OVER the past 20 years Ennis has become one of the more desirable towns to live in with the result that good homes are in big demand there and a lot of building has been going on to keep pace with the continuing growth rate.
It wasn’t always like that.
Estate agent and insurance broker Philip O’Reilly recalls that, when he arrived in Ennis in 1977, it was a dreary looking town hung heavily with the plastic signs that disfigured so much of the State’s urban landscape back then. "There was little movement to improve the infrastructure or the environs of the town and get rid of the dingy look," he says. "Institutions like the banks and the urban council - particularly the banks - had been unsupportive of development".
Things began to change for the better in the early 1980s and O’Reilly credits much of this to the then county manager, Joe Boland, who began clearing away a lot of the town’s rundown tenement housing. That was the start of laying down a solid infrastructure, O’Reilly believes, and later an assistant county manager called Bob Kelly gave more impetus to the movement.
"And then," says O’Reilly, "the Chamber of Commerce woke up and over the next 10 years joined with the urban council in transforming Ennis into the attractive place that it is today."
A new sewerage system was laid down, car parks were developed and, in a move that anticipated the information age and the pre-eminent role Ennis was to play in it, the phone lines were placed underground. And, oh yes, the plastic signs started coming down.
Fortuitously, the then government instituted the first of its urban renewal schemes in the early 1980s and Ennis responded to it with eagerness. The town’s urban renewal schemes were hugely successful and Ennis began to catch the attention of major retail concerns as a good place to set up business - Dunnes Stores being one of the first to arrive.
"Before that," says O’Reilly, "Ennis - lying as it does between Galway and Limerick - was almost invisible, but its potential as a growth area was suddenly being looked at with great interest. More people wanted to come and live here and a big number of quality housing developments were undertaken between 1987 and 1995."
Property values rose accordingly and O’Reilly says that today a good quality semi-detached house will sell for seventy five thousand pounds in Ennis. A four-bedroomed detached home in good condition costs around eighty five thousand pounds. Trade is so brisk in the property market that O’Reilly says that if he had 15 to 20 semi-detached homes on his books at the seventy five thousand pound price tag, he’d have sold them within a week.
AS PART of the urban renewal programme, Ennis followed the trends being set in other places and many apartment complexes and town houses were built in different areas. There was a growing demand also for well-placed retail outlets as the population grew and the town became more prosperous. A good quality high street premises in Ennis can cost a half-million pounds or more at the present.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the urban council has so far resisted any proposals to establish shopping centres on the fringe of town, as has happened in other growing urban areas.
"The council has concentrated development in the centre, but there is a demand now for shopping centres on the outskirts of town," says O’Reilly. "I think that this must happen. I am in touch with one major concern that is interested in buying property for such a development."
One reason for the sustained demand for housing in Ennis is the fact that many people live there who work in other places as far away as Limerick or beyond.
"Take Shannon," O’Reilly says. "It used to be the case that 70 per cent of the traffic coming out of Shannon at the end of the workday would swing down to Limerick. Now 70 per cent of them swing up to Ennis. We have become a huge dormitory town for people working in Shannon."
Now that Ennis has officially been designated as the State’s Information Age Town, it is certain to bask in a glare of attention for a long time. It is safe to predict, too, that even more people will be moving into the town to work and live. While the effects of the Information Age are barely predictable, one consequence is likely to be a spin-off of more jobs in Ennis because that is where the grand experiment in futuristic communications and other technology is to be carried out in dedicated fashion.
That in turn will lead to a demand for more homes and other kinds of property, so there is unlikely to be an early end to the building now afoot in the town. Anyway, if there never were an Information Age, Ennis would still be a good place to live in.
Says O’Reilly: "It always reminds me of a small Galway, with all the charm and atmosphere of that city. I can’t think of any better place to be".