John Lennon's Island for Sale as Irish Unpick Property Boom

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It could have been where John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent their retirement, yet Dorinish Island became home only to grazing sheep and seabirds.

Now, the land the size of a dozen soccer fields off Ireland's west coast is being offered as a retreat to a potential new owner for 300,000 euros ($384,000), 45 years after the Beatles songwriter bought it. Just before he was shot dead in New York in 1980, Lennon revived plans to build a home on the island. Ono sold it to local farmers in 1984.

“About a year before he was murdered his London solicitor inquired about reviving the planning permission which he had obtained shortly after the purchase,” said Michael Browne, 73, a local who took Lennon to visit Dorinish. “He was constantly panning a cine-camera to get a panoramic of the bay.”

The history of Dorinish, in Clew Bay in Mayo, marks it out from the slew of Irish islands for sale in the wake of the country's real-estate market collapse.

The farmers are selling the 21-acre island because it's getting harder for them to keep animals there as they get older, according to Andrew Crowley of Sherry FitzGerald Crowley, the agent in charge of the sale. He said he couldn't specify how much they paid for the island originally, while Browne said Lennon paid about 1,700 pounds ($2,700) in 1967.

“The island isn't being used as much as it should be, and they were never going to build on it,” Crowley said. “The owners are getting on in years and maintaining their livestock at such a distance isn't practicable anymore.”

The Beatles connection isn't making it easier to sell. Dorinish, known locally as “Beatle Island,” has been on the market since mid-July and so far there's been no buyer.

The price is less than some Irish homes at the peak of the bubble. The average price of a house was 172,000 euros in the second quarter, down 53 percent from the top of the market in 2007, according to Irish property website Daft.ie.

The island is being marketed without it having planning permission, while the ruins of old marine pilot houses dating to 19th century are still visible. For some, ownership of an Irish island became a symbol of affluence and wealth.

“The kind of person who wants to own an island is the sort of person who wants to print their own money,” said Dominic Daly, a realtor selling three islands, including Spanish Island off the southern coast for 600,000 euros.

Sherry FitzGerald Crowley is also involved in the sale of Inishturk Beg, close to Lennon's planned retreat.

Including a luxury home with swimming pool, gym, and chandelier-bedecked dining room with panoramic views of the bay, the island is on sale for 2.85 million euros after being taken over by receivers, Crowley said.

The former owner of Inishturk Beg, Nadim Sadek, said he bought it for 1.1 million euros in 2003 and invested 12 million euros in its development. In 2008, just before Ireland's real-estate market crashed, he was offered 80 million euros for the island, Sadek said by telephone.

His company that owned the land on the island, as opposed to the brand selling local whiskey, failed because of “global banking strategy issues,” he said.

In Clew Bay alone, there are over 300 islands, including Dorinish. Lennon bought Dorinish, which is made up of two small islands joined by stone causeway, from the Westport Harbor Board through an intermediary to avoid publicity, Browne said.

Browne's father was the auctioneer responsible for selling the island and it was his advertisement in a London newspaper that caught Lennon's eye, he said.

“After about a year, he sent over a gypsy type-caravan to be put out on the island,” said Browne, who remembers a trip with Lennon to buy rubber boots before the journey to the island. “The caravan was painted in psychedelic patterns like the Sergeant Pepper album cover, so people eventually worked out that John Lennon was involved.”

Lennon and Ono visited the island together in 1968, according to pictures of his arrival at a local hostelry, Mulranny Park Hotel, still hanging on the wall. He was asked in an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971 if he had a picture of their life when he hit 64.

“I hope we're a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that — looking out at our scrapbook of madness,” Lennon said.

bc-ireland (TPN)

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