Connemara cottage is full of heart for €385k
Traditional-style Irish cottage has lots of modern additions
The history of The Ferns, a postcard-pretty whitewashed thatched cottage deep in Connemara, actually unfolds as one love story wrapped up in another.
Based in Dublin, Heather Darling and her husband Leo longed for a holiday cottage in their beloved Connemara that combined old-world charm with modern architectural design. Their great dream finally became a reality in Scrahallia, near Cashel when 20 years ago, in the absence of finding a period cottage, they decided to build their own in the Irish vernacular style.
To go with the traditional thatched roof, thick stone walls and sash windows there were modern additions with design enabling maximum light penetration and the comfort of gas central heating.
Heather and her family and regular house guests down the years enjoyed the five-bedroom cottage, built many's the turf fire in the old Connemara stone fireplace in the sitting room, and basked in the stunning views from the elevated site overlooking Cloonisle Bay and taking in the majestic Twelve Bens.
Leo Darling passed away some time ago and Heather feels the time has come for her to move on.
The 1,400 sq ft cottage, on the Wild Atlantic Way, is not overlooked and when they were young, their kids could run freely on the acre of stone-walled garden, with heavy woodland off one corner to scramble and climb in.
The blue half and half country-style door opens into an airy and interesting space with high ceilings, exposed natural local stone walls and beams and Liscannor stone floors. The sitting room fireplace, one of two in the house, is immediately visible and inviting.
The large dining/living room has panoramic views of the landscaped gardens and the sea through the wraparound windows and double doors lead to the large sunny patio area.
This house has been well maintained and exudes character at every turn.
The kitchen has a Rangemaster double oven, Belfast sink with antique-style brass taps, and a Hoover fridge.
The sun rises in front of the kitchen area and sets to the front of the house.
Natural stone patio walls have been designed to take advantage of the varied garden elevations and views.
There is currently a planning permission to extend - and the future owners can look at the potential of adding a conservatory and/or a garage.
The house is a few minutes' drive from Roundstone and the white crescent-shaped sandy beaches of Dog's Bay and Gurteen while this area is a walker's delight with the rugged trails in the Twelve Bens and, across the Inagh valley, the Maamturk mountains.
Roundstone is full of craft shops and restaurants overlooking the harbour, and there is also ice-age scoured and lake-strewn Roundstone Bog.
Clifden, where they trade in the famous Connemara Ponies, is another short spin away, by bike or car, and a great springboard for all sorts of activities, be it horse-riding, fishing, a boat ride to Inishbofin or the Aran Islands, or a trip up to Leenane and Killary fjord for some real outdoor adventure.
Clifden is very much associated with the arts and traditional music, and as well as the annual traditional music festival coming up soon, the annual arts week in September will also pack them in.
WHAT TO DO
"You never lack for something to do, and sure, if the weather's not great, I would light a turf fire, read or tend the garden," says Heather Darling, a great outdoors person who subscribes to the view of comedian Billy Connolly that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.
There is always something going on in Roundstone or Clifden - for example, Heather completed a course with master bodhran maker Malachy Kearns in Roundstone.
Heather was even part of a cup winning crew in the famous Galway Hooker race in the annual Roundstone regatta, held in July.
There are also galleries such as Yvonne King's Studio and the Stable Gallery, which features more contemporary art. Artists also exhibit in the local bars and hotels.
Heather is a fan of the Victorian mansion and fishing hotel that is Ballinahinch House, in Recess, the 2012 Georgina Campbell Guide's Hotel of the Year, and other favourites are the old-world Zetland Country House, on the edge of Cashel Bay, and the Lough Inagh Valley Hotel, on the shores of one of Connemara's most spectacular lakes.
The nearby Cashel House Hotel has been a great favourite of Gay Byrne, and in 1969, General and Madame de Gaulle stayed here for two weeks.
Runners will appreciate the annual Connemara International Marathon, on April 16 this year. You can choose the half-marathon, full marathon or 39.3 mile ultra marathon.
The Four Seasons Walking Festivals (one for every season), under guides Michael Gibbons and Gerry McCluskey, are hugely popular; all you need is a good pair of walking boots.
The Tour de Conamara (May 28) is the Irish leg of a new international cycling race in Clifden, with the option of 140km and 80km routes. A 14km family cycle with free cycling tuition for kids will be hosted over the weekend.
For horse racing enthusiasts or curious onlookers, the Omey Races in August will see nine races on the strand between Claddaghduff and the tidal Omey island.
The Connemara Pony Festival, from August 14-21 in Clifden, is the premier show in Ireland for breeders and owners from home and overseas.
But really, Connemara is all about finding hidden places for yourself off the beaten track, from vast, beautiful bogland, to rivers, lakes, woodlands, rich meadowlands, rugged hills, and, as you near the coast, an unpolluted coastline of sandy beaches and blue waters.
EATING AND DRINKING
Over at the Cashel House Hotel, chefs Arturo Amit and local man John O'Toole are known for showcasing local produce, notably seafood. Roast Connemara lamb is a favourite.
In the Zetland Country House Hotel, the likes of herb crusted halibut on a bed of creamy garlic mash with chive and white wine sauce will tantalise the taste buds.
In Clifden, Mitchell's, on Market Street, has the Georgina Campbell seal of approval: "The international flavours are there - but how refreshing it is to find old friends like bacon and cabbage 'Mitchell's style', seafood chowder and fresh crab salad with home-made brown bread there amongst the home-made spicy fish cakes and duck wraps with spicy mayo," she writes.
At Roundstone, O'Dowd's Restaurant and Bar - all dark wood and rustic charm - is renowned for its chowder. Eldon's restaurant and hotel on High Street, and Vaughan's Roundstone House (both well reviewed on Tripadvisor) also do fantastic seafood.
Over at the Lough Inagh Valley Hotel, the oven-baked Killary Lobster with lemon butter is exquisite.
While it's true that the southside Dublin legal eagle set congregates in Roundstone, the tourist population is a mix of everything from well-heeled Brits and Americans to Irish people who just love Connemara.
WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE
The unlit roads are precarious places to walk at night with no footpaths. Buyers who want a period vernacular thatched cottage might prefer to hold out for the real thing.
Scrahallia, Cashel, Co Galway
Asking price: €385,000
Agent: Janet Carroll Estate Agent, Blackrock, Co Dublin Tel: 087 400 2020