American style meets Irish cottage in a grand Mayo home

Former Mayor of Hillsboro County, Virginia and longtime resident of Ballintubber, Co. Mayo, Virginia “Ginger” Monroe McDonald is a direct descendant of Virginia Governor and later 5th US President James Monroe.

Onroe was America’s well-travelled attorney general who used his bargaining skills to buy the state of Florida from Spain at a bargain price.


Virginia “Ginger” Monroe McDonald. Photo by Emily Jennings

Ginger, his Virginian descendant (of Loudoun County), has followed Monroe’s path in almost every way. Although she has not yet become President, she is a well-travelled paralegal with a long history in US politics, along with her late husband Paul McDonald of Massachusetts, a lawyer and political activist who was once considered by Ronald Regan as a potential ambassador to Ireland was viewed.

And like President James Monroe, Ginger seems to have had a keen eye for real estate deals.


Entrance to Carrowkeel House

James Monroe was a member of the long-defunct Democratic Republican Party, which combined aspects of both modern US parties. This is appropriate given that Ginger and Paul have always been active in American politics (he ran for Congress once and she served two terms as mayor of Hillboro), but also switched sides according to the direction each of the major US parties has been taking struck in the 1960s.

“We were Kennedy-era Democrats until they got too liberal. Then we were Republicans, and then we were Independents. In the last few years we’ve become Democrats again,” says McDonald, who has absolutely no time for Trump stuff.

Over the decades, their marriage and legal career took the couple to places as diverse as Moscow, Tbilisi, Ramallah, Baku, Novosibirsk and Dalkey (where they became embroiled in a fianna fail cumann).


The stairs and hallway

“We met through politics,” says McDonald. “Both worked on Kennedy-era Democratic campaigns in the 1960s. We worked for the Washington DC government. Back then Virginia, where I’m from, was very, very conservative and I wasn’t. Our first joint legal project abroad was at the University of Amsterdam.” Years of stays abroad followed.

And in 1985, McDonald’s opened in Mayo, a longtime goal of Paul’s. His grandfather was from Louisburgh and his grandmother from Lecanvey. Sadly, Paul recently passed away in his 80’s after being debilitated by Covid-19 and will be deeply missed by Ginger.

“We bought this 1930’s cottage just outside Ballintubber and it was in very poor condition. The kitchen was just a sink sticking out of the wall. You couldn’t live in it. It had to be rewired and rerouted and everything done to it.


One of the reception rooms

“Also, we thought the rooms were pretty cramped and we Americans like bigger rooms, so we built on that to add those types of spaces.” We really added a whole different house.”

The result is Carrowkeel House(s), which, as the lady puts it, are essentially two completely different houses connected by a “sun corridor,” totaling 6,000 square feet over three floors. That’s six times the living space of an average three-bedroom semi-detached family home.

Carrowkeel has a proper sauna, two separate kitchens (one for cooking and baking and one for Irish style conversation). The larger reception here is even larger than the entire footprint of the original house.

The original cottage facade is painted a cute cottage pink on the outside, but the modest, pretty image just doesn’t prepare you for the scale of its interiors. The whole is located on a site of 1.6 hectares.

This has been restored in keeping with its era and in a homely style that Irish neighbors will be familiar with. It consists of a drawing room with a plaster ceiling, a casual living room, a second kitchen, a large conservatory, three bedrooms, a study and study, a Jack & Jill shower room and a bathroom.


A dining room overlooking the garden

The accommodation on the ground floor of the ‘new’ American house has a large checkered tiled entrance hall and two rather huge reception rooms, both in hotel reception style, as open plan spaces with a variety of comfortable meeting and lounge areas you will find.

There is a drawing room, a formal dining room, the main kitchen with a center island and granite countertops and a luxurious bathroom. On the first floor are two large bedroom suites, both with large ensuite shower rooms and his and hers walk-in closets.


One of the double rooms

On this floor there is also a sauna, a storage room and a laundry room. The second floor consists of two further bedrooms (one with walk-in closet) and a shower room. The sizable additional home spans 4,000 square feet and was added in late 2010.

They have adorned with treasures from their lives in all parts of the world. In particular, Turkish and Azerbaijani carpets, works of art from Russia and furniture from France. There are photos from Socials with various leading US politicians and Presidents, including one of the couple with Ted Kennedy.


An ornate corridor

“We were trying to keep a traditional, cozy look upstairs, so we added interior shutters instead of curtains. I know the style is different, but I don’t want things that everyone else has. I want to be different!” laughs McDonald.

Also of note is the array of eye-catching pendant lights suspended from the various ceilings throughout.

“Right now my favorite places are my French room, the reception room with all the French style furniture and also my cozy little TV room where I watch CNN.”

As a couple who have enjoyed entertaining with friends and family both locally and from far flung parts of the world, it is an ideal host property. Guests who have stayed overnight literally have a house to themselves.

Lately, Ginger has mostly lived in the cozier little compartment, reserving the other for gatherings.

Externally there is a garage to the side of the property, an outside garden room, mature gardens and an orchard to the side. The property is set back from a side road on a quiet cul-de-sac and offers privacy to the owners.

“We were fortunate to be very close to Ballintubber with its famous Abbey. And I can tell you that every Sunday me and Paul went to Corley’s Abbey Lodge Pub and Restaurant just opposite the Abbey for lunch. Corley’s is well known for its food and especially for its Sunday lunch. It’s a family run place with weddings and all kinds of events being held there.”

Carrowkeel’s two houses are also 20 minutes’ drive from lively Westport Town. Nearby amenities include the primary school, Ballintubber Abbey, garage and mini market.
Despite not having Irish roots herself (“We Monroes are a Scots English mix”), Ginger loves life in Mayo. But her two adult children live in the United States. “They just don’t like the weather here.”

And so Carrowkeel’s unique townhouses are listed for sale via Sherry FitzGerald Crowley with searches for offers over €795,000. They will likely suit Mayo remote workers who want to get home from anywhere. American style meets Irish cottage in a grand Mayo home

Fry Electronics Team

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