In Ruined Apartments, Symbol of Ireland’s Fall
To visit Graham Usher’s dream apartment in Priory Hall, the most notorious of Ireland’s ruined ghost developments, is to see what Ireland aspired to be, and what it became instead.
The apartment, bought for $315,000 in early 2006, is now covered by a brick facade that looks as if some giant creature had raked it with its claws before getting bored and wandering off. There is a half-drunk bottle of wine in the kitchen, abandoned last October when officials abruptly declared the complex a fire hazard and gave its inhabitants — 256 people in 187 apartments — 48 hours to leave.
Those residents, unable to move back into houses they still have to pay for, have spent nearly a year in legal limbo, high-profile casualties of the corruption and recklessness of the Irish boom in the 2000s.
“Priory Hall embodies the craziness of the decade, where cheap credit led to houses and apartments being thrown up virtually overnight, often in entirely unsuitable areas and, in many cases, without regard to the quality of the housing,” said Dearbhail McDonald, legal editor of The Irish Independent and the author of “Bust: How the Courts Exposed the Rotten Heart of the Irish Economy.”
If Ireland’s rise was one of the most spectacular in Europe, its fall was one of the most precipitous, with a boom in the 1990s leading to a housing bubble in the 2000s that burst spectacularly when the banks fueling it threatened to collapse. In 2008, the government made an emergency decision to guarantee the banks’ debts, thus condemning the country to brutal austerity that has left it impoverished and weighed down by debt of its own.