Thatch is crow­ing glory at Guileen

Own­ers have worked for the Sul­tan of Brunei, and ap­pear hand­somely re­warded, writes Tommy Barker

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Property - Pic­tures: De­nis Mini­hane

It’s a toss up as to what’s most in­ter­est­ing, the story of this re­mark­able Guileen, east Cork coast­line’s thatched home, or the back­ground and per­son­al­ity of its ven­dors Kieron and Ber­nadette Stone, who made this cot­tage ex­actly what it is.

Given that this cot­tage with 17th cen­tury roots has a gold-plated towel rail, un­der­floor heat­ing, fiber op­tic broad­band, satel­lite TV, and CCTV, as well as fur­ni­ture from some of the Sul­tan of Brunei’s many Lon­don prop­erty clearouts, per­haps it’s as easy to say their sto­ries are in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound up, one fully de­serv­ing of the other. But, where do you start? Start lo­cal, per­haps. Lo­ca­tion is lit­tle-known Guileen, just a hand­ful of homes and a lo­cal bar, and a slip and a coast­guard res­cue sta­tion, and a clutch of very old thatched houses in a post­card­pretty sea­side set­ting just around ahead land from the mouth of Cork har­bour and Roches Point.

Guileen’s just a few miles out past Trabol­gan, but once past the en­trance gates to that self-con­tained hol­i­day re­sort, the road nar­rows so much that it fully fits the de­scrip­tion ‘boreen’ for quite a stretch. You re­ally do feel you are go­ing back in time, and when you hit the road’s de­cline down to­wards the beach and slip­way at Guileen, de­scrip­tions like ‘ham­let’ be­gin to come to mind.

Then, you seen Car­rig­dan­gan, a size­able and shin­ing two-storey thatched re­build, one of sev­eral thatches in the lo­cale keep­ing the flag fly­ing for east Cork’s no­table her­itage builds. Next, you see its gar­dens, poly­tun­nel, sheds, veg beds, satel­lite dishes across the road by a stream, and you just know there’s a story or two to un­earth.... if you probe just a bit.

Now, tech­ni­cally, Kieron Stone shouldn’t be able to tell you much of his back­ground: af­ter all, he has signed con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments about his prop­erty main­te­nance, data ca­bling, and even satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions work for the Sul­tan of Brunei.

So, he can’t tell you much about zip­ping around mini-palaces and Lon­don pads worth tens of mil­lions of pounds, ho­tels in the sul­tan’s Dorch­ester group, or of be­ing flown at short no­tice to Paris to fix the sul­tan’s TVs, and get­ting work too from ex­tended roy­als, en­riched by oil re­serves, with net worth of bil­lions, and a per­sonal, 1,700-bed palace in Brunei, said to be big­ger than the Vat­i­can.

Pity about that. But Kieron can tell you ev­ery­thing you need to know about this unique project, a labour of love for him­self and Ber­nadette, who also pre­vi­ously worked in the up­per ech­e­lons of the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness in the UK.

Now well into re­tire­ment years, at least in age terms, they have in­de­fati­ga­ble en­ergy lev­els and a heroic work ethic. They worked on this home af­ter buy­ing an orig­i­nal thatch/part cow shed as a hol­i­day bolt hole in 1997.

Kieron has just fin­ished a rein­su­la­tion job, by hand, up on scaf­folds, pack­ing in the Kingspan un­der the thatch of this circa 2,450 sq ft char­ac­ter and com­fort-packed home, re­skin­ning it, and fin­ish­ing it with tim­ber laths and dowel pins, help­ing it to get an en­vi­able C1 BER rating... not too bad for a place with a 300-year his­tory.

“We had the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions up on the scaf­fold­ing for the best part of two years,” says Ber­nadette, though there’s no sign any­more of work in hand or in train; it’s a com­pletely fin­ished en­tity, im­mac­u­late in­side and out, and with crafts­man­ship of the high­est or­der.

The Stones are now sell­ing, mov­ing to Cobh for a Vic­to­rian pe­riod house with full-on har­bour views, and they are rolling up their sleeves to do the nec­es­sary ren­o­va­tion work, even con­sid­er­ing putting in a small lift in case of any fu­ture mo­bil­ity is­sues. (Hav­ing worked in palaces, ho­tels, and Lon­don man­sions, you may sus­pect they are not at all fazed at such lux­u­ri­ous ‘prac­ti­cal­i­ties’).

