Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Toddler died after crawling into Irish ghost estate

I don't write much about true crime, but this headline caught my eye at work Tuesday night:

 CHILD’S DEATH DRAWS ATTENTION TO IRELAND’S ‘GHOST’ TRACTS

The story concerns 2-year-old Liam Keogh, who crawled through a gap in a mesh fence at an unfinished "ghost" estate in Athlone, was found face down in a puddle near an open drain, and died, apparently of drowning. (The boy died last week; American newspapers are now reporting on reaction to the event. See some scary photos of the ghost estate in the Irish Independent.)

The ghost estates are housing developments started during Ireland's Celtic Tiger economic boom, then left unfinished when the money went away. Wikipedia, citing reports in the Guardian and in the BBC, says there are at least 600 ghost estates and 300,000 empty homes in Ireland. Here's what the Independent said about the estate where Liam was found:
 I'm haunted by, er, some haunting scenes set at vacant properties, I think in Alan Glynn's Bloodland, and saddened by this latest grim crime-fiction metaphor come to life.
"Described by estate agents as an exclusive development, Glenatore - which is close to Lough Ree - was granted planning permission for 66 terraced homes and apartments in 2005.

"Just five properties were occupied and 13 were vacant, according to the 2011 national house survey. Others were never started or were at various stages of construction when building work stopped."
I'm haunted by, er, some haunting scenes set at vacant properties, I think in Alan Glynn's Bloodland, and saddened by this latest grim crime-fiction metaphor come to life.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

24 Comments:

Blogger Declan Burke said...

It's a tragic story, Peter. Desperately sad.

You're right, though - Irish writers are writing about 'ghost estates' in more numbers now. Apart from the mention in Bloodland, forthcoming books from Tana French (Broken Harbour), Rob Kitchin and Michael Clifford (Ghost Town) all engage with 'ghost estates'.

Cheers, Dec

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Rob Kitchin said...

Hi Peter,

Yes, a real tragedy. I did a couple of radio interviews about it on Friday for a couple of the national radio stations. On one of them I was on with someone living on an estate and he catalogued a whole series of health hazards including open sewage, deep pits, half-finished walls, etc. I’ve been to about 70 and they vary enormously in their state from very good to very bad. My blog post on last week’s tragedy is at: http://irelandafternama.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/its-time-to-get-serious-about-unfinished-estates

Taking my crime writing hat off and putting the day job one on. Wikipedia clearly needs updating. According to the Irish government there are 2,876 unfinished estates in the country (not 600) with 122K of houses on them. About 36K of those are vacant or under-construction. There are 294K vacant houses in the country according to the Census 2011, about 80-100K are oversupply (have to take out holiday homes and a base vacancy). In terms of the Glenatore estate, there are 5 occupied, 25 complete/vacant, 12 under-construction and 21 not started. It would be nice if the figures in the media were correct.

We’ve done a report on the issue for those looking for more detail (http://www.nuim.ie/nirsa/research/documents/NIRSA%20working%20paper%2067%20-%20Unfinished%20estates%20in%20post%20Celtic%20Tiger%20Ireland.pdf ).

We also have an interactive mapping module up showing all 2876 estates (see http://www.airo.ie/mapping-module/atlas/Housing/DEHLG%2BUnfinished%2BEstates%2BOct.%2B2010).

Back to the crime writing hat, as Declan says I have written a novel that has planning and development corruption as its focus. If and when it’ll come out, who knows.
Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage also deals with development and ghost estates.

February 29, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Clearly the developers hoped to make a lot of money. The same thing happens in the U.S. There is a direct link between certain types of developments abd social suffering.

I've always wondered at the strange way in which the word "estate" has been bandied about in British books. Clearly many of the settings called "estates" are not Downton Abbey. They are really ghettoes, i.e. subsidized housing for the poor. Population density and shoddy work produce misery and crime.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Rob Kitchin said...

@ IJ Parker. In a UK/Irish context an 'estate' simply means a grouping of housing into a single development - a guess like housing tract in the US. A huge chunk of the population live in them - nearly all of suburbia, for example. They can vary from very exclusive to social housing. The vast majority are not subsized housing for the poor, but middle-class neighbourhoods.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Declan, I also found a reference to a first novel by a young Irish writer whose name escapes me called, I think, "Ghost Estate."

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, for the information Rob. In another recent post, I flay Blogger for its abominable customer service. I have also bemoaned the public reliance on Wikipedia as a source of information. I hope to unify the two in a grand theory of disappearing customer service in the age of high-technology consumer products. Think of it as a Moore's Law for the real world: Every two years, consumer service from technology and information companies gets four times worse and information gets eight times less reliable.

Use Wikipedia at your peril, and ignore all "Personal appeals from Wikipedia writer/founder/contributor So-and-So" that appear on your computer. And this in an age when people take Twitter seriously as a source of news. O, tempora! O mores!

February 29, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Yes, thanks, Rob. My primary source here is crime novels (and PBS Mystery). The subsidized type of "estate" filled with foreigners is a favorite locale.
Maybe crime novels are giving us a very one-sided, stereotypical view of social conditions in the UK.

Peter, what say you? Is the fashionable noir novel becoming a cliche?

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

What a chilling story. It would be heartbreaking under any circumstances, but the "ghost estate" just makes it all the more goosebumpy.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

P.S. While I hate the word verification, I think it's a great source for pseudonyms.

