The country house market in Ireland, as much as one can generalise, is mostly in the south and as long as the stalling peace process in Northern Ireland continues to frustrate all concerned, the area around Dublin is still the most sought after and therefore good houses there come few and far between.

‘The main areas where prices are at a premium remain counties Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, and county Meath,’ says Pat O’Hagan from Hamilton Osborne King. ‘But the new motorway from Dundalk to Dublin makes the capital a mere 45min drive away which is leading people to look more north and east. Trends are slowly changing.’

Anything up to an hour, even an hour and a half drive from the city is considered a find, and buyers will pay above the odds for such houses. However, the terribly congested area round the M50 (our equivlaent of the M25) increasingly puts people off driving into Dublin. Alongside this, the ease of travel by train, and even by plane is tempting people to buy further north and west, in previously unfashionable areas.

‘What we’re seeing is an airport in practically every county down the west coast. Not big commercial airports; they are more like bus stations really, and are incredibly well run’ continues Mr O’Hagan.

‘This means that with low cost airlines like Ryanair and so one, people are tempted by houses which are a bit further from co Dublin because they are so much easier to get to than before.’

He also points out that these small local airports are easier to use and do not involve all the same fuss as departing from or flying into Heathrow, as well as remarking that buyers with their own private planes can keep them there for a fee, which saves having to get planning permission for a private runway.

The perennial problem with the market in Ireland is the fact that supply can never meet demand. This is particularly true at the moment, as people are unwilling to sell for various reaons.

Firstly, Eire currently has extremely low interest rates, and people are receiving less interest on their money in the bank, so hanging on to quality property seems a good way to invest.

Also, a new generation of country house owners moved in after the Lloyds crash in the 90s, when families who had lived in houses for generations were forced to sell up and these relative newcomers are proud of their acquisitions.

These people, by large, have spent enormous amounts of time and money making their houses truly outstanding, and are loathe to sell because they want to enjoy the fruits of their labour while they watch their property increase in value.

However having said this, the market has slowly picked up recently and Mr O’ Hagan predicts even more country houses on the market this coming year:

‘Prices have never really gone down and what we saw last year was a real pick up in the autumn. Many vendors who wanted to sell last spring held back because of the war in Iraq, but towards the end of last year confidence increased, and I expect this trend to continue through 2004,’ he says.

The next hot places to watch will be counties such as Westmeath, Carlow and Wexford, thanks to ease of transportation, while the traditional areas of Tipperary, Kildare and Wicklow will also continue to be popular and always will be.

The country house market in Ireland looks like being active and the good prices achieved last year should continue through 2004 as demand continues to exceed supply. But despite all the above one thing seems set to remain, wherever you go: Ireland will almost certainly always be a sellers market.