Bringing the Highlands to the Midlands
Inverness couple built a Scottish baronial-style residence in Westmeath, writes Eithne Tynan
Corgarve, Streamstown, Co Westmeath
Asking price: €575,000
Agent: Oates Auctioneers in Athlone, (0906) 477 500 and iam-sold (01) 6875040
TRADITION has it that when an emigrant writes a song about his beloved old homestead, the house in question is a little thatched cottage, humble and sweet.
Take for example the traditional Scottish song, Grannie's Heilan Hame' which features a "wee hoose… on the breast of the brae", surrounded by heather bells and dew and with a tearful grannie at the door.
The 'heilan hame' of the song's title of course means 'highland home', and it was the name chosen by Betty Dick and her late husband Bob when they finished building their home in Co Westmeath back in the 1990s.
The similarities to Grannie's tiny cottage end there. Bob and Betty Dick did not build a wee house in the heather for their 'heilan hame'. Instead they commissioned a local architect to design a huge, Scottish baronial-style residence complete with a pair of crenellated wings, stables and an artificial lake, all on nine acres.
The couple hailed from Inverness, the most northerly city in the UK and the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Its most dramatic landmark is the 19th-century Inverness Castle, whose baronial turrets dominate the city skyline.
In designing their castellated home, Bob and Betty added a flavour of their home town to the landscape of Co Westmeath, and brought the Highlands to the Midlands.
Inverness is also famous for its bagpipers, but that cultural influence does not appear to have taken hold of Bob or Betty. Their preference was for country music.
"We used to come every year on holiday to Ireland and we were into all the country and western," Betty recalls.
Eventually they decided to stay, and secured planning permission from Westmeath County Council for their 'heilan hame' in 1998. The house was completed a year later.
It's in the townland of Corgarve, north of Horseleap and south of Streamstown, in a parkland sort of setting surrounded by fertile land and mature trees. A tree-lined avenue leads to the striking front elevation of the house, where there's a flight of steps up to the front door. A cannon stands guard each side of the steps. The original Inverness Castle was destroyed by the Jacobites, after all, and you can't be too careful.
'Heilan Hame' stands at a stately 4,433 sq ft. But despite its size and imposing appearance, Betty insists "it really is a comfortable house". They are hardy folk in Inverness, and think nothing of temperatures around -10°, but luckily 'Heilan Hame' is suitable for less robust types as well, with oil-fired central heating and a C2 energy rating.
The Scottish theme continues inside, with dashes of tartan, wood panelling, highland landscape scenes, and a tapestry of a stag on the landing, overlooking the staircase.
The staircase is impressive too - open-string and constructed of solid wood with a carpet of tartan, it's a bifurcated stairs leading to a gallery landing on the first floor. The walls in the hallway are wood-panelled and there's an ornate antique radiator.
To the left of the hallway is the sitting room, where there's a marble fireplace with a gas fire, and a solid oak floor. The dining room is to the right, also with an oak floor and a fireplace, and it opens into the kitchen at the back of the house, fitted with oak cabinets and granite countertops.
The lounge occupies the space behind one of the two curved walls. It has another marble fireplace - this time electric - and an oak floor.
The ground floor also has one of the seven bedrooms - behind the other turreted wall at the opposite end of the house. It has wooden floors, a dressing room and an en-suite with a spa bath. The other six bedrooms are on the first floor and all are en-suite - four with showers and two with Jacuzzi baths.
There's both a centralised vacuum system and a centralised music system, and there are security gates and an alarm.
The back of the house faces south-west and there's a double garage and a stable on the grounds (both also castellated structures). Landscaped gardens occupy two acres surrounding the house, including a fountain, and there are seven acres of paddocks.
Bob died six years ago and Betty now finds the maintenance of the property a little too onerous. Asked if she minds revealing her age, she quips, "Yes! I do mind!" But she is, as she describes it, "a grannie" and no longer in the utmost good health. She hopes now to return to her family in Scotland.
"I really am sorry to be leaving it," she says. "I don't want to go but I have to go. And I have loved Ireland. The people are lovely here, you know. It's not just the country and western!"
'Heilan Hame' is about 10 minutes' drive from the M6 motorway, getting you to the outskirts of Dublin (the M50) in around an hour.
Oates in partnership with iam-sold.ie will auction this home on September 28 at 7pm in the Clarion Hotel Liffey Valley. The guide is €575,000.