Peek inside this renovated cottage attached to a 17th-Century mill
A fortune teller once told Fiona Kealy she would buy a house with a library and the word 'Kill' in its name - but little did she know that the family pony would also play a part in restoring the home of her dreams...
We've all had great ideas come to us in the middle of the night when we can't sleep - ideas, it has to be said, which we've usually forgotten by morning. However, Fiona Kealy's great idea came to her precisely because she couldn't sleep.
It's an idea that is still in development, but which Fiona hopes will be a great success. It's called The Bed Angel. "It came about because, one night, there was a burglary up at our hay barn, and my son's riding gear, his boots, back protectors, saddles - even the horse box, which he had bought himself with his Confirmation money - everything was taken," Fiona explains.
"At the time, there was a spate of rural crime and I couldn't sleep. Then I started to think of all the other people who were awake at the same time - my mother, who's a widow; my friend, who's recently divorced - and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have something in your bed that you could snuggle?'"
The Bed Angel, which Fiona and her friend, Janet Clarke, designed, is just such a thing. It's a very tactile, soft pair of wings, but it has extra features, including a pocket in which a person can store treasures - like holy medals or a piece of jewellery or, perhaps, little notes. It even has a voicebox so, for example, a spouse going away on business could record a message for a nervous or lonely partner to listen to at night.
Fiona and her own partner, Dermot, live in Dunsany, near where both of them grew up - Dermot was raised on a farm in Dunshaughlin, while Fiona is from Ratoath, all in Co Meath. She studied at the College of Marketing and Design and then worked in marketing in Dublin at various advertising agencies, including Peter Owens and Young's.
She and Dermot - who has his own electrical business - met at a local disco when she was just 20 years old. "Actually, we arranged to meet at the Hill of Tara the next day, and I stood him up . . . I don't know why I did that," she says with a laugh, adding, "A couple of weeks later, I met him in Dublin. At the time, I was working at Peter Owens in Fitzwilliam Square; he was studying in Kevin Street. I happened to be crossing St Stephen's Green. The next thing, a ball landed at my feet. I looked up and it was Dermot who had kicked the ball."
That was 25 years ago. The couple have been married for 20 years and have three children: Rian (17), Eoin (15) and Ava (12). They also have 15 sheep; a pony, Cookie; a dog, Sally; a cat, Rua, and a guinea pig, Nibbles.
In the early years, Fiona continued to commute, but when the children were small, she found it stressful. So now she works from home doing the admin for Dermot's business and pursuing her own projects, like The Bed Angel.
Her house, Killeen Mill, took up a lot of her time over the last few years, too. The family's first home was a dormer bungalow in the pretty village of Batterstown, which they built in 1997, but in 2012 Dermot and Fiona decided they needed somewhere bigger.
"I also thought I'd love an old house," Fiona says, "but they're very hard to find in this area, so we asked a local estate agent to keep an eye out."
What the estate agent came up with was far from what Fiona had envisaged: for a start, it hadn't been lived in for 10 years - the owner had died, and the family members couldn't agree on what to do with it - but something about the house propelled the couple forward.
Fiona simply adored its air of romance. Part of the property was an old mill dating from the 17th Century, and attached to that was a sweet 200-year-old, double-fronted cottage. That was the plus side.
On the other hand, it was completely derelict. The windows were all gone, the gardens were overgrown - it was, in Fiona's words, an eyesore, but yet she wanted it.
She continued to want it even after she and Dermot met with Meath County Council, who explained that it was of historical importance, and that whatever they did had to be heritage-approved conservation.
Then came the day of the sale. "The mill had to be sold by public auction and the auction was held in Tattersalls," Fiona recalls. "I remember the room was packed - it was of huge local interest - and there were rumours that the Teeling Whiskey Distillery people were going to buy it, as it used be called Teeling's Mill a few years ago.
"There were three bidders but, when the hammer fell, it was our offer that was accepted, and everyone lined up to shake our hands," Fiona recalls, adding, "Dermot would be very well known locally, and people would know he'd look after it."
The couple had taken on a huge challenge, but they set about renovating the house, which is situated by the side of a river, with gusto. They re-roofed and repointed the mill, making it a safe structure, but they concentrated their efforts and budget on the cottage, which is two storeys, but one room deep on both sides. There's a kitchen, family room and living room on the ground floor, while upstairs there's a bathroom and three bedrooms.
The third bedroom was a pleasant surprise. "We discovered another bedroom when we peeled off all the layers. We thought it was a storage room, but we discovered a window that had been blocked up because of the window tax. It's so cute - the window is on the floor and it looks onto the river and the garden."
There were a few other little surprises, including some china and a set of encyclopaedias in the living room. "The funny thing is, about a month after the sale, a friend of mine rang and said, 'Well, did you buy a house?' I had forgotten that we had gone to a fortune teller together, who told me that I would buy a house with 'Kill' in the name and that it would have a library - so that must be the encyclopaedias," Fiona explains with a laugh.
Every inch of the house has been authentically restored - Meath County Council insisted on that. They had the help of a conservation architect, which they had to pay for, and the work was done by certified tradespeople. "We even had to have an archaeological dig to make sure we wouldn't disturb anything of significance. Then everything had to be architecturally correct for the period. When we stripped off the layers of wallpaper, there were holes in the plaster, and our plasterer had to make up plaster with horsehair and lime, the way it would have been done.
"It was handy, because the pony was having his hair cut and we used some of his hair. It's lovely to think you've preserved something, and that Cookie the pony is forever enshrined in the walls," Fiona says fondly.
Even the paint they used is made from plants and oils and all natural substances; there were only a few heritage colours to choose from, and each little pot cost a fortune.
Doing up the property was a fascinating process for Fiona, and the family loved living in the house over the past four years. However, as the boys turn into men, it began to feel too small for all five of them, so they decided to build another house on their land. It's been such a labour of love for the whole family that they couldn't part with the cottage, and so they now do short-term lets for tourists.
"People love it," Fiona says. "It's only 30 minutes from the city centre, yet it's so peaceful - the only sounds are the river and the click-clack of the horses on a hack. It's full of charm, and people love that too."
And, of course, there's the library.
For more information on Fiona and Janet's Bed Angels, see thebedangel.com
To book the cottage at Killeen Mill for a self-catering break, see killeenmill.ie
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin