Call of the wild
Mermaid Isle Sneem, Co Kerry €1.9m or €495,000 for Mermaid Isle cottage
Fancy your own nature reserve? Mermaid Isle on the tip of Iveragh peninsula in Kerry has all the elements a wannabe David Attenborough could possibly desire. First, there's 1,220m of private shoreline, thick with tidepools and populated by sea urchins, anemones and prawns. In the calm bay beyond, resident seals Boogie and Woogie - named by the vendors - can often be seen doing the back stroke, dolphins come to play, while an otter has made its home on the shoreline.
Across the bay, lies Illaundrane, a slab of uninhabited island that acts as a windbreak to protect Mermaid Isle from the Atlantic storms. Roughly half of Illaundrane, or 26 acres, is for sale with the property, as well as an additional 25 acres that surrounds the house.
All of this can be observed from either of two hot tubs that sit high up on the property, a vantage point that owners Kevin O'Farrell and Lori Kearney have enjoyed for over 30 years.
The couple are originally from the US where Kevin trained as an industrial designer. After a stint with Ford in Detroit, he became the go-to guy in North America for museum and aquarium design and has had a hand in everything from the Boston Children's Museum to the San Francisco Zoo. When he was commissioned to paint a dinosaur, he realised he could do the work anywhere in the world, and chose Sneem, a spot which he'd visited in the past.
And so in 1986 the former New Yorkers found themselves wandering down an overgrown Kerry boreen, braving a bull and bogs, to view what was then a tiny three-bed cottage.
"By the time we reached the gate," says Kevin, "we knew we were going to buy, it just resonated with us perfectly. It was mind-boggling and so we went back to the auctioneer that day, put the money down and said we're going to buy it. It was the fastest deal in Irish history."
They upped sticks and moved with their two daughters from California to Kerry. "Our kids were teenagers at that time so they spent their time running around the area, doing what we do, swimming with the fish and the seals, rowing boats and kayaks and snorkelling."
They restored the cottage, knocking the three small bedrooms into one, and redid a bathroom. They added hand-carved stairs, a lintel scarred by teredo worm holes that washed up after a shipwreck and many other relics - in fact, the entire property is constructed with oddments of history salvaged and curated by the former museum designer.
The couple planned to extend and did add on a large conservatory to the cottage, but eventually what had been planned as a barn grew into the main house, extending to 418sqm over three floors.
Its design is based on that of the medieval barns which were built in Ireland in the 14-1500s, says Kevin, about the post and beam construction. The stained glass windows came from the Bon Secour convent in Cork, the doors and ecclesiastical touches from a pre-famine church, its font now a bird bath. "The place just has a lot of soul," says Kevin.
"Unlike a lot of places where you have tonnes of bedrooms," he adds, "we have a lot of big spaces but we don't necessarily have bedrooms. Lori has a 56sqm studio on the top of one side of the building and I have the top of the other side of the building."
There are three bedrooms and three bathrooms too, and a new owner could easily reconfigure the space currently given over to the couple's separate studios to make three more bedrooms. There is also a gym, laundry room and library as well as a light-filled atrium that Kevin calls 'the DMZ - the demilitarised Zone' where he and Lori come down from their separate studios to watch TV or hang out.
Lori is a serious chef and cooks up feasts in the kitchen overlooking the water. "We have a handy neighbour who is a fisherman and, lo and behold, he comes by regularly and says, 'Would you like some pollack. How's about a lobster?'" says Kevin.
Mermaid Isle is a magical place but Kevin and Lori are now of an age to downsize to a smaller house and hope to stay in the area. They originally put the property on the market 10 years ago at the boom-time price of €7.5m. It has had a number of price reductions since, most recently, to €1.9m.
The property would suit a publicity-shy celebrity, an artist or writer seeking inspiration, or a family who want to make their bucket-and-spade holidays a year-round reality.
The cottage, which is also on sale separately at an asking price of €495,000, has obvious potential for tourism since the property is close to one of the country's most popular destinations, the Ring of Kerry.
The village of Sneem is 10 minutes' drive away, while the fine, sandy beaches of Derrynane and Castlecove are less than 15 minutes' away. The largest town nearby is Killarney, 55km inland, while Farranfore Airport, which is served by Ryanair and Aer Lingus, is approximately 73km away.
Era: Main house dates from late 1980s
Size: Main house, 418sqm; cottage, 67sqm
Agent: Barry Auctioneers (021) 427 9677
Viewing: By appointment