Ber­nadette is orig­i­nally from Cobh, so there’s a sense of her re­turn­ing to her roots, and she re­calls go­ing to pi­ano lessons on the same ter­race many moons ago, and al­ways loved this set­ting.

Kieron’s from around Shan­don in Cork City, and is still a proud Cork­man. His Cork ac­cent is al­most undi­min­ished, and it’s only when he pro­nounces English towns and cities the in­to­na­tion comes out that he’s lived abroad. But when the Ir­ish Ex­am­iner vis­ited, he had a lapel tie-pin with the Cork crest proudly dis­played, and he says he was go­ing to get the same crest, with cas­tles and boat, carved into the heavy Ir­ish oak beam in the kitchen, over the Stan­ley range.

Oak is the tim­ber of choice for al­most all of the in­ter­nal join­ery here, in­clud­ing hefty, El­iz­a­bethanstyle doors spe­cially made up to match ones Kieron had seen in an English home owned by golfer Nick Faldo, and a num­ber have been made up to meet fire door stan­dards, with steel con­cealed within.

Ac­claimed Mi­dle­ton joiner Billy Garde did al­most all of the wood­work, floor­ing, and more. Billy Garde also does faith­ful, con­ser­va­tion-style sash win­dows. But, at Guileen, Kieron and Ber­nadette de­cided to go for PVC dou­ble glaz­ing even in the dorm­ers in the thatch as “I didn’t want to be sand­ing and paint­ing wood win­dows ev­ery year by the sea”, says Kieron.

Por­tions of this long, an­gle­crooked cot­tage date to the 1600s, with old rub­ble walls, but it has been elon­gated with its new sec­tion, in­clud­ing a curved, shel­ter­ing gable, done in block­work, and the cou­ple brought over a ma­son and a roof­ing car­pen­ter they’d worked with in the UK to do all that heavy lift­ing.

The car­pen­ter in­sisted on hand­ing all the oak roof tim­bers him­self, solo, with blocks and pul­leys — pure old school — and the Ir­ish oak beam which weighs many tonnes for the main, in­glenook fire­place man­tle, came in on rollers, inch by inch, painstak­ing in place, a job for cen­turies to come, with bark still at­tached.

Ar­chi­tect Alex White over­saw the de­sign and de­tail­ing, and mas­ter thatcher John Bar­ron, orig­i­nally from the UK, now in Kil­dor­rery near Fer­moy, did the ex­quis­ite thatch job and de­tailed ridge work, in Turk­ish reed.

The work was done as a job for life, and they have grown fam­ily and vis­it­ing grand­chil­dren, but feel their adult chil­dren (ahem, one of their ‘chil­dren’ is com­ing close to re­tire­ment age, they let slip) wouldn’t be in a po­si­tion to take it on in fu­ture years. In any case, they’ve nothing left to do here as it’s such a fin­ished pack­age, with tall stone-built bar­be­cue unit by the house and a stone bound­ary wall. Across the way are or­nate, coun­try-style gar­dens, veg beds, poly­tun­nel, log store, bulk

tanks for LPG gas fires and cen­tral head­ing, bio­cy­cle unit, veg and flower beds, and there’s even a stream as a low-down bound­ary to the far gar­den.

Leav­ing it all ship-shape, and jus­ti­fi­ably with a sense of pride in a job well done, the hos­pitable and en­gag­ing­cou­plea­reen­thused­with the prospect of a new chap­ter in Cobh.

As a re­sult, Car­rig­dan­gan is now on the open mar­ket, listed at €395,000 by im­pressed es­tate agent Robert O’Ke­effe of Ir­ish & European. Its 0.75-acre site strad­dles both sides of the road down to the beach, and Mr O’Ke­effe can ex­pect in­ter­est in this east Cork pearl from far and wide, and from near to hand. He says: “Rarely does a prop­erty that is pre­sented in such fash­ion come to the open mar­ket.”

With coast­line routes round head­lands to­wards Bal­ly­cot­ton, tucked-away Guileen has its keen ad­mir­ers, and there’s only ever the rare chance to buy here, while the prospect of get­ting a site so close to the sea is close to zilch.

Mr O’Ke­effe cal­cu­lates the floor area at just un­der 2,500 sq ft, but that doesn’t in­clude much of the up­per floors and mez­za­nines, with three dif­fer­ent sets of stairs nec­es­sary to the var­i­ous up­per lev­els and gal­leries.

