Chasing waterfalls in Yeats country
Admiring a 19th century hunting lodge in the heart of treasured woodland
WHEN WB Yeats was a self-conscious 23-year-old youth feeling oppressed and homesick amid the clamour of London town, he returned to his childhood fantasy of living quietly and alone (like Henry David Thoreau in 'Walden') on one of the 20 islands of Lough Gill.
'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' was born of these juvenile imaginings. First published in 1890, it became Yeats's best-known poem - not that he was altogether happy about that. But its sentiments still resonate with those of us who have hankered after a quieter life.
A small cabin "of clay and wattles made" wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea though. Luckily, it's possible to partake of the eremitic Lough Gill dream in something a good bit bigger, and more comfortable, and more sophisticated - and needless to say, more expensive - than that.
On the eastern shores of the lake, at the Leitrim end, is Shriff Cottage, a 19th century hunting lodge built in the days when a "lodge" was regarded as a modest building with a footprint of only about, say, 3,702 sq ft. That's more than three times the size of an average city semi.
Shriff Cottage, or Sriff Cottage, as it's called on the early Ordnance Survey maps, is in the townland of Sriff, near Dromahair. It was built in the early 1800s for the Palmer family, local Protestant Ascendancy, and it is claimed that the former British prime minister Robert Peel and founder of the first modern police forces, was among the 19th-century celebs who hunted there. It seemed one of the Palmers married one of the Peels).
What you get with the property is the 3,700 sq ft main house with its accompanying courtyard of stone outbuildings, a lakeside fisherman's cottage, 70 acres of gardens, parkland and mature woodland, and your own jetty on Lough Gill.
The Palmers reportedly lived in the house until the 1950s, and when its current owners bought it some 30 years ago, they set about a full restoration of the whole place - outbuildings and grounds and all.
This included reroofing all the buildings, restoring the original windows and window shutters, rewiring and replumbing. But they were careful to preserve all the authentic simplicity of a hunting lodge - with dark polished wood floors, mellow white walls, and unpretentious furniture.
The main house is on two floors, with a slightly higgledy-piggledy layout. On the ground floor, to the right of the entrance hall, is a dining room with a bay window. This faces the river and the lake, at the northern end of the house. Corresponding to this room, on the first floor, is a drawing room whose height gives it an even more commanding view.
Back on the ground floor, the kitchen is agreeably rustic, with an old-fashioned range for cooking whatever luckless animal you've managed to pot on your land (for Shriff Cottage still has sporting rights over six adjoining townlands). And there's a separate breakfast room, so you don't have to look at the undressed corpses while enjoying your porridge. Also on this level there's a sitting room with a fireplace, a so-called anteroom, a guest toilet and a bedroom.
There are two sets of stairs up to the first floor - one being for the servants, don't you know. Apart from the drawing room, this level consists of four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Out the back of the house is the original courtyard with outbuildings including a coach house, stables, storehouses and a vinery. The agents suggest this could be converted to more accommodation, should you decide against keeping your own coach-and-four and growing your own grapes.
Of the 70 acres of grounds, some 20 acres are in pasture and around 50 acres consist of broadleaf woodland, said to be around 200 years old and designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest because of its unusual and diverse flora and fauna.
A river makes its way through the land, heading for the lake and kindly producing a waterfall on the way, and there's a broad lawn stretching from the house down to the river.
Also on the grounds is a two-acre walled garden, full of vegetables and flowering shrubs. This is no doubt where you'll be having your nine bean rows, and your hive for the honey-bee.
Then, down the road about 400 metres - because the road bisects the land - is a little fisherman's cottage on the water's edge, also fully restored. It consists of a sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, and out front of it is a private jetty, from where you could row out to Innisfree if the mood struck you.
Shriff Cottage is about three and a half kilometres from the village of Dromahair, where there are pubs and restaurants, a post office, a national school, two churches, and even a part-time library. Sligo town is about 20 minutes' drive away, and you can get to Dublin in less than three hours by car via the N4 and M4. The nearest airport is Knock, about an hour's drive away.
Dromahair, Co Leitrim
Asking price: €725,000
Agent: Ganly Walters (01) 662 3255