VIDEO: Island life within five minutes of mainland in Skibbereen for €475k
Heir Island Skibbereen, Co Cork €475,000
When artist Melanie Hann and her partner first saw Heir Island 14 years or so ago, they fell in love with the place. It was a glorious day and they had taken the five-minute ferry journey across from the mainland to picnic on the sandy beach. "We were visiting here on holidays and just fell in love with it. It's difficult not to when the sun is shining," she says.
Soon after, they rented a house on the mainland and waited for the right site to come up for sale. It had to be big enough to accommodate an artist's studio and have enough room for a vegetable patch. A couple of years later, the ideal spot came on the market, on a hill above the main sandy strand. "We were lucky," says Melanie. "It just worked out."
They set about building - a tricky job when you have to ferry across the raw materials, but the builder was an islandman who understood the ebb and flow of the tides and how to time deliveries. "He made it pretty painless really," says Melanie. "We had a good idea of what we wanted. We wanted to keep with the local building tradition. There is a Heir Island style of cottage, which is effectively what you see from the front, and around the island, with a flat-roofed porch and two chimneys set in the centre of the house."
From the front, the house looks like it's in the local style, but the couple designed it cleverly so that it expands Tardis-like at the back and to each side. "We just elongated it slightly because they are ever-so-small cottages," says Melanie.
The result is a light-filled, spacious and elegant family home, with a front porch to leave swimming clobber, muddy boots and coats and a large sitting/dining area that forms the heart of the house. To the right, a door leads to a large spare room with drop-dead views out to sea and a roomy bathroom. It makes the perfect guest suite, allowing privacy for both visitors and hosts.
The main living area is floored in reclaimed solid white oak that is beautifully crafted with individual dowels to fix each plank in place. The white, wood-painted ceiling is in keeping with the seaside cottage style. In fact, every detail from the cast-iron metal insert over the wood-burning stove and the traditional-style latched doors has been carefully considered.
To the left of the living room, a door leads to a bright kitchen decked out in country style units, with an Aga as well as a gas hob. There's room for a small table and plenty of that all-important counter space as Melanie double jobs as a part-time baker, delivering patisseries to local Skibbereen cafes. Double glass doors lead to a pretty dining space with built-in seating just large enough to house a table. "This is my office," says Melanie, "I love the light in here."
Leading off the kitchen is the pantry. "This is my favourite room," she says, laughing about the vast walk-in larder with shelves tidily packed with staples. Her shopping is delivered three times a week in summer, twice in winter.
"We phone or email our order to SuperValu in Skibbereen by 10am and the grocery is delivered on the noon ferry." She also keeps two hens for the eggs and supplements supplies with vegetables from her own patch.
Upstairs, there are three good-sized bedrooms with pitched ceilings and Velux windows flooding the rooms with light - and views. The family bathroom has a claw-footed bath. A few metres from the house stands the studio, which is wired for electricity and water and could be converted into additional living space, if needed.
There are just 26 people living on the island year-round like Melanie and her family but the population swells over the summer. "People come for three or four months, sailing is a huge thing here - the water is perfect for hopping around to lots of little islands. There's a sailing school on the island and several in Baltimore too.
"There's a good sense of community," she says. "The islanders are lovely and have been very welcoming to us. There are people from all walks of life here." The islanders include John Desmond and his wife Ellmary Fenton, who run a fine restaurant and cookery school, but there is also the Firehouse Bread School, which offers courses up to a week long for aspiring bakers.
As an artist, Melanie finds the island inspiring. "I love living right by the sea because the weather affects you. You feel great and, for myself as an artist, that is a huge draw."
But the house has also been a wonderful family home for her two daughters. "The beach is right at the end of the drive, that's a huge bonus for the children, who can run down there in wetsuits and then come in and jump in the shower."
For now though, Melanie says the girls are growing up and it's time for a change.
"They've had a great childhood. They're teenagers now and they're ready to move on. It would be lovely if the buyer was someone who was going to live here full time. It is possible. It's only a five-minute journey to the mainland."
Agent: Pat Maguire Properties (028) 78401