Matthew Williams

Department of Geography, University College Cork, Ireland.
Long after the roar of the “Celtic Tiger” has become inaudible; its effects remain in the form of ghost estates, incomplete rural development and inadequate service provision across the Irish landscape. This paper will give a brief account of suburban housing development in Ireland as a whole, followed by a detailed discussion of development in a specific Irish case study, Clerihan, Co. Tipperary. Through the analysis of data produced from resident questionnaires, an evaluation and discussion of the key motivations of Clerihan’s “Celtic Tiger” in-migrants shall emerge for the purpose of comparison with international suburban migration incentives. These incentives shall be addressed under four overarching themes; suburbia as an idyllic space and place, suburbia as an exclusive community while maintaining previous social networks, suburbia as a product of social and economic competition, and suburbia as an interdependent product of transport availability.
Keywords: suburbanisation; Celtic Tiger; Tipperary; rural-urban interface; community; rural development.


Over the last two decades many rural settlements throughout Ireland have experienced the effects of “Celtic Tiger” property led development, followed directly by an economic downturn which crippled the construction industry. This can clearly be seen from the CSO granted planning permission statistics, which steadily rose from 9,156 in 1992 to 27,512 in 2005, and rapidly tapered off to 4,767 by 2011 (Figure 1.0.). However, this short period of development led to the emergence of new social and spatial patterns of settlement in the form of thriving suburbs. In light of this, this paper aims to discuss clearly the most prevalent pull factors associated with suburbanisation internationally, provide a detailed account of suburban growth in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger period and following this, with a focus on a particular Irish case study draw comparisons between resident’s social, physical and demographic motives in Ireland and internationally.

Figure 1: Number of dwelling planning permissions granted in Ireland from 1992 – 2011 (C.S.O., 2013)

Suburbia and its allure

Suburbanisation is “profoundly influenced by the ‘garden city’ movement, which was an advocate of population dispersal from overcrowded industrial cities” (Mace, 2009, p 77). Jackson (1987) suggests that in the United States, suburbia is both a planning type and a state of mind based on imagery and symbolism, because after all,

Suburbia symbolizes the fullest, most unadulterated embodiment of contemporary culture; it is a manifestation of such fundamental characteristics as conspicuous consumption, a reliance upon the private automobile, upward mobility, the separation of the family into nuclear units, the widening dicision between work and leisure, and a tendancy toward racial and economic exclusiveness.

(Jackson, 1987, pg 4).

Essentially, Suburbia is a concieved and constructed idyllic way of life that is centred on exclusivity and wealth, similar to the privatopias and gated communities seen internationally. For this reason some scholars see Suburban dwellings and lifestyles as commodification and an expression of economic prosperity rather than necessity. Suburban dwellings are renowned for their uniformity in design and frequently take the form of master-planned housing developments rather than one-off housing. Despite all of these common social patterns and bahaviour within suburbia, they are by no means concrete definitons of suburban development. A settlement or development is generally assigned suburban status on the basis of a functional relationship with an urban core, radial commuting patterns and residential density on the periphery of urban centres. In international case studies, there have been four primary physical, social and psychological externalities which influence residents in their migration to suburbia, and in turn, mass housing development.

Idyllic space and place

The first of these influences is the desire of residents for security. It may be argued that increased urbanisation of towns and cities eventually results in overcrowding, which in turn leads to the acceleration of crime, unemployment, and juvenile delinquency CITATION Bio67 \l 6153 (Biobaku, 1967). Because of this, many heavily urbanised areas have been construed as “morally corrupting and inappropriate residential locations” in which to start a family or raise children (Mace, 2009, p 77). In order to avoid these negative externalities of urbanisation, residents are attracted to suburbs which enable them to maintain a connection with the facilities and services of the urban centre but also enables them to establish a family life with “3-4 children, the detached house, play area and garden,” (Waitt, et al, 2000) and is generally considered more conducive to family life. Moreover, it has been argued that “in the US and Australia the detached house on its own plot more fully realizes the rural/urban dream” (Mace, 2009, p 78), while in some European case studies, “consistently 50% of respondents chose the suburban detached house in a green suburb as their favourite form of living” (Brade, Herfert, & Wiest, 2009, p 235).

Social Ties

An element furthering the allure of suburbia is the common belief that lifestyle in the suburbs is more conducive to neighbourhood and community interaction. This belief is fuelled by the perception that rural or peripheral areas are “both high in physical and high in social quality, such as scenic beauty and community spirit, respectively” CITATION Hal09 \p 442 \l 6153 (Halfacree, 2009, p. 442).This would be of benefit to families attempting to raise children as neighbourhoods are highly socialised, including family and friendship networks, and also provide sites of social solidarity and protection. Young (1990) suggests community is an understandable dream, expressing the desire for selves that are transparent to one another, relationships of mutual identification, social closeness and comfort, while living in urban areas is associated with the loss of social cohesion, sense of place and identity CITATION Bon05 \l 6153 \m And96 \m Sud93 (Bontje & Burdack, 2005; Anderson, Kanaroglou, & Miller, 1996; Sudjic, 1993). Suburbs often enable young couples parents of young children to position themselves in a location which is of a sufficient distance from their place of origin to ensure they are somewhat detached and independent from their prior social network, but also in close enough proximity to have continued “access to family circles in a locality nearby” so they can “rely more on kin for everyday social support when their children are very young.” (Gray, Corcoran, & Peillon, 2009, p 19). This provides the new suburbanites with the security of the support network they have grown used to, but also enables them to immerse themselves in a new community.

