Our House: An island of calm in a sea of change
Claire and her husband are from the wilds of north Donegal, but they’ve made Portobello in Dublin their home.
If you’ve ever been to Donegal, you’ll know how changeable it can be. The landscape is a canvas daubed with ever-changing light. The clouds can suddenly sweep in off the Atlantic in thick, dark curtains bringing torrential rain. As quickly as they arrived, they disperse, leaving the wet sand reflecting the blue sky above. For Claire, who comes from Downings on the Rosguill Peninsula, Donegal will always be home. Even so, this house she shares with her husband and their golden retriever Rio in Portobello, is home for now.
Here, in the bustling heart of one of Dublin’s most vibrant areas, Claire and her husband have created an oasis of calm and stillness. Like the Donegal weather, the ever-changing urban environment is the counterbalance to Claire’s tranquil internal world at home surrounded by the things she loves. Portobello, on Dublin’s Grand Canal, is very close to the city centre - a five-minute walk can take you to Grafton Street - yet the area retains a very residential feel. In some ways, it’s a world removed from the chaos of inner-city life. People know their neighbours and there is a sense of community, but in the right measure.
“There is a sense of community here,” says Claire. “We know our neighbours and say hello to them when we’re out on the street. You see the same faces when you’re out and about, going into the cafés. But one of the things I like about city life is the sense of anonymity. It’s just a different type of community, you can still say hello and be chatty with people but there’s a sense of having your independence and you have your privacy.”
Claire’s house is very much her sanctuary. She’s a wedding photographer, so she works from home a lot. There are days, when she’s very busy, when she might not even leave the house, except to walk their dog, Rio.
“I love working for myself,” says Claire, “I’m meeting couples who are working towards one of the best times of their lives, their wedding day. It’s lovely to be a part of that, there’s so much emotion and joy going into it.”
When she’s not on the road though she’s editing at home. “When I get up in the morning,” she continues, “once I get to the desk, I’m working. Sometimes I start before I even have breakfast or get ready. The day is split up; working for a few hours, having breakfast and then taking the dog for a walk. I really love the flexibility of breaking up the day and not saying to myself ‘I have to be here for four hours before I can take a break’”.
The area and the house are steeped in history, it’s an old part of the city that tells a story. Claire was conscious of this when she began to work on the house.
“The house was built, I believe, in the 1880s when this would have been the Jewish quarter. Jewish people were fleeing Lithuania at the time of the Russian empire and many of them came here and settled in the Portobello area just off Clanbrassil Street and just off the South Circular Road. It’s fascinating.
“We looked at the census to see who was living here. There were drapers here and there’s still a little Jewish bakery down the road and the Irish Jewish Museum.”
The house itself has retained much of its original character and that’s what attracted Claire to it in the first place. She wanted to strip it back, keep its originality and then add her personality in layers. A lot of love and attention has gone into every little detail. “We moved in in 2013 so most of the work happened at the beginning, but it was sort of gradual as well,” Claire tells us. “Even though you think the work is done, houses change, you change your mind about things.
“The house was carpeted everywhere and I wanted to take all that away and really show the original floorboards and the character of the house. That’s then reflected in the décor and the pieces we’ve chosen for it, they all kind of fit into the house itself.
“Mostly I just wanted a neutral, blank slate. So you can see the kitchen is white, but then you can add colour with the pieces on the wall, pictures and paintings. The kitchen is the room we did the most to, we got a new kitchen in. Putting our own personal touches on everything was important to us.”
It’s a bright, airy and modern living space, suitable for city living, but Claire has kept traces of her home county of Donegal here.
“There are pictures on the wall of Donegal, photographs of our favourite beach, which is Tramore, near Downings. It’s where we got engaged. The dog loves it too”.
Of course, Portobello’s signature feature is the Grand Canal. The gently moving water and the whispering reeds that inspired Patrick Kavanagh are just around the corner. It’s the perfect place to bring Rio for a walk and get away from the desk for a while. “She’s usually quiet, but she’ll come and nudge me to take her out along the canal. It’s a good distraction at times. She’s a little bit afraid of water, but we’ve had our swan confrontations,” laughs Claire.
Rio is a central figure in this family. “I’m an animal lover and there was no way I could not have a dog, it’s been my dream for as long as I can remember,” says Claire, as Rio lies patiently at her feet, tail occasionally sweeping the kitchen floor.
“It can be tough to have a dog in a smaller, city home but thankfully, she’s not too big. There are so many lovely walks nearby, so she gets out. She’s pretty much like a kid for us, she’s spoiled rotten, but as any dog owner knows they bring you so much joy. We just laugh at her every day. She’s so much fun to be around and as people say, dogs are like a form of therapy, they bring you so much peace.”
About the Our House series
Our House is a 6-part series created in partnership with Ulster Bank. Focusing on a range of different people in Ireland and how they choose to live their lives. We look at the relationship between people’s homes and the way they live.
Every home starts with a house and the first step on the way to owning that house is your mortgage. Ulster Bank is in the business of helping people realise their home ownership dreams and are there to help you through the process.
Kevin Byrne, a Mobile Mortgage Manager with Ulster Banks says: “At Ulster Bank, we understand that buying a house is a huge decision that can’t be rushed. For a lot of young couples and families this can become one of the most stressful periods of their lives. At Ulster Bank, we understand that a house isn’t just where you are it becomes part of who you are and who your children will become. That’s why we go further to make the actual mortgage process easier. We want to help you every step of the way, so that you can start calling your new house, your home.”
To talk to Ulster Bank about your mortgage, click here.