Letting go

At a time when the scale of the project dawned on me and doing it practically solo, I needed to be ruthless and conserve as much energy as possible by focusing on the core of the building not as in this case a poorly built rear extension that was more liability then anything else; it had to go. It had been the previous owners kitchen – very basic.

Also at the time the house was a low priority shed (with possibilities) on the edge of a yard – without any back garden there was no immediate plans to restore it into a livable house; that could be planned later should the garden ever be bought. In the mean time the bungalow was ever expanding due to our ever expanding brood so with a job, kids, animals and veg garden, time was an ever decreasing component of a hectic life.

The previous owner had retained adjoining land and what was the house garden became the neighbours entrance to his land so I didnt get fully into the project until the garden became part of the property many years later.

If you look at the level of the extension you will see that it obviously was made for a shorter person, the level of the roof line is already low as it is – of course people were shorter in those days. In the intervening years we had a pig living in the kitchen for a number of years – so the story of having pigs in the kitchen are true!

The walls of the extension were leaning and were made of rough stone and mud  but heightened by a few concrete blocks – it had to be the most dodgy construction I have ever come across. A skim of concrete  plaster kept out the elements but it must have been very damp as it was laid straight on the ground without any foundations.

It was satisfying taking the sledge hammer to this part of the building and was one more step towards a tidier house as this part of the house is very visible from the road passing close by.

The above picture shows the back garden newly acquired and area dug out as tons of soil had to be hauled to make it level and no ugly extension.



Chimney – look familiar

The Mayglass restoration cottage is well worth a view on line; see Heritage Council website ,see here Wexford professional restorationhttp://www.mayglass-2000.ie – see how similar the shape of the pyramid of bricks are. This chimney also is not in good health, picture on left, when last visited there was a crook put under the wooden lintel to hold the whole thing up. It is an older house but not by much – it is thatched and unfortunately unless heated year round it suffers rapid decay.  The owner deserves our deep gratitude in preserving such a gem – this is a true time capsule.

While taking visitors to Dunbrody Abbey I was drawn to ruins of an old house adjacent to the site and discovered the remains of a very familiar size chimney in the wall, bottom picture on left – my  chimney is the one without the sticks – it had to be totally rebuilt from the base up.  My aim for the future is to have a liner in the chimney attached to a stove in the main room downstairs.

Chimney dilemma

Never did I think how much the chimney would occupy my time. The wood lintel  ( see stepped brick structure is in what would have been the kitchen area) it sat on apart from only being 5 inches by 5 inches, was rotten. See below


Chimney supporting beam, now retired and dont have the heart to cut it up

This house had not been occupied in 30 years – unless you call pigeons inhabitants and so , wet and damp gets into everything and weakens inferior woods. This chimney being incorporated now into a free-standing wall – the only significant keying in was by now rotten wooden lintels into the front of the house; this gave me more than a few moments of self-doubt as to whether I was up to fixing this monstrosity.

In the end I decided to keep the centre wall which had the unusual feature of the smoking chamber which had stones lining its roof; this became a major goal for me to preserve as I had never seen this before. I will dedicate a much more detailed account of how I have incorporated this into my restoration.


If you look at the chinmey breast below, large pic, these stones were incorporated into the right-hand side of the slope of the structure

So one fine day I pulled down the brick chimney and crawled carefully up onto the roof with my kango hammer drill and took down a very well-built cement mortar chimney – it was a terrible pity but the under lying support for the upper part was just to fragile and difficult to fix.


It is difficult to see but in the picture featuring the stairs, to the right of the window at the stairs you can make out more weak poles used as lintels – carrying alot of stone wall above them. Holding these poles in place was a column of mud bricks, yes MUD, I have kept a few as souvenirs.

Most of the stone lintels in place had been cracked by previous handimen??? hammering supports in to hold tin or wood rendering them useless. Internally the lintels seemed to be made from reclaimed ship timbers and it was recommended to reuse them –  I did and the mortar shrank back from the wood so I took them back out and put in ye old concrete ones.  As you will see later I have overcome my fear of taking them in and out again as needs arise.


Externally it just looked horrible. It had been used as a turkey rearing house for a number of years so still had chicken wire on some of the windows. As I have said before, this site faces into the Atlantic ocean and even being 20 kms from the sea, it is sited on a hill and gets the full force of the wind as well as briney rain blown in from the waves. So the house is typically south facing – when on the roof I had a fabulous view of the Saltee Islands, and as the decades have passed so has the lime whitewash, which was done each year, and losing that protection the lime mortar also.

Some of the holes were so deep in the walls that I could wriggle my arm in as far as my elbow.  Another issue that greatly concerned me was the bowing at the front of the house – upstairs inside it was very noticeable so I called Ed Byrne who supplies lime and has a long list of qualifications and huge experience in restorations to my humble ruin for his expert opinion on whether it was worth restoring.

He has a similar vintage house that he restored and said the bow was within limits but I needed to fix the roof quickly and stop water entering causing the walls to collapse. The roof also ties all the walls together and provides strength. The floor upstairs was also gone so further weakening the structure.

Assessment of obstacles

The roof  – from a distance looks as if it could be salvagable but both wood and slates in my opinion were past it – having lived previously in a 100 year old brickbuilt house I thought it would be impossible to save this one but stone buildings as I found out are incredibly forgiving and resilient.

How it all began


Is it doable?

Well after much negotiation when buying our place in the country, a 1960s bungalow set on 13 acres, we had as part of the package a large farmyard which once serviced a much larger acreage. In fact we didnt realise just how much concrete lay under the mat of grass, approx 1/4 acre of concrete by the time I cleared most of the area. In this yard was a derelict milking parlour, lean-to shed with barn and a very dilapitated farmhouse – oh an an 8 foot deep slurry pit with a skim of floating weed on top – so if you managed to fall in you would be dragged down and that would be that.

At the time our third child was due a few months after moving in; the 60s bungalow needed up-dating drastically, we both worked(myself in Dublin during the week), had 2 young kids and so for a few years the old house sat.  After a few years however when the insurance broker came out to give us a quote he said something must be done about the old house as it could be a very real danger – soooo decision time was thrust upon us. Should it be made safe by levelling it or be structurally restored to its former glory….well what sold us on the place amongst other things was the old house,so I started the long road to re-habitating it and I mean a long road.