Social and Economic Competition

Social and economic competition is something that is prevalent in times of prosperity and is another suggestion for new residents’ interest in the suburban lifestyle.

The Chicago school sought to develop an analogy between the Darwinian competition in nature and the way in which communities vie for space and favoured locations in cities. In their description... migrants move into declining inner city areas which are vacated by upwardly mobile residents moving out to suburban areas. These new suburbanites were seeking competitive advantage; they were responding to the perceived socioeconomic advantages that suburban home ownership could bestow upon them.

(Mace, 2009, p 78)

Similarly, an economic analysis of suburban migration is offered by David Harvey who provides a description of suburbanisation as being the spatial expression of capital seeking out new investment opportunities (cited in Mace, 2009, p 78). Essentially what is being suggested here is that when young urban families find that property investment in urban areas becomes less attractive, either for aesthetic, environmental or financial reasons they are forced to seek out new locations for investment. Litcher and Brown (2011) discuss the promotion of development in such locations and argue that its associated activities may have broad economic benefits throughout the community, meaning there is substantial financial profit for both the developers, local officials and the current residents who see the value of their property increase. Mace (2009, 79) posits, “Suburbanites have been criticized for their conformity to the prevailing demands of capital and its associated social norms; for blithely accepting the mass consumer society”.

Transport Availability

The final externality which has influenced suburban growth is the availability of cars and regular transport. Transport is inextricably linked to the success of Suburbanisation; in fact, one may suggest the very concept of suburban life is devalued by the segregation of transport from suburbia. As Fishman (1987) agrees, suburbs need good transport links to ensure that residents could commute from their exclusive home location to their work and social ties in the urban centre. Therefore, Transport is not an influencing factor for the emergence of suburbia, rather a crucial building block. Hayashi, et al (2004) describe the link between transport and suburbanisation in Asia as “a vicious circle” through the assertion that “rapid motorisation, together with poor land-use planning condenses urban space and accelerates suburbanization”.

Housing development in Ireland

Celtic Tiger housing development in Ireland was a product of both the Rural Renewal Scheme (RRS) and Urban Renewal Schemes (URS). These schemes “provided incentives to subsidise the construction and renovation of housing” (Gkartzios & Norris, 2010, 486) in declining rural regions. Their aim was to improve “the quality of life in rural areas and village renewal” (Dwyer, Ward, Lowe, & Baldock, 2007, 873) by “stemming population decline and increasing housing output” (Gkartzios & Norris, 2010, 486). This acted as a catalyst to property led regeneration which began in 1986 and was extended to include 100 villages across Ireland in the late 1990’s. The schemes were incessant until as late as 2006. The urban and village renewal schemes under the National Development Plan (NDP) included 16 towns and villages across South Tipperary and over €1.3M was received from the European Union over the 6 year period to subsidise the development. The Rural Renewal Scheme was successful in its aim of stemming population decline and providing property led population growth, but in many cases it brought with it undesirable effects. In fact, some scholars suggest “the government’s decision to discontinue the RRS in 2006 was driven primarily by concerns about its unintended impacts” (Gkartzios & Norris, 2010, 486). Short-lived development brought with it an influx of urban origin migration which led to the blurring of rural/urban social and spatial boundaries. This has led to the adaptation of many rural communities to a “new” suburban way of life and resident demographic, despite their being entirely self-sufficient bucolic settlements prior to development. In other words, villages that were quite able to support themselves pre-1996, now depend heavily on services in nearby urban centres to support the newly exploded residential property development.

Research approach:

Case Study: Clerihan, South Tipperary, Ireland.

One such settlement is Clerihan, Co. Tipperary (incorrectly posted in the village itself and on maps as Ballyclerihan or Ballyclerahan) is situated in South Tipperary at the meeting point of four major roads. Pre- 1975, Clerihan village consisted of only 12 houses. Between 1975 and 1996 only a further 20 houses were built to form Knockeevan Terrace. Before 1996 Clerihan was not even considered to be a village by the Central Statistics Office or the 1996 South Tipperary County Development Act. However, since 1996 the appearance of the village has changed dramatically as can be seen in Figures 1.1 and 1.2. During the Celtic Tiger period from 1996 to 2007 construction was at a tremendous high in the village.