Monday 18 December 2017

The great Irish institution of the end-of-garden man cave

Gabrielle Monaghan looks at the great Irish institution of the end-of-garden man cave

Conor Keatings in The Monkey Bar
Conor Keatings in The Monkey Bar

The first inkling Derek McCarthy's wife Mary had that her husband was planning a man cave was when a lorry loaded with building materials pulled up outside the tree-lined boreen that leads to their home in the Limerick village of Lisnagry.

The truck contained the parts of a traditional Polish timber cabin with a bar, all built at the back of a joinery near the small town of Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains and shipped to Ireland by Derek's friend Bogdan Wojcik. The mountain cabin was to be reassembled on the eight acres of wooded grounds at the McCarthys' house by four men from Zakopane who had followed the shipment by plane.

Colin Norris's garden room
Colin Norris's garden room

Derek says: "The truck was so big it couldn't fit down the boreen, so it took 10 or 11 trips by a smaller truck toing and froing to get the parts to the site. It was then that Mary said, 'Ah, what's going on here?'"

The father-of-five says it took his wife of 30 years about 12 months to become accustomed to The Hooting Owl, the man-shed he named after the bird he occasionally spots while strumming his guitar beside the stone fireplace he built with his son Mark near the entrance of the cabin.

Mark Lowen who created a flight simulator in his garage in Bedfordshire
Mark Lowen who created a flight simulator in his garage in Bedfordshire

Derek installed a wood-burning stove inside, as well as electricity and running water, and there's enough Wi-Fi to stream Spotify, which comes in handy when he hosts card games or barbecues at the open-chimney fireplace. There's Guinness on tap, shelves lined with 150 bottles of whiskey brought by guests, and sheepskin rugs for warmth.

Should the Hooting Owl get too cosy of an evening, there's a double bed in the mezzanine roof above the entrance. The high ceiling is dominated by a "12-pointer" stuffed stag's head that a friend shipped from the Czech Republic - after a failed attempt to bring it on board a Ryanair flight.

Colin Furze in his underground bunker in Lincolnshire
Colin Furze in his underground bunker in Lincolnshire

"This is 100pc a he-shed," Derek says. "I sell cowhides and lambskin and hide furniture, so it's kitted out with lambskin and all things male. There's even a bed cover made from eight lambskins stitched together."

The 56-year-old belongs to a family that has been in the hide business for five generations. His latest venture, Irish Hide Designs, sells local sheep and lambskin rugs, as well as furniture and wall and floor coverings made from cowhides.

His longing for a cabin to transform into an inner sanctum of his very own was sparked by his friendship with Bogdan, who he met after selling him Irish lambskins to make jackets for the Russian and Polish markets. Bogdan introduced him to the craftsmen in Zakopane, who spent nine days putting the cabin together at Derek's house. None of the four workers had ever flown before or knew how to speak English, but they all overcame the language barrier.

"I put them up at the Kilmurry Lodge Hotel, collected them every morning and, after work was finished for the day, we'd all get tiddly-eyed at night in the cabin," Derek recalls.

The Hooting Owl
The Hooting Owl

Last year, the Hooting Owl won the pub and entertainment category in Cuprinol's Shed of the Year. It was the only Irish entry into the UK competition, which rates designer sheds and features every summer in the Channel4 show Amazing Spaces Shed of the Year, presented by architect George Clarke.

The humble garden shed has always been a man cave of sorts but in recent years it has evolved from being a dumping ground for rusty lawnmowers with perhaps an old armchair for respite, to a fully furnished end-of-garden escape with its own architectural merit. Indeed, modern-day sheds are more likely to have Wi-Fi access than to contain a wheelbarrow, according to research published last month by the Shed of the Year sponsor.

Colin Furze's underground bunker
Colin Furze's underground bunker

The pimped-up shed promises a refuge from the stresses of work and family life, where a man can tinker around on his DIY projects in peace, play video games, brew beer to stock up the man-cave fridge, or yell at the television during a match without attracting unappreciative glares from the rest of the household.

The cult of the "sheddie" is predominantly a British phenomenon - almost all of this year's 2,963 entries to Shed of the Year are from Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And the British entrants have taken the competition up a notch - there's a new category called #NotaShed for designs such as a recreation of a Tardis, a garage with its own flight simulator, and an underground bunker that's equipped with a drum kit, a band practice area and a PlayStation console.

Derek McCarthy in his cabin, The Hooting Owl
Derek McCarthy in his cabin, The Hooting Owl

But the movement has been quietly making its presence felt in Ireland. In the south Dublin suburb of Clonskeagh, 35-year-old Colin Norris has an architecturally-designed garden room to retreat to where he can peruse his record collection and print and dry photos out of reach of his three-year-old son. It also doubles as a home office for his Ringsend-based media production company, Media Coop.

Colin comments: "I put in black-out blinds in the room so I can bring a projector in for movie nights. I bought a couple of vintage cinema seats with cast iron and red velvet from an old cinema in Northern Ireland, and there's a nice new couch in there, too."

John Sherry, managing director of Garden Rooms, which built Colin's space, says: "We constantly get asked by men for a room they can use as a den or a bar, or for a pool table. The man might have the aspiration for somewhere to hide and get some time to himself, but it doesn't usually happen."

When it comes to souped-up sheds, Conor Keatings created a shebeen in his, at Kilpedder, Co Wicklow, dubbed The Monkey Bar which a carpenter friend built. He posted photos of it on the Shed of the Year's website as "a bit of a joke", but when a friend sent a link to it to Joe.ie, it went viral and crashed the Shed of the Year's server, Conor says.

When it became "a bit tatty", the 45-year-old sales executive salvaged parts of it and created a bigger shed. It's fitted with a table and bar stools he bought at a liquidator's sale, leather armchairs, and the walls are lined with tin signs brought by guests. The alcohol itself has been removed, for fear of setting a bad example to the Keatings's 13-year-old and eight-year-old sons, so visitors bring their own booze. Conor says: "The last time we really used it was on Holy Thursday night because everywhere had shut early ahead of Good Friday. After we all left the local, the shed was the only show in town."

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