“May this home be a place of discovery
Where the possibilities that sleep
In the clay of your soul can emerge
To deepen and refine your vision
For all that is yet to come to birth.”
Cottage Academy is The story of the renovation of a cottage farmhouse in the west of Ireland
A documentary about the purchase and renovation of a North Clare cottage and the blessings of a move from east coast to west. Louise is a journalist formerly based in Dublin, now living in Clare.
The Journey Told
Cottage opens door to a journey of discovery
Thrown casually over a stone wall enclosing the old piggery is a man’s large black overcoat. It’s been lying there underneath its own overcoat of ivy, for I don’t know how many years. It’s just a casual moment captured in time, something utterly ordinary.
Fancy brass taps can be bought second-hand
I had big plans for that cheque. It could go towards the cost of a half-door perhaps. Or an old-fashioned fisherman’s light for outside.
“Do you need a loan?” A smiling man called out as I passed by. I looked around. Was he talking to me?
One hundred year old timber is far superior
There was no felt or insulation in the original farmhouse roof which means the two families that occupied this house before me, slept, practically outside. It amazes me how in just one generation we have moved so far from our remarkably resilient roots.
Part of the draw to Co Clare is the people
Literally every penny was going towards the house. Months prior to buying the house I had moved back to my old family home where I stayed mid-week, to save money while working in Dublin.
Renovating an old cottage is like opening Pandora’s Box
Trust is such an important element of any build project. Once gone it is irretrievable and what followed was weeks and weeks of endless worry over every aspect of the roof.
Laying down the Floor takes a Hi-tech Turn
One of the most beautiful preserved details of the farmhouse cottage was the Liscannor flagstone floor in the central bay. Some of the flags are worn smooth from one hundred years of human traffic while others featured fossilised tracks.
A Growing Passion for Salvage lights my Fire
January of 2018 marked a milestone at the farmhouse in Co Clare with the first fire lit in a newly installed second hand stove in the parlour. Much time had been spent considering how to heat the house.
About the Author
Journalist formerly based in Dublin now living in Clare.
Contributing to the Sunday Times, Irish Times, Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, Irish Daily Mail, Irish Mirror, Irish Daily Star, Southern Star and RTE.I hold a degree in English and History, H.Dip in Education and Diploma in Journalism.My greatest interests lie in communications – writing & radio, history, folklore, language and culture and in particular, historic architecture and the preservation of the vernacular Irish homestead.I bought a cottage in Kilshanny, nestled on the edge of the Burren, Co Clare in 2016. The following four years were spent renovating it and I documented it for the Sunday Times.
Cottage opens door to a journey of discovery
Thrown casually over a stone wall enclosing the old piggery is a man’s large black overcoat. It’s been lying there underneath its own overcoat of ivy, for I don’t know how many years. It’s just a casual moment captured in time, something utterly ordinary.And yet this discovery has been one of the most delightful moments of my time here in the place I now call home.People like to pass us cottage romantics off as silly and idealistic and I can understand that. There is always more to the story however, if I can hold your attention longer than it takes you to tell me ‘knock it down.’The rural village of Kilshanny, Co Clare is about four miles as the crow flies from the limestone quarries at the Cliffs of Moher. There, giant thick slabs of stone were hacked from the earth’s rocky crust and fashioned into flagstones to form floors, fireplaces and roofs for many of the structures built around here in the 19th and 20th centuries. Even the piggery had a roof fashioned from flags. In more recent years the pig slept under a corrugated tin roof but the giant timbers that held up the colossal weight of a flag roof still remain.There is a rich quality to these materials from the earth. They are not corrupted by modern methods of chemical treatment for the purpose of longevity. They are grounding and form a solid structure, an interior within which to rest.It was rest I was looking for when I first arrived, accidentally in County Clare many years ago now. A row with a boyfriend sent me packing from Cork and in a tearful state seeking warmth and comfort I was drawn by signposts to a seaside place named Quilty. This was pre-smartphone and Google maps and finding nowhere to stay on arrival the road lead me a few miles onwards to Spanish Point. There I found a gorgeous family run guesthouse where staff barely glanced at the running eye-make up and I slept soundly as the Atlantic wind howled outside.It is around this point I believe that the first imaginings of a cottage in Clare began to form in my mind. Ten years later I was close to ditching that dream, having been outbid yet again, this time on a tumble –down cottage on the outskirts of Doonbeg.
Dejection brought me to the pew of a church where I sat to pray for consolation and spotted a folded note on the seat. It was a handwritten scrawl containing a Novena to St Therese ‘The Little Flower’ and I took this as a sign that with my meagre budget a miracle was required and so began the nine day prayer for heavenly assistance.Upon completion of a novena, devotees of St Therese traditionally report receiving flowers in some form should their prayers align with the celestial.It was St Valentine’s Day when my bouquet arrived in the form of a cottage advertised on Daft.ie. It was situated in a most idyllic location in striking distance of the sea, with a price tag of €75,000. It was a three berth structure with two grand chimneys containing three pots each.A flagstone path led to saloon style double doors, where flakes of red paint were coming loose from the rotting timber. The house had an air of old grandeur about it, a gentle defiance that struck a chord.Part of the absolute charm of renovating an old building is picking through what’s left behind. Sacred Heart pictures, old leather shoes and decaying containers of tea and salt.
The house had been uninhabited for around ten years but the family that grew up here slept, literally under the slates. There was no insulation in the roof. In my mind, they were practically outside.Aside from nostalgic charm, the lure of a country cottage offers some serious advantages to the cash-strapped buyer.A really good deal will have water and ESB already in situ and a septic tank in place. A well is like winning the lotto.A really super acquisition will have a roof intact and much of the original vernacular architecture still in place, such as a stone arch fireplace, timber sash windows, a flagstone floor.The time it takes for the sale to go through allows for an interval period of research. Know the materials suitable for a sympathetic restoration of a stone structure. These include lime, hemp and breathable paints. The easiest way to decipher what will work best is to examine how the house was originally built to perform. I steered clear of dry-lining, re-plastered the interior walls in lime and invested in insulation in the roof and floor.Without good neighbours, there is little point in even tackling the task. Mine have been an absolute blessing and every night that my head hits the pillow I thank God for this immeasurable gift.The poet and philosopher John O’Donohue was born not far from here in the Caher Valley close to Fanore.O’Donohue says that if we can cross a threshold worthily, we have an opportunity to ‘heal old patterns of repetition, that had us caught somewhere before.’We can cross over to new ground and leave behind some of our destructive or debilitating behaviours.I like to think those who embark on a cottage renovation open one great opportunity to cross a threshold of discovery within themselves.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rural-restoration-cottage-opens-door-to-a-journey-of-discovery-5p0g5v8xg
Fancy brass taps can be bought second-hand
Clacking across the tiled floor of a city bank I had a cheque in my fist and I was happy.I had big plans for that cheque. It could go towards the cost of a half-door perhaps. Or an old-fashioned fisherman’s light for outside.“Do you need a loan?” A smiling man called out as I passed by. I looked around. Was he talking to me?I did of course need a loan. But this was not part of the plan. As a freelancer with no stability I’d long written off the option of a mortgage.“Actually yes I could do with a loan,” I said.“Great! What kind of a loan do you need?”“I need to do up an old cottage,” I said. “But I’m self-employed.”The smile broadened and he informed me a mortgage would be my best bet and I should follow him into a room and he would make an appointment for me with the branch mortgage advisor.He waived my quarterly fees as a good-will gesture and in the few minutes it took to complete that conversation my world was knocked ever so slightly off axis.Instead of daydreaming about compost toilets and rain-water harvesting systems, I was catapulted into a dazzling show room of fancy brass taps and under-floor heating.A few days before the scheduled meeting with the mortgage advisor I phoned ahead to check what I needed to bring. Nothing she said, just bring yourself.I was perplexed then, to land in her office and to be found lacking.“Where are your plans? Your project list items? Your build schedule? You didn’t bring anything at all?,” she said as I took a seat opposite.“I called and asked what I should bring,” I said, feeling a faint rage rise in my chest.She wanted to know what kind of renovation was required and how much I reckoned it would cost.I told her the cottage needed the full works; new roof, windows, doors, plumbing, electrics, floors, insulation, drainage; everything. I did not tell her I had absolutely no idea how much it would cost.“Right. Well let’s start with the plumbing. That’ll cost you at least ten thousand euro and that’s an absolute minimum.”“No way,” I declared flatly.What in the hell would cost me ten thousand euro? Was sort of fancy heat pump nano-technology had she in mind?“Tell me yourself then, what had had you budgeted for plumbing?,” she asked with a notable air of superiority.