Isle be back: The luxury of buying your own private island

Isle be back: The luxury of buying your own private island
House belonging to Richard Branson, the Princess Diana Holidays on Necker Island, West Indies.Photo By David Hartley / Rex Features

From the Caribbean to West Cork, purchasing a private island feels like the ultimate rich person’s indulgence, writes Rita de Brún

No man is an island. And only the privileged get the deeds to their very own isle. Sometimes the purchase is the goal. Then once the high wears off, it’s time to stampede back to the mainland.

We saw this recently when two islands off the New York coast came up for sale. The New York Times reported that the owner who’s selling up, spent just one night there as that ‘was enough’ for him.

The $13m asking price for those two islands seems positively paltry compared with what’s being asked for ‘Le Penthouse’ on Madison Avenue. That midtown Manhattan gaff comes as a ‘white box’ without finishings and appliances, and an asking price of $98m.

Of course, you don’t need to be a millionaire to own an island. Cork auctioneer Dominic Daly will accept just €150,000 for Mannion’s Island in Dunmanus Bay. In fairness, you won’t find finishings or appliances there either. But what you will get is the privilege of belonging to the elite clique that is the private island owners’ club.

You’ll also get the satisfaction of belonging to a club to which Donald Trump is not a member. He allegedly planned to buy an island in the 1990s, but never did. Or course, who could forget the excess of our own Charles Haughey, who purchased one of the Blasket Islands, Inishvickillane, for £25,000 back in 1974.

Charlie Haughey's island 'INISHVICKILLANE', the Southernmost of the Blasket Islands about 6 miles west of Slea Head in County kerry.
Charlie Haughey's island 'INISHVICKILLANE', the Southernmost of the Blasket Islands about 6 miles west of Slea Head in County kerry.

If you’ve plenty of dosh, Horse Island in Roaring Water Bay’s a great buy at €6.75m. It’s on the books of Ron Krueger of Kinsale’s Engel & Voelkers. Krueger also handled the sale to the current owners back

in 2007.

While he’s effusive in his descriptions of the island’s many selling points, how it will it cope with rising sea levels? “It would withstand a rise of two or maybe three metres. But if water continued to rise it’s possible Horse Island would become two islands,” says Krueger.

Potential buyers needn’t be too concerned about that, however. According to Krueger, the island’s highest points are between 10 and 15 metres. So there’s plenty of height.

Like Krueger, Dominic Daly is well used to selling islands. He remembers a day in which he rode in two helicopters, showing one island in Mayo and then another in Cork. One of those to whom he showed private islands and mainland property was Michael Jackson. But the late pop star didn’t buy. “We didn’t know until later that money may have been the issue,” he says.

It seems Jackson was a bit of an enigma on that trip: “When we met, he shook my hand. This shocked me. I thought he didn’t like touching anyone.”

Others with a fondness for island life include many of the Hollywood set. Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage and Eddie Murphy have splashed cash on them. So too have singers Celine Dion, Faith Hill and Ricky Martin. Richard Branson’s island is open for visitors — at a price. He says on his website:

Necker Island is my home and favourite hideaway. I invite you to explore this idyllic island paradise for yourself and to be inspired by its beauty. I hope someday to be able to share it with you

The island can be booked exclusively year-round, for €69,219 per night per guest (up to 30 guests) — and that’s not including a 2.5% service charge.

Describing the appeal, Vladi Private Island boss, Farhad Vladi says: “Family lifestyle is the main reason people buy. Families feel much closer when living on an island.

“Others buy even when they’re too busy to live there. Many hang large pictures of their islands on their office walls to remind them the day will come when they’ll move there.”

Investors are the third group, according to Vladi. After that come the nature conservationists and governments.

Asked whether troublemakers coming ashore is a security issue for island owners, Vladi replies: “It doesn’t often happen. Criminals know the wealthy don’t bring jewels and art to these places. Most bring only holiday clothes. They also know if they come onto a private island they risk finding their boat isn’t where they left it when they want to leave.”

Given that Vladi’s business manages 1,200 islands or more, he’s well placed to know first-hand that the super rich tend to rent rather than buy private islands.

Recalling a telephone call he got from a Californian lawyer to rent an island, he says: “On arrival day we got in touch to see if he was happy. That’s when we discovered the lawyer wasn’t staying there and that Bill Gates was.”

Given the circles he rolls in, it’s not surprising that Vladi has owned an island for 30 years.

“In New Zealand, where it is, we have the Queen’s Chain,” he says. This provides the public with a limited right of access along part of the island’s coastline. Agreeing that this means his beach is sometimes visited by strangers, he insists he doesn’t mind at all: “Beauty should be shared,” he says.

We’re not all so altruistic. I like to imagine shinning up a tree on my private island to scan the horizon for uninvited boats. At first sight, I blow a bugle to signal the sentry guards below to prepare the canon.

Daydreams aside, in Ireland, private island owners often have no choice but to allow visitors to their shores. Visitors’ rights come courtesy of the Foreshore Act, 1933, according to Amy Shine, a solicitor with Cork law firm Fachtna O’Driscoll.

That’s a first-world problem for the majority who reckon to own an island is beyond reach. But Farhad Vladi sees things differently: “Anyone who can buy a new upper middle-class Mercedes can afford the purchase price and upkeep of a private island,” he says.

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