Monday 24 June 2019

A Beara necessity - an idyllic €1.65m waterfront villa on West Cork coast

A €1.65m waterfront villa on the West Cork coast is attracting lots of attention from abroad, writes Celine Naughton

Otterbank - the waterfront villa on the West Cork coast
Otterbank - the waterfront villa on the West Cork coast
One of the reception rooms at Otterbank on the Beara Peninsula that has floor-to-ceiling windows with coastal views across Bantry Bay to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula
The kitchen is painted in sun-kissed yellow
The private pier
The blue sea-coloured dining room
The main bathroom
The exterior of the four-bed property
The house is set at the foot of the Caha Mountains

Celine Naughton

Research by Amárach and expat website Irish Central shows that one in three Irish-Americans would like to buy a holiday home in Ireland. That yearning for the old country rises in the older population, with over half of those at retirement age saying they'd consider splitting their time between Ireland and the US, and 55pc of all those surveyed said they'd prefer a rural location to an urban one. On top of this, when they buy here, they want an 'Irish' home with character, rather than the somewhat nondescript and clinical grey, beige interiors currently in favour with the natives.

They want views, they want scenery and they want water, preferably coastal. They also want good restaurants and good food on the doorstep.

Otterbank, a four-bedroom waterfront house, is just outside Castletownbere, the main town on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. It's just the sort of pad that wealthier retiring Americans zone in on. Sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by Bere Island and the Caha Mountains, this is where author Daphne du Maurier set her 1943 novel, Hungry Hill. It was named after the peninsula's highest peak. And this rugged landscape is exactly the kind of romantic setting Americans associate with the Emerald Isle, according to selling agent Roseanne De Vere Hunt, who already has interest from across the pond.

Across the jagged coastline is the holiday villa owned by film director Neil Jordan, who shot his movie, Ondine, starring Colin Farrell, on the Beara Peninsula. The area is noted for attracting arty types like writers, painters, artisan food makers and craft makers, while Berehaven Harbour also makes it a hotspot for yachting and watersports activities.

One of the reception rooms at Otterbank on the Beara Peninsula that has floor-to-ceiling windows with coastal views across Bantry Bay to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula
One of the reception rooms at Otterbank on the Beara Peninsula that has floor-to-ceiling windows with coastal views across Bantry Bay to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula

Described by Lonely Planet as "a fishing port first, tourist town second", Castletownbere is the biggest whitefish port in the country. With its economy rooted in the fishing industry, it doesn't have to rely on Wild Atlantic Way-trippers to earn its keep, yet in recent years, it has seen a rising tide in tourism. New restaurants are popping up, once dormant hotels have reopened, and it's increasingly gaining a reputation as a foodie heaven. With access to each day's catch fresh from the harbour, the town has a plentiful supply of seafood restaurants, including the highly rated Ocean Wild, Breen's Lobster Bar and Murphy's Restaurant, which also makes the area very popular with staycationing Dubs.

There's an art gallery on the pier, a weekly farmers' market selling artisan food and local arts and crafts, and a host of cafés and bars, not least the landmark MacCarthy's Bar, which doubles up as a grocery shop, mainly for local fishermen. Even now, 20 years after the late Pete McCarthy, author of the travelogue McCarthy's Bar, obeyed his rule to "never pass a bar that has your name on it", tourists still take the trouble to go off the beaten track and have a hooley in the pub he made world famous.

Located 2km from the town centre, Otterbank is perched on an elevated site 160ft above sea level, with uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean, Bere Island and the Sheep's Head peninsula.

But it's not just the vistas that are stirring the hearts of house-hunters at home and abroad. What really floats their boat is the direct waterfront setting. Sloping grounds with a thick rope handrail lead down to 1,000ft of shingled shoreline with swimming coves, a pier and private sheltered mooring - a rarity in waterfront homes these days, according to De Vere Hunt.

There's also a boat shed, decking area and picnic cabana from where you can watch out for marine passers-by such as dolphins, seals, shoals of fish and, naturally, those eponymous otters.

It was while walking along the banks one day that the owners were captivated by the sight of a boar, sow and a bunch of otter pups frolicking in the water; hence the name.

The blue sea-coloured dining room
The blue sea-coloured dining room

Having sold a house nearby, they bought the site in 2005 and engaged eco-architect Tony Cohu to design the house in harmony with the environment in which it was set. At 4,467 sq ft, it is over four times the size of an average three-bed semi. They wanted rooms that would communicate with each other and make the most of the views all around. There was to be no dead space.

Accessed via electric gates along a winding, tree-lined drive, the property is surrounded by seven acres of landscaped gardens, giving it a remote, secluded feel.

Instead of the usual hallway, the front door opens straight into a lounge from where you can see the full length of Bere Island through a bank of windows. At one end, there's a quirky floor-to-ceiling Roman-style column with carved gilt top and a raised fireplace with a similar column motif in the surround. Light floods in from Velux windows in the central apex roof, and French doors lead to an outside terrace.

The sea views continue through the open-plan kitchen-diner-sunroom with pantry off. Local joiner Larry Twomey made the Irish maple units, granite worktops and customised seating, while Skibbereen artist Alison Ospina created a pair of freeform greenwood seats for the dining table.

To the rear of the house is a formal dining room and utility room. Also downstairs are two ensuite bedrooms, a study, guest wc and cloakroom.

Upstairs, there's a library-reading room on the bridged landing, two more bedrooms, a family bathroom and a large lounge/office/games room that the owners call their 'rumpus room'. There is underfloor heating downstairs, and the house is wired with a Bang and Olufsen sound system throughout.

The house is set at the foot of the Caha Mountains
The house is set at the foot of the Caha Mountains

While most properties staged for selling are painted in 50 shades of greige, Otterbank boldly goes where few homes dare, its walls resplendent in the vibrant colours of the land and seascape around it.

Looking out the windows of each room for inspiration, one bedroom and the dining room are painted blue like the sea and sky, the sitting room green, reflecting the lawn and trees outside, and the kitchen yellow like the sun.

But it's outdoors that Otterbank truly shines, largely because of the lifestyle it offers.

Here you can be close to nature, whether climbing Hungry Hill on a soft day to watch low clouds scudding over Bantry Bay and Sheep's Head, or riding the waves of the Atlantic Ocean in your own boat. It's just 1km across to Bere Island yachting marina, and the area is a hub of sailing activity.

The current owners often take their grandchildren down to the beach where they fill their buckets with wild oysters, mussels, periwinkles, clams and scallops. They have a Danish wooden fishing boat they use to catch mackerel, which they like to smoke and eat on the terrace with a glass of Prosecco.

They also have a Stingray fast boat for water-skiing, and four kayaks for the grandkids.

While they're now planning to downsize, for wealthy Americans looking for a piece of romantic Ireland away from the hustle-and-bustle of big city life, it looks like this might be an ideal bolthole.

Agents are Sherry Fitzgerald Country Homes (01) 2751000 and Sherry FitzGerald O'Neill (028) 21404

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