Monday 10 December 2018

'Tourists love staying in these authentic Irish buildings' - Meet the people who've made old sheds into successful Air BnBs


The converted old stone cow byre near Fintown, Co Donegal, which is now an Airbnb let. Photo: Matt Hawke
The converted old stone cow byre near Fintown, Co Donegal, which is now an Airbnb let. Photo: Matt Hawke
Matt and Imelda Jones
The interior of the converted shed
Ethna Dorman's converted carriage house and stable building in Clonsilla, D15
The bedroom of the converted concrete shed
The exterior view of the converted agricultural shed
The interior of converted old stone cow byre in Co Donegal. Photo: Matt Hawke
The Old Stone Barn in Clonbur, Connemara, Co Galway
The interior of the Old Stone Barn in Clonbur, Connemara, Co Galway
The view from the adjacent farm cottage of the converted old stone cow byre near Fintown, Co Donegal. Photo: Matt Hawke

Róisín Carabine

Looking around Matt and Imelda Jones' agricultural concrete shed conversion in County Sligo, it's hard to imagine the building serving any other purpose than that of a cosy home.

Yet this large, mid-19th century farm building was once the stables, cattle shed, forge and hay loft for the local parish priest and served as such up until the 1970s.

The Jones' are among the plucky converters who are sympathetically transforming abandoned and derelict utilitarian farm buildings up and down the country into characterful living spaces. And everything from the humblest of cow byres and barns to piggeries, stables and more grand period carriage houses are coming in for attention.

"Converting old farm buildings into homes has always been popular though demand has grown considerably in recent years," says estate agent Erica Leonard from DNG Martin O'Connor, Galway.

Ethna Dorman's converted carriage house and stable building in Clonsilla, D15
Ethna Dorman's converted carriage house and stable building in Clonsilla, D15

"We constantly get enquiries from prospective converters, especially returning Irish immigrants and US buyers looking a conversion project. The problem is that there are so few outbuildings coming to market that don't have farming land attached. Anything that does come up for sale is snapped up almost immediately," adds Erica.

The agency recently saw sale agreed on a derelict barn in Garrivinnagh, Rosmuc. It was originally listed with 43 acres but repackaged for sale with 13 and a half acres for €75k.

"Subject to planning, which can be quite difficult to get in Galway if you don't have links to the area, its new owners are hoping to convert," says Erica.

Creating a new home from a dilapidated old building isn't for the faint-hearted.

"It takes a great deal of patience, perseverance and hard work," says Matt Jones.

Built in the 1860s, the Jones' converted outbuilding - which has featured in Self Build Ireland magazine - has its original reclaimed slate roof and is a cut above the typical agricultural lean-to and is probably one of the earliest examples of the use of mass concrete in Ireland.

The Old Stone Barn in Clonbur, Connemara, Co Galway
The Old Stone Barn in Clonbur, Connemara, Co Galway

"It wasn't hard to re-imagine it as a family home, although transforming it was challenging," says skilled wood turner Matt, who took on the conversion with his wife Imelda as a self-build project under the expert guidance of local architect Colin Bell.

"There were some signs of subsidence and potential rising damp, and the fact that the build sits on clay was a concern although we chose not to add foundations. The 12 inch thick walls also made cutting out windows with con saws and a kango [hammer] an arduous task."

It took one year just to get the outside shell of the building right, and a further six months to complete the complex roof structure. "Every rafter had to be individually measured and cut," says Matt who undertook the work himself.

The Jones' approach was to repair and restore as much as possible using salvaged and natural materials, working within the original roof line. The front remains largely untouched. A timber frame extension to the rear accommodates a large family living room transforming the original L shape into a T. "We've brought an old building back to life and that was very important to me," says Imelda.

Dublin-based architect Michael Kavanagh of MVK Architects achieved a sympathetic conversion of a 'protected' carriage house and adjoining stable building in Clonsilla, Dublin 15, into a two-storey, two-bed home for owner Ethna Dorman.

The buildings form part of a 19th century courtyard that originally served as coaching stables for Luttrellstown Castle Estate, and adjoin the famous Beech Park walled gardens, developed by renowned plantsman David Shackleton. Under the guidance of Fingal County Council's conservation officer, Michael and builders Des Egan & Sons, Tullamore, carefully refurbished and restored the buildings, insulating the roof, adding windows and an entrance porch and installing a new floating floor above the original cobbles.

The building was re-rendered in the original tangerine wash, coach house doors stripped back to reveal their original aubergine colour, and the Victorian wainscoting and stable stall screens retained and integrated into the design. The end result is a unique home that strikes the perfect balance of old and new.

In Fintown, Donegal milliner Anna Caples and engineer husband Peter Higgins have worked their creative magic on converting a wreck of an old stone cow byre nestled into a sloping site on their small farmstead into a charmingly rustic one-bed 'cottage'.

What they've achieved is truly special. Outside, the byre is every inch the picture postcard rural build with its lime washed white walls and slate roof. Inside, the 25 sq m space is just as characterful and comprises a bathroom, open plan living room and kitchen with a mezzanine bedroom. "Squeezing everything into the space was the biggest challenge. We were also keen to keep the 'look' of the byre," says Anna. The couple, who relocated to Donegal 13 years ago, originally converted the byre to live in while they renovated the adjacent 180-year-old farm cottage - now it's a successful Airbnb listing.

"Tourists love staying in these authentic Irish buildings, and converting them not only gives them a new lease of life but helps preserve them while also protecting our rural heritage," says, Philip Comber who has let out his converted old stone barn in Clonbur, Connemara, Co Galway, with Airbnb since 2015.

Landscape gardener Philip and his graphic designer wife Patricia painstakingly converted the early 1900s barn on their farm in Golden Bay in 2008. "Some of these buildings have stood on the landscape for hundreds of years and it's important that they're still here in a hundred more years," says Philip. "Transforming them takes a lot of effort and the potential to make really big mistakes is huge, even sourcing the materials is a challenge, but, if done right, the results can be spectacular."

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