“I had a really good feeling straight away” – the couple followed their heart and bought a historic beach house in Cork

Ballybrannigan House, Ballybrannigan Beach, Midleton, Co Cork

asking price: €720,000

Agent: Hegarty Properties (021) 4639411

When it comes to buying a home, you can let your head or your heart guide you, but not both. That’s the view of Mary McGowan, who, with her husband Brendan O’Connor and their two teenage children, was truly seduced by a farmhouse in need of a refurb right next to a beach in East Cork.

Real estate agents will tell you that an unfathomable but crucial factor in selling a home is the “feel” it gives to the prospective buyer. It sometimes means you don’t find the house – the house finds you.

Mary relates: “Me and Brendan and the kids were on our way to a big extended family reunion at Ballybrannigan Beach and we were driving down the street by Ballybrannigan House. We could see part of the house, it was all pretty glimpsed. We all started talking about it and this house just stuck with me.


Owners Mary and Brendan couldn’t resist buying Ballybrannigan House

“At the time we were living in a cottage we had bought and were in the process of planting trees on the land. We’ve settled in well and we certainly haven’t been looking for another house or thinking of moving anywhere.”

Later that year, Mary saw an ad in the newspaper promoting the same beachfront farmhouse and was immediately motivated to go and see it. It was the height of the Celtic Tiger and sellers wanted a high price for a home that obviously required a lot of work.

“As soon as I walked in, I could see that it wasn’t really livable,” says Mary. “Especially the back of the house needed some very expensive work. But I immediately had a very good feeling. And I thought ‘this is my home’.”

Brendan told her to get it out of her head – that it was completely out of her reach, but Mary persuaded him to make an offer. There was a lot of interest and the bids went up and up.

“We were outbid many times over and the sale was agreed for €1m.”


The exposed stone wall in the kitchen

She had a tough job getting the house out of her head. A long time passed and then she got a call from the agent. The deal had failed. They had returned to the underbidder, but they were not interested.

“Apparently they went through the list before they came to us,” says Mary. “This time we stretched and we borrowed and we bought it.”

But then came two big surprises for the family. It was a big blow when Brendan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Then the real estate market collapsed. After scrambling to buy Ballybrannigan House, they were now struggling to sell their cottage as its value began to decline. Yet they persisted in doing the necessary work.


One of the double rooms

“I grew up in one of those houses and there are still plenty of them, but I just thought it’s so rare to find one that hasn’t been completely transformed inside. This house is a rarity. It’s the only one I’ve seen where all of these beautiful old-world features were more or less consistently intact.”

There are wide plank floors, the original carpentry around the windows and doors, deep window sills, original fireplace pieces and a wonderful staircase with low handrails that shows how much shorter people were when it was built.


The double ovens from the Stanley series in the modern kitchen

Although not protected, the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes Ballybrannigan House as being of significant regional importance: ‘A well-executed house of modest architectural detail and pleasing proportions. Preserves its original shape and character and is pleasantly embedded in the landscape. Such traditional houses are rapidly disappearing from the architectural record and hence from the Irish landscape.”

The couple discovered it was a very popular home in the local community.

“Two sisters lived here for many years and never had children,” says Mary. “But apparently they’ve adopted kids from all over who have treated them to treats. So many people have told us how much they loved calling here when they were little.”

So Mary and Brendan hired an architect and got to work.

“The back was divided into many small rooms, but the structure failed,” says Mary. “Although we wanted to keep everything, we had to dismantle it. This enabled us to install a modern family kitchen. We discovered that the chimneys all converged and the flues ran straight through the walls. Inside we found an old Fry’s Chocolate Box with ration cards and papers.”


Some elaborate window details

Brendan spent much of his childhood on Sherkin Island so was happy to be back on the water.

“The kids were down there all summer every year,” says Mary. “It’s a safe swimming beach and there’s kayaking and everything. We had so many wonderful days at the beach.”

The 2,700 m² house has its own coach house next door and an old well with its own spring water. Measuring one and a half hectares, it included an orchard and soft fruit orchards that the couple have tended. There are stone outbuildings, patios and formal gardens as well as wooded areas.


Ballybrannigan Beach is one of Cork’s safest

“It was a big party house,” says Mary. “We had our 16th, 18th, 21st, 40th, 50th, 60th and 90th birthdays here. And our daughter is getting married next weekend.” With the children grown, the five-bedroom house is too big for just the two of them. “Now it’s someone else’s turn,” says Mary.

There is a glazed antique porch leading into the hall with the original floorboards and staircase. The salon has its original chimney and contains a multi-fuel Stanley stove. The dining room is accessible from both the entrance hall and the kitchen and also has an original fireplace and sash windows.


The hallway of Ballybrannigan House

The kitchen is fitted with oak floors and a Stanley range with two ovens, a Bosch oven with a convection oven and an American style Samsung fridge freezer. The water is heated by solar panels. Adjacent is the rustic utility room with a half-door to the garden. The Tempest solar unit is installed in the utility. There is also a guest toilet. Downstairs has a guest bedroom with ensuite and there are four more upstairs.

The forked staircase takes you to the master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and access to the attic and there is also a family bathroom.

Outside there are four original outbuildings and the two-storey coach house, which would lend itself to conversion. There is also an old smithy, now a woodshed. And of course the beach 500 meters away.

Now Ballybrannigan House has been on the lookout for its next caretakers. Hegarty Properties is aiming for €720,000.

https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/i-got-a-really-good-feeling-straight-away-couple-followed-their-hearts-to-buy-a-period-beach-house-in-cork-41972648.html “I had a really good feeling straight away” – the couple followed their heart and bought a historic beach house in Cork

Fry Electronics Team

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