“Five thousand,” I declared with all the conviction of subterfuge. I’d no idea how much a back-boiler and a few radiators was going to cost.The mortgage advisor informed me that if I was to take on a mortgage of any amount from the bank, I would be spending €10,000 on the cottage plumbing. I would be using only bank approved contractors and construction companies for each and every stage of works. And before anything else, a solicitor would take my cottage and put it into the bank’s ownership as part of the process, a privilege for which I would pay.The tension in the room had evolved through mutual dislike into a raw hostility. I’ve no doubt she saw me as an idealistic idiot unaware of the scale of my own a naivety and hot-headed with it.In front of me I saw the red-haired embodiment of an institution that chased profits above all morality and left a trail of destruction still adrift to this day.The truth is even if I badly wanted ten thousand euro to spend on plumbing, the deal on offer was a bad one. It left me with no control over who I could hire, when and what I could pay for the work and answerable at all times to the bank.And all this with a 4% per cent interest rate for a €50,000 loan.I am thankful to the mortgage advisor for being so intolerable about my cottage. It made my brush with the bank delightedly brief.I figured this project was going to drive me to tantrums and treachery down the line but these were lessons I was opting to learn for myself.There was just no way was I going to have a mortgage convolute the process beyond all recognition.And fancy brass taps can be bought second-hand.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rural-restoration-a-source-of-funds-im-glad-i-left-untapped-9pbbp9tcw
One hundred year old timber is far superior
The swallows had departed back to Africa by the time work began on the roof which was just as well. I didn’t want to disturb them in their little nest in the rafters of the bedroom in which I now sleep.There was no felt or insulation in the original farmhouse roof which means the two families that occupied this house before me, slept, practically outside. It amazes me how in just one generation we have moved so far from our remarkably resilient roots.Insulation options for an old house vary greatly but since the thermal mass of the stone walls should theoretically hold heat, I opted to insulate as much as possible initially in the roof and later, the floor.For now, the interior walls had been stripped back to bare limestone and were slowly drying out.Meanwhile, I was busy researching every element of old house restoration available to me with particular focus on natural materials.The roof was to be insulated with sheep’s wool for warmth and re-slated while the chimneys needed to be re-capped and re-plastered with lime. The concrete barges set on each gable were crumbling and leaking and needed to be stripped and re-poured.There were three working chimneys, the largest of which housed an old range in the main living room that disintegrated upon contact. There was a 1950’s style tiled open fireplace in the parlour.The two downstairs bedrooms in the lower eastern gable had an antique cast iron fireplace in each, one of which was blocked up.After buying the house I had a tiny budget left to complete the renovation and I was exploring all options as to how best to proceed. There was an engineer engaged through the conveyancing stage and a local draftsman was recommended to draw up existing plans. The local conservation officer called to the house and recommended a conservation builder; both were invaluable in terms of advice.The singular priority was to preserve everything that could be saved and repair rather than replace everything else.For a while I seriously considered a corrugated red tin roof, the cheapest option of all, which I still think would look charming but was warned it could destroy the look of the old house.Parts of the old roof timbers were rotten where they met damp stone walls but otherwise intact enough to repair. One hundred year old timber is far superior to modern fast-wood forestry in terms of strength and durability so I considered this a gift from the house itself.Since the option of a contractor went out the window with the mortgage, I was now a self-builder and would need to manage and finance each stage of work myself.As the roof began to eat up every penny I had, I was becoming aware that the finish date was in fact years not months away.I decided on natural slate and while I couldn’t afford the classic farmhouse Blue Bangor slate from Wales I compromised on natural stone slates quarried in Spain. I met the company rep at a petrol station in Corofin to examine the options. These slates require copper nails and point hooks to fix them in place along with extra labour costs for the roofer. The 1400 slates, together with nails, hooks, breathable felt and ridge caps alone cost just under €5,000. I had well and truly blown the budget at this point but there was still the chimneys, barges, insulation, fascia, soffit and gutters to factor in.In addition there was an old kitchen at the back of the house where the walls were literally streaming with water. Above this sat a reinforced concrete water tank and this was to be dismantled and re-roofed in a lean-to style.Upstairs there were bedrooms at each gable end and a large landing which was lit by an old iron skylight which was leaking and rotting the timber floorboards underneath. It is in this spot that I sit writing this today.Skylights were required to bring light into this area and it was really important to me that I could stand and see the beautiful, uninterrupted views stretching over the green vales of Kilshanny and beyond to Mount Callan in the distance to the south.I yearned for the beautiful conservation skylights seen on state of the art heritage restorations but these were way out of my budget. I opted for two large Velux windows set low into the roof so I could see out. I learned there are different flashings required for roof-lights depending on whether the roof is slate or tiles. Through some really thorough research I learned you can cheat expensive heritage skylights by using a low profile flashing so the window sits more subtly into the roof and installing a centre glazing bar on the window externally.I got three quotes for the roof phase, selected the tradesman I thought best suited the job and work got underway in early October 2016.Six weeks into a job I thought would be finished in a month; there was no end in sight. As late autumn turned to winter the roof was a long way from finished leaving the cottage in a vulnerable state.I had no idea then, that the seasons would be about to change again before this phase was complete and the roof was finally secure.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rural-restoration-the-battle-to-keep-a-roof-over-my-head-8w3vzpqdf
Part of the draw to Co Clare is the people
I was working in Dublin but at weekends I stayed with a couple in Fanore, who were no longer charging me to use their self-contained pet-friendly rental. Early mornings were often spent tracking across the old green road through the rocky limestone terrain of the Burren, high above Black Head lighthouse with its views across Galway Bay.Months prior to buying the house I had moved back my old family home where I stayed mid-week, to save money while working in Dublin.Literally every penny was going towards the house, where I was investigating the possibility of restoring the original single pane timber sash windows, rather than replacing them.Only one or two of these beauties were still in working order.Some were propped open, others had lost their fragile glass and were boarded up, others were just badly rotted.The conservation contractor (among others) told me they were too far gone but that didn’t stop me trying to find a craftsman with the skills and patience to carry out a sympathetic repair job. The wood could be removed where rotten and replaced with profiles that replicate the original. There are companies that that can add double glazing to old sashes without destroying the look of the original window.The conservation architect for County Clare, Dick Cronin (now retired) had compiled and published a list of craftsmen suitable for heritage and conservation work and I went through this seeking a suitable professional. These trades are thin on the ground, some had retired and the work is time-consuming and expensive. Relative to large heritage projects, this job was not really worth anyone’s while. Being an outsider, I had little knowledge of what suitable tradesmen were available in the area.Every builder that arrived to price the roof, along with all visitors and the odd unfortunate passer-by, was made inspect the rotting windows and offer their opinion on whether they could be saved.“Too far gone,” was the consensus.Finally, accepting this was a dead-end endeavour, I made the decision to replace the windows.Now began the task of researching the best replacements I could afford. The windows in my house are as tall as me (5’4”, same as the Queen of England.) Any royal similarities end there however as I was once again taken aback by quotes upwards of €10,000 for eleven timber sash replacement windows.I could have compromised at this point and opted for uPVC sash, which was considerably cheaper and can look remarkably effective.Instead I took the uPVC price as a goal and began looking further afield for a quality timber window that I could sit and admire for the rest of my life.A UK company called ‘Colin’s Sash Windows’ appeared to fit the bill, offering beautifully finished timber sash, with good quality hardware and free delivery from the UK for the same price as the uPVC sash quotes I was getting from Irish companies, supply only.While I’d have preferred to buy Irish, the ongoing almost insurmountable challenge of restoring an old house on such a meagre budget meant that I had to compromise, again, in order to do my best by the house.Another drawback with the UK company was the need for a local fitter. The windows were factored in as part of the final quote for the roof and as there was a six to eight week lead time I needed to make sure the windows were measured to exact detail and decide on colour and style. The existing windows comprised two sash panes, one over the other. The company could add a central glazing bar to make a four pane sash which I loved the look of but I was conflicted by the idea of departing from the authentic prototype.There is a gorgeous little cottage on the road between Kilfenora and my house and it contained a most unusual three pane sash window, one of the prettiest I have ever seen. It was vistas like this that were making me second guess the decision to remain so unwaveringly faithful to the existing windows.There are a handful of cottage farmhouses in the immediate area that are an exact replica of mine. Strong, solid structures that were built, I am told, to a specific style by the Land Commission around one hundred years ago.At that time, the house was built for the O’Dwyer family, whose ancestors are buried in the local graveyard stretching back at least three generations. They occupied a stone built farmhouse that catches the morning sun a few hundred yards to the west, before moving into this, ‘the new house’, where they lived and farmed as a family unit that contained children, parents and grandparents.I don’t know why I agonised over decisions so seemingly insignificant as a glazing bar on a sash window. But a big part of this entire process was a feeling of deference, not just to the house but to the people who lived and cared for it, long before I was ever born.Perhaps it is because it was they, and the family that moved in following their departure, that gave this house its heart -that ‘feeling’ when you walk into someone’s home - through their laughter and chat and stories and lives lived well.https://newstral.com/en/article/en/1164099284/rural-restoration-windows-into-the-lives-of-previous-occupants
