'Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?'
'Do you remember the good old days, before the ghost town? We danced and sang, and the music played in the boomtown."
From the outside, a large signpost tells passers-by that Coill Na Giúise, a few minutes walk from Gorey, Co Wexford, is an "exclusive development of three- and four-bedroom homes".
Underneath the sign, the front of the site is currently acting as a rubbish tip. Inside the gates, the situation is bleaker still. There are six completed houses which clearly lie abandoned, as every window in each of the six has been smashed. The foundations for more houses lie in separate parts of the site, surrounded in turn by stacks of timber, roof slates, and scaffolding. It was originally intended that a total of 65 units would create this country home haven.
Although there are no workers on the site, all the construction tools remain. Locals say it has been at least a year since any movement or construction has been spotted in Coill Na Giúise.
A look inside the completed homes shows that little more is needed than plastering and other small internal procedures, but unfortunately this ghost town has become home to vandals, who nightly run riot in the absence of any builders or owners.
The site office itself lies open for all to enter, a scene of destruction and scattered equipment, but the architectural plans are available for inspection on the tables and pinned to the walls.
Local resident James Grannell says the site has become an "eyesore" and a repellant for tourists and locals. "I'm not sure if it will ever take off again," he says. "Anyone taking the road from Gorey up towards the many local villages, where other owners are also looking to sell houses, sees this half-finished development that has been turned into a dump. Over the last while, people have taken to dumping their unused furniture and rubbish at the gates as it is actually beginning to resemble a dump.
"When the building had only begun, it was being talked up as this exclusive and extensive country estate. This was at a time of a huge building boom around this area, but the crash kicked in and one day the gates were closed and nothing has been done since."
Advertised as a "quality residential location," the project was initiated by local firm Twin Builders, which has since gone into administration. It was the subject of media reports last year when it was estimated its deficit was in the region of €5m with the collapse of the economic boom. Last September, the firm sought bankruptcy protection from its creditors after running out of cash. The collapse in the residential market saw a distinct departure for the finances of the firm, in that Twin Builders had held on to profits of €2.3m at the end of 2007.
Sherry Fitzgerald O'Leary Kinsella was the letting agents for these fashionable "top-of-the-range homes", but they now say there is "nothing happening on the site at present. The builders have run into difficulty and there are no updates as to whether this will change."
Gorey saw massive expansion in brighter financial times, and was once named as Ireland's fastest growing town. It boasts the biggest secondary school in Ireland, and saw a massive construction and development boom once it established itself as a popular commuter belt.
According to local estate agent Paul Doyle, the Coill Na Giúise development is one example of many houses which currently lie dormant in the Wexford area. "There are a lot of houses waiting to be sold, and though there is a trickle of uptake in those moving for necessity, there is without a doubt a backlog." Doyle believes that in an effort to sell these houses, many owners have slashed the prices by up to 40%. "The asking price nowadays shows a reduction in cost of between 25% and 35%. However, when it comes to the sale, the true figure will stand at 40%."
Doyle also says that a lack of financial assistance from the banks is keeping these properties stagnant. "I have been dealing with one customer who was previously approved for a €650,000 loan. Now, all he can secure is €370,000. The aid is not there for buyers and it means a lot of empty and unused properties remain. We are hoping that over the next few months assistance will become available again and that maybe we can kickstart the market and get these houses occupied."
He points towards the "clusters of holiday homes which would have only one set of occupants amid an array of dozens of empty houses around them. Rather than large completely empty ghost towns, we would be seeing a very minute amount of families living among these empty houses."
Ballywilliam in Gorey is an example of what Doyle means. In one house in a gated development of six brand new properties lives the Hughes family. The other five are empty. The Hugheses bought into the area, which is tranquil and close to the sea, but soon after moving in among the surrounding empty houses they decided it might be time to leave. However, they could not sell their house and are now forced to live in an area that is so quiet it could be deemed eerie.
"The developer can not sell the houses," said Jennifer Hughes. "He is asking for too high a price and so they lie empty. If people think they can do better elsewhere they will not bother."
"It is very quiet around here without a doubt, and we're not sure if these houses will be filled out in the short-term but for the moment we are just going to sit tight, although really we are unsure whether these empty houses will be filled in the short term."
The current asking price for the large homes is in the region of €600,000.
For the moment, the estate agents, locals and sporadic residents will have to wait out the residential crisis and hope that soon enough the ghost towns of the south-east of Ireland will be once again filled with families and neighbours.