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from the ground up

From tower blocks to BER ratings... the housing landscape has changed a lot in sixty years

Here we take a look back on what building trends have shaped the modern era.

WHILE CONSTRUCTION IN the 20th century has faced a lot of derision, it has not been entirely without its merits.

Ireland has seen its population grow rapidly, and with this there has been a big increase in the amount of housing being built. Over the past sixty years, construction has consistently fought to meet rising demand.

Big changes have been seen, from initial modernisation of building in the 1950s,through to the modern, energy-efficient homes being being built today.

Here we take a look back at some of the major events in construction and the property market over the last sixty years. 


In the period following the World War II housing was built with practicality in mind. Ireland, much to its advantage, did not have to contend with the major post-conflict reconstruction effort required in many countries across Europe.

In the United Kingdom efforts were made to replace homes destroyed by German attacks. This saw the post-war Labour government build more than one million dwellings, 80% of which were council houses.

One key change that happened to Irish houses in the 1950s was the decline of thatched roofing. This was due to changing environmental conditions, with water pollution and acid rain becoming problems. As a skill it also went into decline.


Figures from the CSO show that the average price of a house in 1968 in Dublin was £4,500 and £3,800 in Cork.

A distinctive project from this era in Ireland was the Ballymun flats. The towers were constructed with the aim of replacing tenement housing in the area and quickly creating accommodation for a large number of people.

Ballymun tower Pearse Tower in Ballymun was knocked down in 2004 Leon Farrell / Photocall Leon Farrell / Photocall / Photocall

The towers – which had been named after the seven leaders of the Easter Rising – became associated with anti-social behaviour and drug use and their demolition began in 2004. Now only one empty tower remains standing.


The 1970s in Ireland saw house prices begin to take an upward turn. It has been found that from 1970 up to 2006, house prices here have seen the third sharpest rises among our western European counterparts.

By 1978, the cost of an average house in Dublin had risen to €20,300 and to €17,000 in Cork.

While properties built during this decade have faced criticism for their dated appearance, they have been defended in recent years for their large interiors and individual designs - as well as having offered a sense of community to their residents.


By the late 1980s the price of houses was beginning to get closer to what we are used to in today’s climate, with the average property in Dublin going for £45,700 and the average property in Cork going for €39,100.

While there was a reduction in the volume of houses built during the 1980s – the practical style that houses had been built with over the previous three decades began to change. According to the government, there was a new focus on “context, the environment and urbanism”.

Changes to housing during the period also saw more people begin to own their own homes – as the mortgage lending system was privatised and then later deregulated. 


The following decade saw the beginnings of the Celtic Tiger-era construction boom start to take hold. Rapid growth saw the GNP of the country rise rapidly along with the number of houses that were built. It also saw the first national building regulations being brought into force.

The Building Control Act of 1990 brought about standards to which builders were required to conform to for the first time.

Towards the end of the decade, sales of land for housing development was encouraged through cuts to capital gains tax and new house grants. A record for housing output was set in 1998 when 42,349 houses were completed – giving Ireland one of the fastest growing residential sectors in Europe.

One major rejuvenation project of the period was the redevelopment of Temple Bar in the centre of Dublin. This happened after a number of small businesses moved into the area, and Temple Bar Properties, which later became the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, was established to oversee the areas regeneration.


The last decade saw the rapid development of new housing and huge rises in house prices prior to the financial crash of 2009.

This housing bubble was brought about through poor supervision of the financial sector and the tax incentives being offered for property development. A major feature of the era was the rezoning of inappropriate land for development.

This all came crashing down as the onset of the global economic disaster and the banking collapse saw house prices drop radically. A substantial number of developments were abandoned midway through, leaving a number of ‘ghost estates’ around the country. 


While house prices have begun to rise again in the past two years, they still remain substantially below where they were during their 2007 peak. At the start of the fourth quarter last year a buyer could still expect to pay 42.5% less for a property than what they would have done in 2007.

New rules on mortgages introduced earlier this year by the Central Bank aim at preventing house prices climbing to their pre-crash levels.

Irish buyers can now also expect their homes to be warmer than at any other point in time. Since 2008 all new homes are required to have a BER rating which shows how efficient the building is at energy retention. This rating is required to be displayed when a house is being sold or let.

Read: What else could I get for the €295,000 home of… Lady Gregory’s driver

Also: New home building across Ireland has pulled into the slow lane

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