By Ciaran McCarthy
Photographs by David Lenehan
The real face of the property bust, and the current impoverishment of the nation, is staring Sligo people in the face, especially the good citizens of Ballisodare, Co Sligo. This small town, immortalised forever as the place where William Butler Yeats is said to have sat by the banks of the fast flowing river to pen The Sally Gardens
which lives on in eternal verse and song.
The plans for the development of this Sligo town, had they come to fruition, would have seen Ballisodare challenge the best of Ireland's towns for ideal living and business progression.
However with the dying gasps of the Celtic Tiger and the death of the property market, the plans for this Sligo town collapsed and were 'shelved', perhaps for generations, as prime buildings comprising of apartments, shops, town houses, state-of-the-art recreational facilities were fenced off and boarded up.
The developer behind Avena Developments, who built Avena Leisure in the centre of Ballisodare, comprising of a ultra-luxurious complex featuring modern gymnasium, saunas and a swimming pool worthy of a five star hotel was one of the casualties of the crash. Their plans to continue stalled with the property crash leaving the owners of the development company last year facing the wrath of the ACC Bank in their pursuit of a 47 million judgement. See Here
One of the primary landmark decisions in progressing Ballisodare's future progress was the demolition of the flour mill to make way for a spectacular apartment block that promised the best standards for its intending residents.
The imposing facade of The Mill apartment block as seen from the road. Photo:David Lenehan
Built and developed by Michael Fitzgerald Construction of Raheen and designed by Sligo architect Vincent Hannon, the Mill was trumpeted as a stylish scheme of 74 apartments laid out in five blocks varying in height from two to five storeys with prices starting at 320,000.
The selling agents at ERA Oates Breheny said that they expected strong interest in this scheme, owing to close proximity to Sligo, a busy town with third-level college, banks, businesses, shops, restaurants and other amenities. All was rosy in the Sally garden.
The promotional material read, 'Set on the river, apartment blocks have been laid out to ensure most units have views of the water. The three larger blocks form a central courtyard, and one of the blocks has a roof garden. And while apartments are bright and modern in design, traditional materials such as natural stone have been used in the finish.'
Not so now. From the road the block just looks empty however inside and at the rear, the story is much different. See the photographs and descriptions of David Lenehan
on Friday last inside this once proud development.
"Look out your window and bathe in the breathtaking beauty of the Ballisodare River. With its abundant supply of wild salmon and bubbling rapids it's a magnet for anglers ... relax over dinner and let your thoughts drift with the current of the river." - from the brochure
"All of these apartments have generous living areas and cleverly laid out kitchens ... Whatever shape or style of apartment you'd like, you'll find it at the Mill." - from the brochure
"They say God is in the detail and here attention to detail is second to none...at the Mill quality is everywhere you look. And that quality is protected by a 10-year home bond guarantee."
- from the brochure
"all the living areas face out into the lovingly landscaped courtyard. Here children can play safely and always within view or you could just put your feet up in the sun and enjoy a good book."
- from the brochure
"Walk inside any of the apartments at the Mill and you'll start to notice things. There are ash veneered doors, a fully fitted kitchen with granite worktop and first class tiling throughout the
kitchens and bathrooms. Bathrooms have semi recessed sinks and all bedrooms
come with built in wardrobes." - from the brochure
"All apartments at The Mill come with the latest in high tech spec. Intercom systems come as standard. What's more, broadband internet and cabling for state of the art entertainment
systems has been fitted throughout." - from the brochure
"If home is what you make it, then you couldn't make it better than this. Whether you're buying your first home, planning to invest, looking for a holiday home or simply looking for a taste of the good life, at the Mill you'll be rewarded with a property that simply has it all." - from the brochure
"Often the problem with apartment living can be storage space. Having space for stuff
shouldn't be a luxury and at the Mill it isn't." - from the brochure
"Every inch of the Mill has been architecturally designed to maximise, light, space and style ...
The Mill's brave design sets a new standard in apartment living." - from the brochure
"And with the warm glow of Goldshield electric heating always on, these apartments
are energy efficient too!" - from the brochure
Who is now responsible for this now abandoned development? Why is it not secured? Why are there no 'Keep Out', 'Private Property' or No Trespassers' signage. David Lenehan
simply walked from the main road and through the front door. Websites regarding the development have been suspended.
He told SligoToday.ie
, "There are no warning signs telling you not to enter, I did not have to jump any gates or wall to get in. I simply walked from the main road down and in the front door.
"It is like a scene from the apocalyptic movie 28 Days Later
inside. Windows are smashed, partition walls are kicked in, the large dark empty car park has had all of its wiring and cables stripped. There are screws all over the floor from all of the doors and fittings that have been removed. Copper water tanks have been long ripped out of each apartment.
He continued, "Its a shame that this place was built in place of the old mill which stood for over a century, but its a tragedy that it was not maintained and used to house someone. It must have cost between 5m and 10m to build and now its worth nothing. Water and electricity are cut off and the only sounds are the dying batteries in the smoke alarms.
"Remember that this development was pretty much finished and ready for tenants in 2006." concluded Mr Lenehan.
This is now the reality of life in Ireland now. This is just one small development, in one small town, in one county. How many more Mills are there? How many more Ballisodares are there? Who cares?
This is the challenge the new government must now face up to. Hard decisions have to be made. Many believe a referendum must take place to decide if the nation will default on its debt to ensure the future of the next two generations. Decisions have to made in light of new information which proved, beyond all doubt, that the banks lied to the government and to the people to secure their guarantees and billions of taxpayers euros.
Perhaps the next time visiting politicians and ministers, or the Taoiseach, come to Sligo they should not be shown around the City highlights and feted in grandiose style. They should be taken to Ballisodare, to the Mill apartments, to the fenced off and boarded up town houses and shops and shown what the reality of life in 21st Century Ireland is right now.
Perhaps our newly elected Sligo/Nth Leitrim politicians from all parties, government and opposition, TDs and Senators and county councillors, should ensure that all the Ballisodares in Sligo are brought to the fore, highlighted and not hidden like some errant or embarrassing relative.
While people are lingering for years on the council's housing waiting lists, properties like the Mill are lying idle, being vandalised, a haunt for drinking parties or worse. While the primary culprits for the nation's ills, the banks, are repossessing houses, leaving hard-pressed families searching frantically for accommodation, places like the Mill stand mournfully by. Why?
The Mill at Ballisodare epitomises the stupidity of the Celtic Tiger. A property boom built on sand. Lets hope it does not stand, for generations, as a decaying, crumbling monument and testament to the greed and reckless lending by the banks coupled with the ignorance of self-serving politicians.
The investigation continues.....Note: There are several spellings for Ballisodare / Ballysadare / Ballisadare as there is for the Sally / Salley Gardens