Hard Working Lime Expert Throws a Lifeline
Renovating an old cottage is like opening Pandora’s Box. There are too many variables at stake to plan for.My roofer was initially incredibly helpful at the planning stages and generous with his time in discussing various options but things went awry early on.Trust is such an important element of any build project. Once gone it is irretrievable and what followed was weeks and weeks of endless worry over every aspect of the roof. On weekends I would travel to Clare and climb up on the scaffolding to examine the work.In the midst of all this a crew of lime plasterers arrived to work on the chimneys. They did a most beautiful job, rounding the edges in keeping with the vernacular style. This was the beginning of a pattern; lime work is slow and requires a sympathetic and dedicated approach to an old building and all the issues that arise. The average builder, in my experience, is looking for a quick fix, while the conservation builder is more prepared to carry out specialist work the building itself requires.There are too many tradesmen that appear to think women are not capable of conducting a renovation job and I found this attitude incredibly frustrating.Early on in the project there was a robbery of materials at the house and when I reported it to Gardai at Ennistymon I was told ‘single women and elderly women are particularly vulnerable to this.’Companies that sell materials suitable for old house restorations are an absolute mine of information, they will advise you of the correct uses and mixes for lime pointing, rendering, and hemp insulation. The Irish Georgian Society, the Buildings Lime Forum Ireland and Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) are invaluable in learning about what materials best suit older buildings.I joined workshops in lime rendering at the Traditional Lime Company in Carlow and work parties at similar renovations where we learned the mixing techniques and application of insulating hemp lime plaster. These events were invaluable to me in removing the mystique of various methods and materials. I didn’t have the skills or strength to do much of the physical work myself but there is a cohort of incredibly inspiring people doing all manner of restoration work themselves.Besides an immersion into the world of traditional techniques I trawled through books, attended lectures and Self Build shows and discovered an invaluable tool in the form of a social media group focused specifically on the renovation of old cottages. The group, called ‘Cottageology’ had a couple of hundred members at the time and that number has now grown to almost 10,000.I’d taken on a mid-week night course in carpentry in Dublin with hilarious results in the form of a misshapen table made from scaffolding planks.In the meantime, back in Co Clare, I had our local priest over to bless the house. We prayed together for the souls of all those that had lived and died here. He asked God to bless and protect all who worked on the project and I chimed in with an enthusiastic ‘Amen.’As the roof work lurched slowly forward the finish date was pushed out to December. Then the roofer took off to another job and disappeared off site for weeks. The windows were ordered at this point but the UK company came back to tell me they were no longer delivering to Ireland. The roof itself was finally finished after four long winter months, in the last week of January 2017. There was no joy, no celebration, only overwhelming relief.I was broke now, having thrown all my money and energy into the very first phase. Yet I was still staring into the intimidating abyss that is the shell of an old farmhouse, albeit one with a rather handsome roof.This was probably the lowest point of the restoration but it was then, right when I needed it, that my neighbours stepped in to help. I had more time to talk now, more time to simply sit down and consider: how the light moved around the house, how the walls were drying out, which rooms could be used for what.I found another builder to complete the lean-to extension, it required specialist slates suitable for a slope of 15 degrees. We sat up on the roof together and he showed me how to lay the slates. I selected aluminium slate-grey gutters in lieu of the cost prohibitive cast iron variety and he re-roofed the stone shed with round profile galvanise.A cousin twenty miles away arrived and together we dug a radon sump deep into the floor of the cottage. It could be hooked up to an exterior fan if radon - a naturally occurring radioactive gas formed in the ground - was later found to be a problem.The following few months would be a slow slog of time spent sourcing timber sash windows all over again, searching for a sympathetic plumber and electrician and installing a french drain around the structure to help dry out the walls. It was around this time that a lime expert arrived into my life, saviour of the project, the hardest working individual I have ever seen. Together we began planning perhaps the biggest experiment of all, a lime subfloor laid over an insulating recycled foam glass aggregate, one of the first few of its kind in the country.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/hard-working-lime-expert-throws-a-lifeline-dhlg5zvj3
