Praying for a buyer

A religious community is facing a very worldly problem - attracting firm offers for its island retreat in Fermanagh

Sunday Times/November 4, 2001
By Colin Coyle

Fluctuating property prices should not affect those who have abandoned the material world but, for the Hare Krishna community in Ireland, a stagnating market is prompting more than a few prayers to divine Krishna.

They have had no concrete offers yet for Inishrath island, their 21-acre retreat at Upper Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, although it has been on the market for 10 weeks now.

Until recently the community had a Dublin base as well as the island getaway. However, the community - known for eschewing worldly goods - has been forced to sell up to afford to establish a fresh base.

"We let the lease on our Dublin centre run out a few years ago and we have been unable to find a suitable replacement since," says Manu Dasa, of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

"Passing on the knowledge of the Hare Krishna way of life is our most important work so we have reasoned it would be better to leave the island and use the funds to build a permanent base."

Dasa recognises that the recent downturn in the property market has reduced interest in large properties but is confident that the island, with its large Victorian home and wild-flower meadows, will tempt a buyer.

"There are more than 40 types of tree on Inishrath and the grounds are almost like a botanic garden. The main house, which was once the hunting lodge of the Earl of Erne, is also very beautiful," he says.

Prospective buyers should note that the island's sprawling mansion has been modified. Three adjoining reception rooms became a temple, and eight bedrooms were turned into two dormitories. Dasa concedes the property needs repair and alteration but says it is structurally sound.

"When we arrived in 1984, the house looked good superficially but was actually in need of a lot of work. First, we brought in a contracting company to build a landing quay for the island and then we set about re-roofing the house," he says.

"Over time, we modified the house to suit us but it could easily be turned back into a family home. For example, the temple could become a ballroom or a large dining room."

The gabled house was one of the first homes to be fitted with underfloor heating in Northern Ireland. "The underfloor oil-fired heating was put in during the 1950s at huge expense and remains one of the best systems around," Dasa says.

An attraction of the property was its location between Dublin and Belfast. The island is 300 yards from the mainland, seven miles from Belturbet in Co Cavan and five miles from Derrylin village. Enniskillen is the nearest large town.

Two small cottages on the island are included in the sale.

A large vessel, similar in appearance to a second-world-war landing craft, was bought to the island by the Hare Krishna community and can also be included. Large enough to transport heavy building materials or a tractor to the island, the craft could be invaluable to an owner thinking of refurbishing the mansion.

A small community of Hare Krishna followers has set up on the shores of the mainland. The farm which produces much of the community's food is also on the mainland and some of the islanders row to work every morning.

"Those of us who are good with finance will deal with this aspect of life, while those who are good at cooking will cook. Similarly, those who can farm, will farm," Dasa says.

Life for the Hare Krishna community on the island is austere. The first two hours of the day, after a 4.30am rise, are spent meditating or chanting. One and a half hours of scripture study is followed by an arotika - or altar - ceremony.

Breakfast at 8.30 is followed by work, which can take the form of cooking meals for the other islanders, gardening, cleaning or going to the mainland to farm or preach. This stern existence requires isolation so the Hare Krishna community will be looking for a new base outside Dublin.

"The majority of our new followers come from around Dublin so it is critical that we are within easy reach of the city, but we also need the peace and quiet of the country," says Dasa.

"We'll be looking for somewhere maybe 15 or 20 miles outside the city when we sell this place."

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