Each summer, I spend at least a few weeks in Ireland.
I meet friends and family, enjoy endless summer evenings, and play as much golf as I can.
On a sunny day, Ireland is a remarkable place to be. The countryside explodes with lush hillsides of heather and gorse. The Atlantic turns a brilliant aquatic blue. And a magical glow envelopes the barren mountains and rugged islands.
On past visits, many of my excursions inevitably turned into unofficial scouting trips. For a time, in the post financial crisis era, there was incredible value to be found.
For instance, I’ve recommended opportunities in the scenic town of Kenmare and on the Ring of Beara in Ireland’s southwest. In 2013 I recommended a two-bedroom condo in Kenmare for €50,000 ($65,968 at the time).
Those days are long gone however. Prices have been rising steadily in Ireland for years, but since the pandemic we’ve seen prices boom to new levels.
On my last visit, even the most remote outposts had seen prices of vacation homes increase in value by 50%, and as much as 90% in some cases. There was scant inventory and buyers were thick on the ground.
Ireland is no longer a place where I see strong investment opportunity. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good place to own. If you’re looking for quiet seaside towns, a mild climate, and a stunning landscape, it’s an incredible place to live.
That’s why, even as prices skyrocket, my team and I continue to search for the best properties on offer.
My senior researcher, Margaret Summerfield, has been checking out some of the seaside towns on Ireland’s southern coast.
Below is her report from the town of Kinsale, one of the most beautiful towns in my home county of Cork. It’s a historic fishing port, sheltered by a harbor, with colorful streets, rugged cliffs, and some excellent tucked away beaches.
Read her report below…
A Female Pirate and the Bristol Giant
By Margaret Summerfield
What do a Spanish armada, a fierce female pirate, the Bristol Giant, and some of the wildest Arctic expeditions have in common?
The answer is the town of Kinsale. This small town is set on Ireland’s southern coast. It has a storybook past. In 1601, 28 Spanish ships landed in Kinsale. The plan was to link up with Irish rebel forces and defeat the English. The English forces were victorious, however.
The pirate is Anne Bonny. She’s one of the few female pirates recorded in history. She was born around 1700 in Kinsale. She took part in active combat in the Caribbean and was named in a “Wanted Pirates” circular. Not bad in an era when women were expected to stay home and act demurely.
The “Bristol” giant is Patrick Cotter O’Brien, who stood at least eight feet tall. Born in Kinsale in 1760, he toured as a sideshow act in England. When he died in 1806, he left £3,000, along with instructions to bury his body in a lead coffin in solid rock. He didn’t want anyone digging his body up for medical research.
The Arctic expedition connection is through two Kinsale brothers, Mortimer and Tim McCarthy. Mortimer was a crew member aboard the Terra Nova during Captain Scott’s ill-fated attempt on the South Pole in 1912-1913. He was awarded a British Polar Medal by King George V. Tim sailed on the Endurance, Ernest Shackleton’s famous Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916. For his efforts, Tim also got a Polar Medal.
It’s clear that Kinsale’s past is rooted in the sea, travel, and adventure. Kinsale today is quaint, picturesque, and chic. It attracts well-heeled visitors from Dublin, from Cork, and farther afield. Wrapped around water, with steep hills climbing up from the waterfront, it’s a maze of delights.
In town, there are some lovely historic buildings. These include a tower house dating to 1500.
The town’s museum was built as a courthouse in 1600. Head out from town, along the Scilly Walk, and you’ll see James’ Fort, before reaching the star-shaped Charles Fort just on the edge of Summercove.
Kinsale is clearly targeted at upmarket visitors. Shop windows entice with hand-made scarves, recycled leather bags, artwork and scented candles. There are bookshops and gift shops, ice cream parlors and cafés.
The hotels are small and boutique. The marina brings in sailors. The top-notch restaurants (four feature in the Michelin Guide, and one boasts a Michelin star) bring in foodies. Stalls in the weekly market offer fresh fish, farmhouse cheeses, jams, and chutneys. There’s a focus on artisan and local products, quality over quantity.
The town normally has a calendar of events. It hosts food, jazz, literary and art festivals. It’s easy to see why so many people visit. And, why so many own a second home in Kinsale. It’s a spot that people enjoy returning to again and again for some rest and relaxation.
It’s not a budget market. Irish colleagues joked about my expensive tastes when I mentioned I was in Kinsale. Surprisingly, you can find homes on the lower end of the price range for this part of the world. But they’re still not bargains. Let’s look at some listings on the market as I write.
Right in the middle of town, in the heart of the action, is a small two-bed, one-bath apartment. It’s only 430 square feet. But it’s newly modernized and has its own private entrance. The asking price is €195,000.
In the same complex I’m renting in, a two-bed, two-bath apartment. This complex is directly opposite the yacht club, and a short stroll into town. I’m in a one-bed that’s had a total makeover and is rather nice. But the two-bed is tired and needs a little work to freshen it up. It’s just under 775 square feet. It’s listed at €205,000.
There’s also a two-bed cottage on the edge of town. It’s described as “bijou” (meaning small but elegant) as it’s only 915 square feet. But its upside-down layout, with the living space upstairs, takes advantage of big sea views. The interior’s not to everyone’s taste—there’s a lot of wood, on ceilings as well as floors—but it’s in good condition. It’s priced at €295,000.
Listed at €895,000 is an attractive historic home with four bedrooms and five bathrooms. It’s spacious, with more than 2,700 square feet. It boasts a formal dining room, a large kitchen and a study/home office. Right in the town center, it has easy access to everything. It’s move-in ready, totally restored with modern conveniences like audio and network wiring throughout.
At the top end of the market there are homes running from €1 million to €6 million. One that caught my eye is outside town, in six acres of land. Its waterside setting means a private slip for launching boats. The house has six bedrooms and three bathrooms in almost 3,000 square feet. It’s on the market at €995,000.
Is that good value? That depends on your viewpoint. Kinsale is a pricey town. It’s a playground for the discreetly wealthy. It attracts well-heeled buyers with fat bank accounts from Europe and the U.S., as well as Ireland. They’re happy to splash out a million or more on a home in this tiny town, with its picturesque views, fine dining and art galleries, and access to sailing, golf, coastal walks and fishing. It’s a very tempting lifestyle choice.
Long term, you’ll likely see capital gains and good rental income (in the peak summer months). But if you’re looking for a pure investment, there are better options—place where Kinsale’s bijou-cottage budget will bag a luxe condo with bigger upside potential, faster appreciation and stronger returns.