As a child, Patrick McCarthy lived 10km away from the converted church he would later call his own. When his father drove the coast road between Bantry and Glengarriff, a 10-year-old McCarthy would ask his dad to slow down outside the village of Ballylickey so he could catch a glimpse of the picture postcard-like building.
In 2014, McCarthy returned to Ireland from London having carried out a couple of property renovations. He noticed the west Cork home of his childhood dreams was on the market - albeit in a less-than-heavenly condition - and immediately picked it up.
McCarthy called the church conversion Seahaven, due its location just across the road from the swimming and boating spot at Snave Pier and because of its views across to Bantry Bay and Whiddy Island.
When the Cork native set about revamping Seahaven in 2015, he used notes compiled by Sir Cosmo Haskard, a former British colonial administrator, as a historical guide.
During the 1960s, the Anglo-Irishman was governor of the Falkland Islands when the British government, under Harold Wilson, was attempting to hand the remote territory over to Argentina, which had long claimed sovereignty over the islands. In 1972, Haskard came back to west Cork to live at a 'big house' near Ballylickey that had been built by his father and had survived the Troubles of the 1920s.
The church at Ballylickey, built in 1798, served as a chapel of ease for the Protestant parishioners scattered throughout the remote region. A week after the Church of Ireland held its final service at the chapel in 1988, Haskard (pictured) wrote a brief history of the building. Two years after McCarthy purchased the property, Haskard died at the age of 100.
McCarthy says Haskard "lived over the road and it would have been his main church. The story goes that he cried when it finally closed its doors as a church."
Haskard's mother was a member of the Hutchins family, who later attended services there. Ellen Hutchins, Ireland's first female botanist, was born at Ballylickey House in 1785 and would scour the local shorelines to collect, classify and draw algae, seaweeds and rare plants. She suffered from ill-health and died just before her 30th birthday, but left behind a prolific body of work: in 1999, the National Botanical Gardens published a list of some 1,200 plants that Hutchins had gathered.
It took centuries before Hutchins was fully recognised for her work, but she is now remembered every August during the Ellen Hutchins Festival and a fictionalised account of her tormented life, A Quiet Life, was published earlier this year.
Ballylickey House was turned into a hotel and restaurant, and in 1975 became one of the first restaurants in Ireland to be awarded a Michelin star. The restaurant closed, but the house's garden lodges and pool house were opened to guests. In 1842, what is now Seahaven appeared in the Ordnance Survey map as a schoolhouse, with the school later moving to a smaller building. Haskard's notes say the building "is substantially the same today as it was when it was first built, apart from the later additions of a chancel, a porch and a vestry".
The chapel was sold in the 1990s when it was converted into a private home, and it changed hands twice more before McCarthy purchased it. Nowadays, the building is a divine 1,275 sq ft three-bed home. But it has a less ecclesiastical feel than many other church conversions: for starters, there is no church spire, and living quarters were built to the front of the property for the live-in caretaker.
McCarthy says: "The caretakers would live at the front and the rear was the church. I've had people knock on my door and tell me they were born in my front room because their father was a caretaker there. They would have had a downstairs living room-cum-kitchen and the upstairs had two bedrooms."
While the chapel had already been converted by the time McCarthy arrived - mostly through the addition of a mezzanine level and utility room - it required plenty of work before it was habitable again.
His first task was tackling the overgrown 2.1 acre site that obscured the property and gardens from view. "It had been rented out at various stages and was very neglected and rundown," he says. "I brought the property and gardens back to life."
McCarthy rewired, repaired, repainted and redecorated the entire home and fitted it out with antique furniture he carefully sourced to match the period property.
The façade of the southwest-facing church conversion resembles a cottage, with its cut stone, wide eaves and high-pitched slate roof, but it has a Gothic-style front door and two Gothic windows. A front porch leads to a pretty half-door that opens on to the cosy sitting room that was once part of the caretaker's lodgings.
There is a full-height brick surround to the sitting room's wood-burning stove, which - along with the oil-fired central heating - warms the entire building.
Off the sitting room is a fitted and tiled kitchen, and a bathroom with a power shower.
The kitchen overlooks the most church-like element of Seahaven's interior - a large open-plan living/dining room with high vaulted ceilings, exposed timber beams to the rafters, Gothic windows, wooden floors and old cast-iron radiators. This living area would be an ideal space for entertaining when hosting dinner parties is back on the cards.
An archway leads from the living area up to a raised 'snug', namely a large three-sided seating area which was created around the former chancel. The focal point of the pew-panelled snug is an original stained-glass window that was purchased in 1949 from community fundraising aimed at refurbishing the building. The window depicts a star of David in the top panel and there are climbing yellow passion flowers in the two tall panels beneath. The snug could instead be used as a unique home office.
Wooden stairs lead up to the mezzanine level that sits over the kitchen. The front rail to the mezzanine, where a choir gallery may once have been, has three carved quatrefoils and is believed to have been salvaged from a monastery. The main bedroom is situated on this level. Behind that are two other bedrooms and a WC added by McCarthy. The second bedroom is a double and has a window seat to a projecting bay window that overlooks the side gardens.
McCarthy is selling up because he wants to return to city living, a move he acknowledges is a reversal of the trend for escaping urban areas that was prompted by Covid-19 restrictions. And it looks like there are plenty of house-hunters dreaming of a move to a west Cork haven - the property's Daft.ie listing attracted more than 12,790 views up to yesterday.
Sherry FitzGerald O'Neill (028 21404) is seeking €349,000.