Made in heaven: Peek inside this amazing renovated church in West Cork
The home is on the market for €395,000
The other day, the vendor of the converted Church at Dromkeal, Patrick McCarthy, came outside to find an American tourist in the garden, camera in hand, taking snaps for his holiday album. It's something he's grown used to. "I see a lot of cars slowing down, or cyclists getting off their bikes to take a look," he says of the property. "I'm a bit biased but it is one of the most historic and eye-catching in the area."
It certainly has kerb appeal. The cut-stone porch has late-blooming roses twining up either side of the Gothic door, and it is set on one of the most striking stretches of road on the Wild Atlantic Way, halfway between Bantry and the well-known beauty spot of Glengarriff. Built, it is believed, in 1798 as a schoolhouse, it was later extended to the rear to become a Church of Ireland chapel, serving the spiritual needs of the scattered community of residents in the area.
The Church sold it in the 1990s to a visiting couple bought it on a whim at auction, says Patrick. The pair set to work converting the chapel and spent a significant amount of time there. Since then, it has changed hands a number of times.
"I came back from London in 2014 and thought I'd love to take on a project. I saw this and fell for its charms," says Patrick, who is originally from Bantry. "Everyone said it would be overwhelming. It's on 2.7 acres. It was neglected, unloved and not looking its best." But Patrick had undertaken projects like this before - he had refurbed two properties in boomtime Dublin and one in London, and built a house in West Cork. "It was a local landmark. I saw it was up for sale and six weeks after coming home, I had bought it."
"I did it up slowly," he says, "bit by bit." That involved rewiring the entire property - "rewiring was a complex job as it hadn't been updated in decades." Behind the front door is the large living room, 6.81m x 2.91m, with wooden beams which Patrick painted bitter chocolate, whitewashed walls and a wood-burning stove. "It's very cosy in winter, the stove heats the room in minutes and also heats the bedrooms."
Beyond the living room is the big hall, 4.92m x 8.26m, an open-plan kitchen/dining/sitting room with a mezzanine bedroom. The conversion from church to home has been sensitively done and many of the ecclesiastical details have been retained: the slim Gothic arched windows, the high vaulted ceiling that is lined with wood and the stained-glass Star of David window above what would once have been the altar or chancel and now seats up to 12 in pews. The original wooden floorboards are still in place, while the mezzanine bedroom has an ornate carved wooden rail that was salvaged from Rochestown monastery in Cork. "The acoustics are so good that it has been used for recording music," says Patrick.
The main bathroom is on the ground floor and contains a shower rather than a bath. There is also a generous-sized utility room/laundry with sink that can easily accommodate all the buckets and spades required of a seaside home.
Patrick also added an upstairs WC to serve the three bedrooms. Two are double and one has a large projecting window with a built-in window seat that would be an ideal spot to read or enjoy the view.
When he first moved in, the gardens were very overgrown. "They had vast untapped potential. I cleared all the grounds to see what I had." That involved removing the gorse, getting diggers in and clearing the ground to expose the natural rock. He also planted a meadow with birch trees.
Today, the property sits in a little valley between flanking knolls of rock that give breath-taking views out to Bantry Bay and Whiddy Island. Across the road from the property is Snave Pier, where old salts can moor a boat, putter around the islands or launch a kayak, while landlubbers can enjoy the view from the comfort of the house.
There is enough room to develop the grounds. Planning permission was granted for a guest cottage and garage a decade or so ago but has since lapsed, and there is a separate entrance to the side garden for access.
"If I could only relocate the church to another place I would," says Patrick. "It's my dream house." However, he has his sights set on Dublin and perhaps another project.
The property has many charms, and is likely to appeal to someone wanting a holiday home, to downsizers looking for a manageable property with character, or even, given its southwesterly aspect and acreage, to someone from the city looking for the good life. It is also likely to be in demand as an Airbnb rental, given its location on the Wild Atlantic Way and proximity to Bantry, 10 minutes' drive away, and Glengarriff, an equal distance.
Address: Chruch at Dromkeal, Ballylickey, Bantry, Co Cork
Joint agents: Harrington Estates
(027) 51553; Sherry FitzGerald Daly
(064) 664 1213
Viewing: By appointment only