Monday 27 May 2019

Francis Brennan's older brother - who collects dickie bows - is selling his enviable home

Damien Brennan and Paula Gilvarry in Sligo. Photo: Tony Gavin
Damien Brennan and Paula Gilvarry in Sligo. Photo: Tony Gavin
The Staircase. Photo: Tony Gavin
The exterior of Damien Brennan and Paula Gilvarry's Sligo home. Photo: Tony Gavin
The entrance to Damien Brennan and Paula Gilvarry favourite room in Sligo. Photo: Tony Gavin
Damien Brennan and Paula Gilvarry's bedroom. Photo: Tony Gavin
Damien Brennan and Paula Gilvarry's favourite room in Sligo. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

WE sometimes forget that there’s long been another Brennan brother loose on the Irish hospitality scene — albeit behind the scenes — the one who describes himself as “the oldest and poorest, the one who taught the others all they know”.

Aside from the ever colourful TV favourite front-of-house Francis and his more understated business brain brother John, of Kenmare Park and At Your Service fame — older brother Damien has been a big presence in the development of national tourism through his former roles at Fáilte Ireland, latterly as business development manager. Before that he was a publican and a well-known restauranteur.

Out at Holywell Road just outside Sligo Town, he and his wife Paula Gilvarry have since 2013 become dedicated drivers of Yeats tourism through a unique home-based enterprise which combines fine food and Yeats, in whom Damien has had a life-long interest.

“We take in coachloads of tourists into our home, most are coming from English-speaking markets abroad like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and we treat them to a very special evening of Yeats and Irish food. We have a Big Green Egg which allows us to slow barbecue and slow smoke prime cuts of Irish meat, usually legs of lamb, loins of pork and we serve local wild venison, though usually pan cooked because it’s so lean.”

Guests who have WBeen here include former US ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and the producer Bill Hughes. Damien formerly ran Beezies, one of Sligo’s best known hostelries and this is where he met Paula, a medical practitioner. Together they would open the well-loved Reveries restaurant at Rosses Point. He retired from Fáilte in 2012 and with Paula, (a former president of the IMO), decided to go all out with The full Irish Yeats Experience Brennan style.

They built Broc House, part inspired by the Lloyd Wright prairie style and part by Swedish design in 2002, with the help of architect Wendy Lyons. Broc House has the enviable position of taking in from its dining room views, Lough Gill and along with it, the visual inspirations for four of Yeat’s poems, among them the well-loved ‘The Stolen Child’.

Like his brother Francis, Damien also bursts with those famously flamboyant genes — he dresses the dapper Yeatsian role and has a personal collection of 145 dickie bows.“That’s my signature. The big advantage of dickie bows is that they’re never in fashion so they don’t go out of fashion. You can buy for life.”

But Broc House has had its own vital role to play in the Yeats Experience, particularly in the massive 43 foot long floor -to-ceiling picture window view which allows dining guests to peer down into the Yeatsian mists while dining and listening to their host read from WB.

The Brennans had their own unusual stipulation for the architect: “Influenced perhaps by trips to Sweden, we opted for a very contemporary angular design using modern materials. But conscious of intruding overly on this landscape, we wanted to find a way to soften its impact. So we suggested making it look like it is rising up from an older traditional house.”

The resulting effect of the cut-stone base and frame gives the impression that the modern home has somehow sprouted up magically inside a ruin of the type we dotted all over the west through generations of depopulation.

“Our staircase is concrete and it was all done in one pour. The kitchen island unit, which has been in many ways at the centre of the home, is also concrete. Now of course polished concrete is sought after, but we were doing this way back.”

Having reached 66 (“I’ve got the free travel!”) Damien is planning to wind down his activities somewhat on the Yeats host front. The couple’s new plans will involve the sale of Broc House, which is proving a bit too large to manage following the departure of their two grown-up children (son Paul is about to open his own restaurant in Sligo). The house was built on land which Damien’s maternal family has farmed since the 1820s and indeed Mrs Brennan (now in her nineties) also lives nearby today. Damien and Paula have since secured permission for a smaller, more manageable, home nearby which they plan to push on with; and where the Yeats Experience will run again, albeit on a more intimate basis and scale.

Broc sits at the top of a private lane, 10 minute’s drive from Sligo Town. The site offers 360° views of Lough Gill. Its lynchpin is its large open-plan and multi -purpose living, dining, entertaining and cooking area which includes the massive tableside window views. The dining table is lit by two feature pendant dimmable light fittings and sits 16. The sitting area comes with a state-of-the-art Swedish Contura wood-burning stove with both strip spotlights and an independent circuit for floor lamps.

In the kitchen there are two six-burner gas cooking tops, a large oven and a second standard sized oven with a steam unit. They are spanned by a full size canopy with catering standard adjustable speed extraction unit. There are two main sinks and a third hand sink is inbuilt into the extra large concrete topped cooking island. The kitchen has three double floor-to-ceiling pantry presses and other undercounter units. To the rear of the kitchen is a large utility room with floor and eye-level storage which comes with a double sink, deep-bowl catering unit and it’s plumbed for a washing machine and dishwasher. Upstairs is a large double bedroom with views of the lake, there’s an ensuite bathroom with a large bath tub and a separate double-sized shower. This is also plumbed and wired for steam room use. Also off the master bed chamber is a shelved dressing room.

Down on the lower floor is the third and fourth bedrooms. The house has oil-fired underfloor heating throughout which is thermostatically zone controlled. The Brennans report WiFi coverage as strong. The house comes with a large entrance courtyard which is gravelled and holds parking for up to 10 cars. There’s a single-doored double garage and a south -facing terrace for barbecues which also includes a garden shed.  The “little wood” to the rear of the house is a also natural garden with an opportunity to be further developed. There’s just over an acre in all. To the rear of the utility room is an enclosed yard, ideal for pets and with a run for greater freedom.

The price is €650,000 through agent Walter Murphy (071) 914 2118. As for the new neigbours? Well as the man wrote: This is the land of the fairy, where nobody gets old and godly and grave.

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