Laying down the Floor takes a Hi-tech Turn
One of the most beautiful preserved details of the farmhouse cottage was the Liscannor flagstone floor in the central bay. Some of the flags are worn smooth from one hundred years of human traffic while others featured fossilised tracks left by arthropods and worms which burrowed through the soft sand and mud looking for food about 320 million years ago.Demand for Liscannor flags for use in floors, roofs and paving in the 19th Century gave rise to three quarries in close proximity to the cliffs, at Moher, Luogh and Doonagore. It’s believed they took their generic name because they were shipped from the pier at Liscannor.The flags in this central room varied in size and depth but most were around two inches thick. They weigh a tonne but there is a method to moving them; by ‘walking’ them vertically you never actually carry the full weight. These were laid on a bed of peat, which was doing a good job of preserving the skeletal remains of a rather large rat. I had a gang of Brazilians from Gort dig up the floors thank God, because I was too squeamish at the time to deal with dead rodents. That status has since changed.The concept of a breathable limecrete floor made perfect logical sense to me, though others thought I was mad. Many cottages have been ruined by a damp proof course and concrete floor, which pushes water trapped underneath the concrete directly into the walls.The limecrete floor, laid over a breathable insulation material such as Leca (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate) or a recycled foam glass aggregate allows moisture to evaporate up through the floor. The method requires a suitable finished floor material and natural stone is an excellent choice.Blessed by the pervasive existence of flags all around the property I opted for the least expensive yet most luxurious option, Liscannor flags throughout.Since the flags were essentially free, I could justify the extra expense of underfloor heating. The stone would hold the heat and release it slowly through the day.I am happy to report as temperatures drop to zero this week, I’m padding about barefoot on my warm stone floor in a state of elation.Getting to this point required quite a bit of work however and the fact I could only move forward in slow, scheduled phases due to an uncertain income from my work as a self-employed journalist was actually a bonus, allowing time for careful consideration of each component.The floor slab insulation I chose is Technopor; an inert, non-toxic and load bearing material made by ‘cooking’ a mixture of recycled glass and rising agents in an oven at 900C. The mixture expands, filling the product with insulating air bubbles. As it cools it breaks up to form a hard aggregate material that my helpful neighbour, known locally as the 'Kilshanny Cowboy' christened ‘disco balls.’I chose it because its light weight (170kg/m3) meant I could install it myself and then compress it down with a whacker plate. For this I was introduced to the world of plant hire and the local outfit, Eric Mee Plant Hire displayed great patience in teaching me how to use the machine.Archers Building Merchants in Ballina, Co Mayo had become a licenced Irish stockist of Technopor around the same time I bought the farmhouse and Sales Manager William Michael talked me through the details of installation. Geotextile was to be laid over a bed of two inch clean stone. The Technopor arrived in eleven 1.5m3 bags and was hoisted onto the front lawn from the back of a delivery truck to be installed to a compressed depth of eight inches.The Kilshanny Cowboy and I cut and laid the geotextile over the entire 60smq floor area on a freezing Thursday evening in November. The forecast was good and that left me three days to barrow the disco balls into the house and whack them into place before returning to work in Dublin on Monday.The next day I was standing looking at these cubic bags of curious insulation, realising I’d been a little optimistic in the time planning, when my neighbour strolled up, said hello and asked would I like a hand.Another helper arrived from Doolin to work for me that day and between us we completed the job in two days, leaving Sunday to compress the foam glass to its load bearing state.I’d sourced a plumber at this point and found that installation of underfloor heating was €1,000 more expensive than the basic oil boiler and radiators option. The very slow pace of progress meant I had time to save that money and once the insulation was covered with another layer of geotextile, the underfloor pipes were laid and all was ready for my lime expert from Co Cork and his team to mix and pour a four inch limecrete subfloor. This was left to dry for four months, meaning the house remained empty over Christmas 2017. I wanted the world to know this was a home in the making however and left little battery operated tea lights on the windowsills. On Christmas Eve the local publican’s wife arrived at the house and kindly lit each one. They flickered there, little beacons of hope and thanksgiving, for a project that was finally looking up.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/laying-down-the-floor-takes-a-hi-tech-turn-wbbqzgz96