The house is ef­fec­tively one room wide along most of its con­sid­er­able length, and its front and gable-end en­trance points are tra­di­tional half-doors or, in the case of the cen­tre front one, a doorand-a-half, with a full door set in­side the lower half.

There’s a charm­ing, homely

kitchen with units in solid oak, topped with gran­ite, and ap­pli­ances in­clude an un­tra­di­tional mi­crowave; there’s a dou­ble ce­ramic sink, French farm­house style, and a Stan­ley range, gas-fu­elled, while the first-floor liv­ing room has a gas in­sert fire.

Floor­ing is Welsh quarry tiles, heated un­der­foot, and light­ing is eco-friendly LEDs, and be­hind is a high-ceilinged din­ing room, whose walls are adorned with Ti­tanic mem­o­ra­bilia, a wo­ven hang­ing, and a pair of polo mal­lets.

One of these el­e­gant tim­ber mal­lets had been used by Prince Charles, and the other by the polo-ob­sessed Sul­tan of Brunei, who at one stage had up to 200 polo horses, reveals Kieron.

There are three ground-floor bed­rooms, with the mas­ter suite at the far gable end com­plete with fire­place, dress­ing room, wet room-style bath­room with power shower, and, like the main bath­room with its gold­plated towel rail, there are bidets in both wash rooms for ablu­tions. A hand­crafted and mar­ble-topped van­ity ta­ble in the cou­ple’s bath­room suite came from one of the sul­tan’s many prop­erty makeovers in Lon­don, and they al­tered it to fit and be more at home in an Ir­ish cot­tage.

Next to the mas­ter suite is a tra­di­tional liv­ing room, with dou­ble-height ceil­ing and old, stone in­glenook fire­place with wood­burn­ing stove in­serted for ef­fi­ciency’s sake. How­ever, also kept in situ are an old fire bel­lows and a fire crane for hang­ing pots. The enor­mous chim­ney breast rises in steps, with an­tique ob­jects on dis­play in­clud­ing old Til­ley lamp, and a framed Sa­cred Heart pic­ture. Wall lights in this room are work­ing gas lights, for old-style ef­fect, and other light­ing in var­i­ous rooms in­clude painted solid brass ships light.

Ran­dom, and not so ran­dom, bits of nauti- cal mem­o­ra­bilia in­clude an an­cient piece of bat­tered and worn tim­ber with dowel pins, which had been part of the 1750s-built HMS Vic­tory, Lord Nel­son’s flag­ship at the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar in 1805, re­placed dur­ing one of the Vic­tory’s sev­eral phases of restora­tion in the early 1900s.

An oak lad­der stair­case case leads past roof beams to a gallery room over­look­ing the liv­ing sec­tion be­neath, and is the small­est of the three first-floor gal­leries.

The mid-sec­tion gallery is used as a sewing and crafts work­room by ever-busy Ber­nadette, and is partly split level, while all duct­ing and ser­vices for this up-to-spec 21st cen­tury re-cre­ation runs across the house un­der the steps, which can lift up for ac­cess/ser­vic­ing — just one of Kieron Stone’s many clever touches.

The main first-floor liv­ing room is a real fea­ture space, with high, vaulted ceil­ings, ex­posed beams, and a gas-fu­elled fire­place. There’s a low-down gable win­dow, much graced by Bonny, the cou­ple’s West High­land dog, as it of­fers a per­fect van­tage point out the road to the sea, beach, front gate, and over the kitchen en­trance half-door — Bonny’s quite the guard dog.

Bonny’s also quite fond of the rug in front of this room’s fire­place. The rug’s a ‘cast off’ from the Sul­tan of Brunei, cut down to size. It weighs a tonne, notes Ber­nadette, and while they were told it was made with gold thread, she’s not too sure that it was. What is gilded, how­ever, are the or­nately carved and plushly up­hol­stered chairs and so­fas in the room — an­other, eh, pala­tial touch, and od­dity, end­ing up un­der an Ir­ish thatch.

VER­DICT: Su­perbly built charmer, in a be­guil­ing Guileen sea­side set­ting, and with a tech spec usu­ally only seen in new builds. And... in a cer­tain sul­tan’s many palaces.

Guileen, White­gate, Cork Price: €395,000 Size: 228 sq m (2,454 sq ft) Bed­rooms: 3 plus gal­leries Bath­rooms: 3 BER: C1 Best fea­ture: 21st cen­tury spec thatch by the sea

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