Signed,

Agdele Larksfir

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., British and Irish crime novels (and novels translated into English by British or Irish translators) are full of "estate agents." As far as I can tell, these are nothing more than what we would call real-estate agents.

In re housing for the poor, I have seen some Northern Ireland streets and neighborhoods described in crime novels or other writing as rough, but none remotely approaches the bombed-out desolation of the worst of their counterparts in the U.S. Granted, I have not been around said neighborhoods at nights, but still.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'd say that real noir is too outre to be fashionable. The folks who write the hardcore stuff -- good stuff, too -- will tell you it doesn't sell that well.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rob: "Housing development" or the somewhat older "subdivision" wold probably be the closest American equivalents to "housing estate."

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, Americans used to talk about ghost towns, but they're more likely these days to simply call an abandoned property "an abandoned property." Ghosts may be more likely to be a part of people's vocabulay in Ireland.

Recent Irish crime fiction has included Stuart Neville's Ghosts of Belfast and Requiems for the Departed, a collection of short stories by contemporary Irish crime writers based on Irish myth. Some of the stories include a supernatural element.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, the old word verfication was a richer source for pseudonyms than the new one, which tends to offer pedestrian words. The old system presented letter combinations that encouraged invention in coming up with meanings for them.

February 29, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Toddler dies accidentally. This is news? Happens every day of the week, someplace or other.

What you have here is classic case of correlation being mistaken for causation: toddler died; toddler lived in 'ghost' estate; therefore, toddler died because toddler lived in 'ghost' estate. Only simpletons believe stuff like this.

Are toddlers more likely to die in 'ghost' estates than in non-ghost estates? Perhaps they are, but to make this claim you have to provide numbers to back it up. A single instance won't do, anecdotes won't do and sensationalized reporting won't do, either.

Eric Clapton's five year old son Conor died after falling out of the 53rd story of an apartment building in New York. What was the cause of death? If someone believes a 'ghost' eatate caused Liam's death, then they probably also believe a 53 story building caused Conor's death.

A child's death is a sad thing. But hey! look on the bright side. It's an opportunity to plug your latest crime novel.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"toddler lived in 'ghost' estate;"

As I understand the term, a "ghost estate" is a patch that consists at least in part of unfinished -- and, the thinking goes, potentially danerous -- properties. So the issue, as far as I can tell, is not so much where the child lived but rather that there were too many abandoned construction sites in the vicinity. Now, I used to love crawling around half-built houses when I was a kid, but the damned things are dangerous places.

In other news, a bulletin just flashed across the Independent's website about an "Ecstasy swoop in Waterford." I quite like the idea of an ecstasy swoop.

February 29, 2012  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

This is such a sad story.

And it reminds me of stories told about toddlers falling into swimming pools in Australia, so the association with dangerous construction sites is in the mind of the reader.

There is a lot of animosity in Ireland because of the collapse in the construction industry. Estate agents have, traditionally, been accused of hiking up house prices, but journalists working within the property trade have also come under scrutiny.

I'll write a bit about the ghost estates, if I can get time.

March 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tales, the withering commentary about business journalists and their cozy relationship with the companies they cover was one of the few worthwhile bits of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (though it was poorly integrated into the story). Do Irish journalists writing about real estate stand similarly accused?

A couple of decades back, an advocate for children in the U.S. took a bit of well-deserved heat for trying to capitalize politcally on the case of "Baby Jessica," a toddler who fell down a poorly covered hole in a yard (back garden, to you), then was rescued in a dangerous and daring operation that millions watched breathlessly on television. This advocate tried to cite the case as an example of the poor state of children in the U.S. and, while most media outlets were afraid to speak out against such cynical demagoguery, The New Republic did. But from my outsider's position, I don't think this Irish case is comparable, since this ghost estate is apparently no isolated example of its kind -- a state of affairs for which bankers, speculators, perhaps greedy buyers, and others can be reasonably blamed,

March 02, 2012  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I'll write a post next week.

Just in passing, I try to write up my thoughts as posts for one simple reason. As far as I can work out, comments are covered by different copyright laws than those in posts. A legal brain might work out if this is so...

March 03, 2012  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

No.

And I think that mention of thievery could put one in the dock as the Internet becomes more legally savvy.

I've written a post for your delectation.

March 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, does Blogger/Google CLAIM copyright for postings the way Facebook does?

March 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Do you mean to imply that a large American corporation would try to stifle free discussion? I'm shocked!

March 03, 2012  
Blogger Susan said...

This news story caught my eye too. While it is sadly true that too many toddlers die all over the world, this one I think is shocking because it's a result of carelessness and failure in the part of the city officials and developers to deal with failure, and that's what is so troubling about this - all the future possibility is wiped out, both by the failure of the development, the economy, and now the life of the child. it is haunting because the brief boom of the Irish economy turned out to be fake, and now it's taken a very real life, as well as all the possibilities of richness that everyone had for a while. How could it not be the perfect setting for mysteries and crime novels?

March 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sure, toddlers wander into dangerous places all the time, but this particular death is too rich with symbolic overtones for writers to ignore. And hell, what's wrong with trying to assign blame for small, individual tragedies when big institutions screw up?

March 04, 2012  

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