A Growing Passion for Salvage lights my Fire
January of 2018 marked a milestone at the farmhouse in Co Clare with the first fire lit in a newly installed second hand stove in the parlour. Much time had been spent considering how to heat the house but by this point I had settled on oil heating over an electrically powered heat pump for a number of reasons.Chief among these was the requirement of an air-tight house for the heat pump option. With (notoriously drafty) sash windows and plans for breathable lime plastered walls, the finished farmhouse would most definitely not be airtight. I had already opted for underfloor heating and the pipes were laid beneath the limecrete floor which was now solid underfoot and drying nicely.The second factor that put me off choosing a heat pump was the reliance on electricity. It simply did not sit well with me that I would be at the mercy of power companies especially since there is a government levy for the development of private enterprise windfarms that are commonly sold off to foreign investors.I decided I’d rather hedge my bets on OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and face whatever fluctuations oil prices might undergo worldwide. To date, this decision has paid off.Not wanting to be totally reliant on oil either, I opted for a solid-fuel range in the main living room, replacing what was already there but with a new flexi flue and vermiculite to fill the void of the giant chimney. The second hand solid-fuel stove replaced an old 1950’s tiled fireplace in the parlour and I drove to a friend in Elphin, Co Roscommon to collect a gift of a beautiful cast iron fireplace for the stove to sit into.Timber windows and doors were installed at this point, by a Galway based company with a manufacturing plant in Poland. In researching SEAI grants available for insulation such as dry-lining and exterior insulation I found that neither are ideal for use on a stone built house. This avenue lead me to a scheme offering 35% off windows and one exterior door, through a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Nenagh. The Tipperary Energy Scheme is run by a tiny, but incredibly efficient staff that oversees community retrofitting projects locally. I managed to persuade them to stretch to Kilshanny and got my selected window supplier on board.I picked up a gorgeous teak half-door on Donedeal for the back of the house and managed to squeeze it into my clapped out old hatchback Audi A3. The windows supplier, Marek Rudzinski of Solid Insulation had an exact timber replica of my beautiful but crumbling original front door made and kindly had his fitting team install the second-hand door as a Christmas present.I learned about the importance of ventilation and decided on a Demand Control System but failed to find anyone willing to install it for less than €3,000. I considered doing it myself, by buying a heat recovery system from Lindab, the company that supplied my aluminium gutters but figured I’d be taking on more than I could manage. In the end a local specialist installed a mechanical ventilation system for around €1,300, after trying to persuade me I didn’t need it. He was right, I rarely use it, I just open the windows.By the time I was ready to tackle the bare stone walls I had already investigated all manner of insulation methods, from breathable hemp boards to the technical specifics of diathonite cork render from Ecological Building Systems in Athboy. In the end I opted to return the interior walls to their original state, which was a basic lime render with no insulation, because the thickness of the stone walls acts as thermal mass.I did a course on using a render gun with Traditional Lime in Tullow and my conservation builder returned from Co Cork, with his compressor and mixer. The idea was that he would help me make a start and return to his own work while leaving me the tools to finish the job.We applied a scratch coat and a base coat to the walls upstairs before I collapsed, literally, due to a degenerated disc injury to my back.On so many occasions during this long-running renovation I’d found a path forward through a visit to the local pub, Kilshanny House, itself beautifully restored by owner Aidan Galvin. It was Galvin who taught me what a jubilee clip is and having been through the process himself, he was a solid source of advice throughout the project.And so it was that I discovered, sitting at the bar one evening, a master plasterer with a working experience of heritage conservation projects, who lived less than a mile away. Joe Carragher came to view the unfinished lime plastering upstairs and gave a good price to complete the entire interior. I was over the moon. I found an electrician in Kilfenora and a full rewiring of the farmhouse got underway.While I couldn’t do much physical work for the next couple of months I became addicted to salvage yards, second hand shops, Donedeal and Adverts.ie. I picked up three gorgeous Belfast sinks and six clay chimney pots in a salvage yard in Derry. I hunted for antique items, old cast iron radiators, brass taps and sanitary ware and brought the loot to Clare in the back of the car. I clocked up thousands of miles in that Audi, meeting the most wonderful and interesting characters across the length and breadth of the country, some of whom I’m still friends with today.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/rural-restoration-a-growing-passion-for-salvage-yards-lit-my-fire-fqbnzm9nc