I am in escrow. In Ireland.
I, a lifelong renter, born and raised and still living in Los Angeles, am in escrow in Ireland.
It happened like this. After visiting a friend in Ireland last summer, I resolved to rent a cottage there for several weeks this summer. ”Self-catering cottages,“ they’re called, and they‘re something of, er, a cottage industry in Ireland. The Irish Tourist Board sent me a full-color catalog detailing some 11,000 self-catering cottages, ones in every size, town, price range and appearance. I spent much of February on my sofa imagining this thatched cottage in Connemara, that semidetached cliff house in Cobh.
I could, of course, have reserved a cottage by phone. Instead, I flew over in mid-March to find the right one. Leaves were just beginning to peer from the tips of branches, the gorse was erupting like a pure yellow vision, and the weather went from full sunshine to rain and hail and then back to sunshine, all within the hour. I stayed in County Cork, on a spit of land surrounded by the Celtic Sea, and spent my first few afternoons hunting down cottages I’d marked in my catalog.
The Irish cottage is a noble object in and of itself, its spare, simple aesthetics having evolved from necessity in combination with the available materials — whatever stone, mud and thatch were at hand. There are freestanding or ”detached“ cottages; duplexes or ”semidetached“ cottages, and ”attached cottages,“ which are essentially row houses. I found myself looking at cottages the way an expectant mother looks at babies, wondering how it would be if this one or that one were mine.
I don‘t recall how real estate offices (or auctioneers as they’re called there) became part of my daily routine — probably because they post photos of cottages in their windows. From there it was only a few short steps to make further inquiries. The auctioneers, so cordial and forthcoming, saw me as a perfectly likely buyer, and their view of me was contagious. Soon I was spending no time looking at rentals, instead trekking out to see a detached cottage with 3 arable acres, or a fixer-upper overlooking the sea.
The Irish economy is booming, and the island is repopulating at a rate of 1,000 people a week. Which means that cottages sell like scones. Time and time again, I‘d call about a property only to hear the words sale agreed. (The Irish don’t say a home is ”sold.“ They say ”Sale agreed.“)
One morning, I took a walk in my temporary neighborhood to check out a cottage overlooking the sea. One of six attached, three-story units, this was a less private property than I liked, but the price was low and the location breathtaking. Closer inspection revealed not only that the cottages were larger and handsomer than anticipated, but also the presence of that now familiar, jaunty corrective to daydreams. Sale agreed.
I, who wasn‘t even really in the market, muttered and kicked at the road.
Joined by a handsome Brittany spaniel, I kept walking along a wide, panoramic bay. Overhead, sun and rain clouds tussled for dominance. Rounding a curve, my canine companion and I came upon a tiny, bright-eyed old woman in a red sweater sweeping a low whitewashed wall with a handmade broom. Behind her stood a small cottage with a mossy slate roof and a Dutch door. The garden was filled with roses, daffodils and hydrangea. Ivy twined about a statue of the Virgin. The woman said she’d lived here her entire life.
”We were seven in the house when I was a child,“ she said. ”And not a word of English was spoken.“ Now, she spends half the week at the cottage and the other half caring for an ailing nephew in a nearby town. ”I never sleep but how I do here, with the sound of the tide comin‘ in,“ she said. For close to 20 minutes, we chatted and eyed the moody, exultant weather. From where we stood, we had an unimpeded 300-degree view of the bay and its far shores. I shook her hand, promised to visit again. ”I love your garden,“ I said, ”and your beautiful cottage.“
She gazed frankly at her home. ”Yes, ’tis lovely. But it‘s too much for me now,“ she said, ”and I’m sellin‘ it.“ The sale was private, she said, unadvertised. There had been offers already. An old family friend was handling the details. She gave me his name.
I returned with the auctioneer, saw the interior, five tiny rooms, snug as a boat. The cottage came with an overgrown acre — land that once had supported the family of seven.
My offer was promptly accepted. The owner told the auctioneer, ”I want the Yank to have it.“
I was delirious. ”Sale agreed!“ I cried, happily for once. ”Sale agreed!“
Michelle Huneven’s escrow closed last week.