her husband David are in the process of moving, because their house is for sale.

Kieran McKeon, who is the owner of McKeon’s bar on the main street, built the An Gairdin estate some 10 years ago.

Constant change

"I think a lot has moved on and changed here since the census was taken last year," he says. "A lot of people have moved into the town in the last year. I've noticed that even since Christmas, the bar has been a lot busier. People are commuting to Carrick or Longford or Sligo. It's cheaper to live here."

Holiday houses were specifically excluded from the vacant dwellings data released this week. A spokesperson for the Central Statistics Office explained that census enumerators categorise holiday houses based “on conversations with neighbours or locals”.

The CSO will not be releasing more information on vacant dwellings until later in the year. Those figures will break down the data on vacant dwellings by type, ie, whether houses or apartments, and by exact numbers rather than percentages.