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Meet the couples taking on Ireland’s crumbling historical homes


By Megan Burns
17th May 2022
Meet the couples taking on Ireland’s crumbling historical homes

We all love to admire beautiful old homes, but taking them on as a project is another thing altogether. Meet three brave couples who are doing just that.

@marykennyscottage

Couple Michael and Áine are renovating a Cavan cottage, Áine tells us more about their project. 

We have always loved old buildings and the charm that comes with them. It also appealed to us that planning for an extension to an older dwelling would be easier to achieve than building on a green field site. Our cottage is very near Michael’s home place and it’s where his brother had grazed a horse for a number of years. We approached the owner in 2018 to sell, with no luck, but thankfully in 2020, the sale was agreed.

We started renovations in June 2020, but just at weekends. The aim was to be in by June 2021, but now it’s looking more likely to be the end of November this year.

So far, the cottage has been reconfigured inside to fit three bedrooms and a hallway. We have built a porch to the front, which will be a small wardrobe. Skylights have been added to brighten some areas.

To the side of the cottage, we have built an extension including the kitchen and living room, toilet, utility and entrance hall. We have lime-plastered the cottage, leaving small areas of stonework exposed, so we’ll always see the work that went into building it. At the moment, we are painting the whole interior, and tiling and fitting of the kitchen are imminent.

We have faced a lot of challenges along the way, with increasing material costs, Covid restrictions, planning delays, but the toughest was when our carpenter/builder/all rounder had an accident at another job. This meant delays of a few months, while he was on the mend and we were waiting for someone else to step in.

We had feature trusses that had to be in place before plastering, which delayed second fix electrics, tiling, painting and plumbing. Seeing them in place now though, they were worth the stress and wait. Thankfully our all-rounder is well on the road to recovery and has already come back to build our fireplace.

Renovating an old building has meant that there is an intangible charm and history to the house that I don’t think we could have achieved with a new build. It has been so rewarding to see the cottage turn into a home that I don’t think we’ll ever want to leave. There have been ups and so many downs, but at the end of it all, we’ll have a home that has crooked walls full of character, a red tin roof, brighter than the sun and a piece of heaven we can call ours.

@cangort_park_house_restoration

restoring old houses

Elaine and Stephen are bringing Cangort Park House back to life, a listed Georgian home in Offaly that was built in 1807. Elaine tells us more about the house.

We’re both local to the area so know the surroundings quite well. We both moved away for work but knew we always wanted to settle back home (we’re truly Irish and country at heart).

The opportunity came up to roll up our sleeves here so we jumped at the chance. We never thought we’d take on something of this scale. We always thought we’d build or buy, but at the same time we wanted to make our own mark on whatever we decided to do.

The physical work started in the summer of 2019 but there was a lot of a paperwork involved before that. We’re dealing with a listed building so we wanted to make sure that everything would be done correctly and sympathetically to the building.

We have broken the project down into phases and we’re hoping to finish what we had initially planned to do by summer 2022. As always with older properties, we run the risk of facing unplanned works, but we have our fingers crossed.

Two years into the project, we have made a lot of progress, including re-roofing the house, re-plastering the chimneys, improving the underground drainage system, restoring 80 per cent of the windows, re-wiring and plumbing, internal lime plastering, installing heating, and some painting and decorating.

The best thing about the project has been seeing the house coming back to life again so that it can become a family home once more and protecting its history for future generations to enjoy.

The fear of the unknown has been quite challenging. This is not your standard restoration project so it was a new journey for us both. We knew we may face a lot of difficult hurdles but we’ve been very fortunate to find skilled tradespeople and are surrounded by a great team which makes it easier. The long hours make it worthwhile when we see the building coming back to its former glory.

@this.oldschoolhouse

Brian and Charlotte lived in this Donegal cottage before beginning renovations, which Charlotte tells us more about.

We’re Brian and Charlotte, a mechanic and a nurse with an optimistic approach to DIY work. The Old School House is also home to our two kids, (soon to be 3!) two beagles and pet donkey.

We’ve lived here for 7 years now and began our family here. My mum grew up in this house and we’ve always found it to be such a tranquil space. We always planned to strip the house back to its bones to rebuild and make it work as our forever family home. In hindsight, we hadn’t the slightest idea of just exactly what all of that would entail; which was probably a good thing!

We began work in late February 2020 and moved out in order to remove the roof mere days before the first pandemic lockdown. Needless to say there were many hold-ups along the way. Now, the end is near but we’re not quite there yet. We hope to move back home before Christmas although the house won’t be finished or even have stairs, we will have what we need.

The house needed a full overhaul. It was important to us that we kept the original character of the house and the scalloped bangor slates were top of the list. The roof needed to be replaced and we found so much more necessary structural work once we started. We wanted to restore as much of the building as we could and understood the importance of using old techniques.

We extended, giving us a more spacious kitchen, a utility and downstairs WC, and two further bedrooms upstairs. We refit new plumbing and electrics throughout the house, repaired stonework, replaced all of the timber lintels and the lime plaster on the internal walls of the old building leaving stone features exposed in places.

The extension is minimal but has some features like rounded dowel edge windows that give a nod to the old part of the house. We hope to make a gentle contrast between the old and the new, with bright, warm and earthy tones.

Eventually we plan to remove the pebbledash on the exterior walls and render it with a breathable plaster. The plumbing and electrics are nearing a finish so we’re eager to get started on flooring and fitting the kitchen. We found original flagstones when we removed the staircase in the hallway and plan to reuse them in the house. The outside is a long way off just yet but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Honestly, juggling work and family life has been the most challenging part. We’ve embraced and enjoyed the challenges we met throughout the project itself, and thankfully there have been more pros than cons.

We’ve really enjoyed learning as we went along, trawling reclamation yards and Brian has had his hand on every single aspect of the build. We hired tradesmen for roofing and plastering, things like fitting windows and the kitchen. Our families and neighbours have been invaluable with the time and knowledge they’ve given us. Seeing how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved so far has been the best thing about the project, before we move home again.