(IRISH INDEPENDENT, July 3rd, 2015)
You have a dream. Getting away from it all – but not too far – and living life at your own pace. Nothing too fanciful … maybe running your own popular seaside hotel, meeting and greeting day-trippers and old friends alike.
The sailing boats bobbing in the harbour as you gaze out your early-morning window, the plaintive seagulls circling over cafes, ice-cream parlours and amusement arcades, and the echoing old boardwalk sloping down to sandy beaches already laden with towels and echoing to the laughter of happy children and relaxed parents.
Well, if this is one of your favourite reveries, like one of those Lotto Millions adds, it might actually be more realisable than you thought. On the market right now, in the sunny south east, in north Wexford, is a landmark building and fixture in the life of the busy seaside resort of Courtown, in Co Wexford.
Donal and Margaret O’Gorman, long-time proprietors of the three-star, 13-bedroomed (12 en suite) Harbour House, right on Courtown Harbour and only two minutes from the town’s Blue Flag beach, are ready to sell up. For €525,000, or thereabouts.
It’s not that they don’t love the lovingly-maintained old house, which featured on the RTE TV series At Your Service with the Brennan brothers in 2010, and which has been in Donal’s family for 50 years, and all the good fortune they feel it has brought them, it’s just they reckon it’s time to concentrate on other things.
“Neither of our sons are interested in taking it on, so we just thought, it’s been good to us, and we love it here, but in five years’ time we’ll be in exactly the same position, so why not go now?” says Donal. “I buried another friend there recently … you say to yourself, sure you could work forever.”
Donal reckons the whole thing represents a great business opportunity, as it also contains a mobile home park at the rear which supplements the income from the hotel nicely.
Harbour House was built in the 1850s by Thomas Stopford, the fifth Earl of Courtown, as part of the Tory family’s Courtown Estate.
The name “Courtown”, in Irish, Baile na Cúirte,or “town of the court”, dates back to the 13th century, when reference was made to “Cortoon”. Courtown was the Stopford’s family seat in the British House of Commons in the 18th and 19th centuries. The fifth earl also built Courtown Harbour in the 1840s as a response to the Great Famine.
The harbour is currently undergoing a €2 million overhaul, which will see the basin sealed off and drained to allow for repair works to the walls and piers of the harbour and for dredging to take place.
Sections of the beach will also undergo rock armour reinstatement, as a response to ongoing erosion and the storms which lashed the Irish coast last winter.
Parts of Courtown’s north beach will be cordoned off at various stages during the summer and vehicular access will be restricted. The work should be completed by the autumn.
The completion of the harbour in 1847 made it a popular holiday destination for Dubliners and midlanders, especially after 1863, when the railway line from the capital reached nearby Gorey.
In recent years significant urbanisation has taken place, especially in the Riverchapel area, just south of Courtown Harbour. Large housing estates are now home to commuters working in Dublin, one hour’s drive away, or easily accessible by Dublin Bus or by train from Gorey.
Courtown has a designated water sports area just by the well-known RNLI Boathouse, on the north pier of the harbour close to the harbour slip way. Jet skiing, zap catting, surfing and many more water sports are carried out here.
The past few years have seen a resurgence in sea angling and beach/pier fishing, with Courtown Sea Angling providing two charter boats for group trips throughout the year.
For power boat trips contact Courtown Sea Safari and for Angling contact Courtown Sea Angling centre.
Brown trout-fishing may also be had on the upper reaches of the Ounvarra River, north of the town.
The village offers the usual seaside amusements for kids – of all ages – in the likes of Pirates Cove and Flanagans Wharf, both right on the harbour, and pubs like The 19th, a lovely old-style pub with its vintage whiskeys on display and Ambrose Moloney’s (music every weekend) are always nicely busy.
The Out of the Blue sea food restaurant in the harbour has an excellent-value early bird menu, and, according to one impressed tripadvisor.ie reviewer, their “surf and turf is to die for”.
The nearby Taravie Hotel also does very good pub food.
The strand, extending from Ballymoney on the north to Cahore Point in the south, is impressive, backed by sand dunes that offer shelter and some privacy. The water is noted for its cleanliness.
Seaside resorts are always, of course, hostages of fortune to the whimsical Irish weather gods, so a coterie of local business people, including Donal O’Gorman, and with backing from Wexford County Council, worked hard to have the Forest Park Leisure Centre built on 63 acres of woodland once run by Coillte in Courtown Woods, and a major success since opening in 2003. Part of the original woodland site remains as beautiful forest walks.
The centre, with its 25-metre pool and huge waterslide and water playground, has also worked hard on developing alternative energy sources, including solar panels and a wood pellet-fired heating system that has halved the centre’s annual €100,000 energy bill. They will also be installing a second, larger wind turbine unit.
For those with a good head for heights and a liking for more energetic holiday activities, the centre’s Gravity Extreme Adventure is guaranteed to exhilarate and test you to your limits.
Courtown has a strong Tidy Towns group, and after only three years entering the national competition, the natives were delighted to land an Endeavour award last year. According to Donal O’Gorman, they have just spend €5,000 on flowers, so Courtown should be looking better than ever this summer
For those staying longer than the annual holiday or weekend, there is plenty to do of a sporting nature. The Courtown Hibs soccer club caters for both boys and girls, from five up to 18, as well as turning out men’s and women’s teams at senior level.
Realt Na Mara GAA club is in Ballygarret, just a few minutes drive down the coast and registration is still open for the Cul camp, from July 20th-24th.
Courtown Golf Club offers panoramic sea views and the North Wexford coast, and can thus provide a delightful distraction when those putts aren’t going down. Also nearby are Ballymoney Golf Club and Seafield Golf & Country Club.
Courtown has its own craft and souvenir shops but Gorey is just 6kms away and has plenty of boutiques and arts and crafts outlets as well as the usual Tesco, Lidl and Aldi.
Dublin is just an hour away by car, and there is also a regular Bus Eireann service, and trains operate from Connolly Station to Gorey. Courtown is just 45 minutes from Rosslare Europort. Wexford Bus also runs a variety of local routes, including a Dublin express
Other than Riverchapel National School, you will have to go to Gorey, where there is a full array of schools represented, at both primary and secondary level.
“I would say house prices have gone up 15 to 20 per cent in the last couple of years, says Donal O’Gorman. “I look after self-catering units in Forest Park, and they have gone from €80,000 just two years ago to between €120,00 and €125,000 now.”
Ciara Slattery of Warren Estates in Gorey would concur but she also points out the value still to be had compared with Dublin. The glut of holiday homes built when tax relief schemes were all the rage are now returning to those seeking hear-round homes, she says, and you will get a decent three-bed home in Courtown for between €100,000 and €130,000, in the likes of Courtown Cove.
Over in Newhaven, a detached four bedroom home can be yours for just over €200,000. Warren is looking after the sale of Harbour House. DNG has 24 The Coach House, Forest Park for €80,000; 14 Middleton Valley (DNG) is going for €115,000, and CD Auctioneers has the five-bed detached 68 Glen Aoibhinn property available for €229,000.
- Easy access by road, rail or bus
- Blue Flag north beach
- Forest Park Leisure Centre
- Attractive house prices
- No harbour access for boats this summer
- Glut of holiday homes built and unoccupied for large parts of the year
- Still some boarded up hotels and houses