Friday 6 December 2019

Old school house transformed into four bedroom home with views over Mourne Mountains

A Dublin couple turned an unwanted school into a successful Airbnb, writes Mark Keenan

Room with a view: The mezzanine area of The Old Fieldstown Schoolhouse was once home to the master bedroom but is now a relaxation and viewing lounge
Room with a view: The mezzanine area of The Old Fieldstown Schoolhouse was once home to the master bedroom but is now a relaxation and viewing lounge
The reception room
The living room
The hallway
The kitchen
The exterior of the schoolhouse
Joanne McCabe
An Irish country school of old
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Last year archaeologist Enda O'Flaherty published one of the most beautiful and poignant Irish photo studies to be seen in recent times.

His book, Deserted Schools of Ireland, was the product of his quest to document in photos the ruination of hundreds of once loved schools the length and breadth of Ireland.

Deserted Schools features 240 crumbling or ruined school houses, mostly Victorian and early 20th century era buildings, that served generations of children in rural Ireland before the State began investing properly in education in earnest in the 1950s and 1960s.

With no one willing to take them on, they began to crumble. Among his incredible pictures we see sad school rooms with rain-stained pianos, cupboard doors hanging off and tiny little desks covered in green mould. There are shattered blackboards and cobweb-strewn, pot-bellied stoves.

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The reception room
The reception room

There were so many that it took O'Flaherty, who works at Rubicon Heritage in Cork, four years to photograph them all. Many are posted on his blog where the reaction has been massive. They especially resonated with the Irish diaspora.

"They are built with quite high ceilings, generally one-and-a-half storeys single leaf, with rubble and mortar construction used until the 1930s," said O'Flaherty who added that is saddened by their advancing decrepitude. He believes that almost all old school houses are rescuable and has called for an inventory to be made as a start towards repurposing them before they are lost forever.

He told the Independent: "These buildings are not just bricks and mortar. People contact me through my blog to talk about a grandfather who attended a school until they emigrated at the age of 13 or 14. Those emigrants never came home again, and the school could be the last memory they ever had of Ireland."

Happily there are some characterful schoolhouses out there which have not only survived, but have thrived and thanks to a combination of brave buyers who have taken them and the work necessary to preserve these much loved landmarks, and Airbnb, which has caused a boom in tourists striving to sojourn in unusual buildings in off-track locations.

And today the old 1880s school house at Fieldstown in Co Louth is not among those O'Flaherty will be snapping any time soon thanks to carpet business duo Bernard Burke and Joan McCabe who bought it just as it was slipping to the brink.

"We acquired it in 2003," says Joan. "It had been used on and off as a play school but it had become very run down indeed. It was the big open-plan room with the outdoor toilets, the whole thing. And upstairs overhead was the space in which the school master used to live.

The living room
The living room

"Bernard and I run MCS Carpets Wood and Flooring in Swords. It means we have good contacts in the construction and homes fittings businesses, so it put us in a good position to carry out a renovation. Even so, it took us a year-and-a-half to get the necessary work done and I can tell you we put the best of everything into it. We liked it so much that we moved in and lived there."

The need to trade up and to be closer to the business recently saw the couple move in to Swords. "It was sort of sitting there empty and we said: 'Hey, why not try it out as an Airbnb?' And it just flew. Latterly it was getting €2,000 per week in the summer, no problem."

The downside is that Joan had to drive back and forth to give and take keys and to service it. "I think it needs someone nearer to run it for Airbnb or to live here."

Despite looking small from the road, this home is two-and-a-half times the size of an average semi at 2,500 sq ft.

Inside the decor is traditional cottage cosy but it has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. There's an entrance hall, a modern kitchen with a Belfast sink and steps run through to the living room and dining room with its log stove and feature brick wall.

There's a staircase to the mezzanine overhead where the master used to live - it now has a main relaxation lounge and a viewing lounge. A feature stone brick wall divides the lounge from the mezzanine and there's also a balcony.

The kitchen
The kitchen

Outside, the patio has a seating area with jacuzzi - useful for outdoor entertaining in summer. There's a dry laid stone wall and a stone-built shed.

Located at Monasterboice with views of the famous Mourne Mountains, it comes with enough land to start a small holding. It's an hour from Belfast and an hour from Dublin Airport. Just off the M1, it's five minutes' drive to Drogheda and ten minutes to Seapoint Beach.

From those who want to go back to school, the Robt B Daly agency seeks an offer of €525,000.

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