You’ll find it hard to match this thatched island retreat

Joe Dermody enthuses about historic Glengarriff Lodge in west Cork

GLENGARRIFF Lodge in west Cork is your classic ‘picture-postcard’ thatched residence, on a two-acre island in the middle of the Glengarriff River. Just restored, and available to rent, this gated home has been developed in full sympathy with the 50 acres of traditional Irish woodlands which surround it.

Paying guests can rightly feel they are contributing to the fight to conserve Ireland’s native woodlands.

While vast sums were spent on the house, the real mission is the owners’ determination to rid the estate of invasive rhododendron, and to foster the regeneration of native species.

Glengarriff Lodge began life as a modest hunting lodge. It was built in the 1760s by wealthy Bantry lawyer Richard White, whose family was later granted an hereditary peerage for its resistance to Wolfe Tone’s insurrection of 1796.

The Whites had already amassed a large fortune after over 50 years in business, most notably as smugglers. The newly knighted Lord Bantry expanded the scale of the gardens of the palatial family home at Bantry House. In 1815, he also built a more stylish thatched-roof hunting retreat on the site which now houses Glengarriff Lodge.

The original lodge was probably designed by Lord Bantry’s son, Lord Berehaven, in the “cottage ornée” style of John Nash, the architect of Buckingham Palace and Swiss Cottage in Cahir, Co Tipperary.

Visitors, who came to hunt deer, pheasant and grouse, included the author Thackery, his poet friend Wordsworth and royal guests such as Lady Chatterton and the Prussian Prince Puckler-Muskau.

When Lord Bantry gave over the running of Bantry House to his son, he retired to the lodge with a woman he politely described as his ‘cook’. He maintained his lifestyle by entertaining tourists with concocted Irish folk customs such as having local peasant girls present him with an egg, a shamrock and wild flowers on May Day.

The Lodge had fallen into disrepair by the late 1940s when the Bantry family sold it to a retired English army officer, who spent over a decade lovingly restoring it to its original glory. Sadly, in 1959, shortly after restoration was done, the new lodge burned down.

To recoup some of his lost fortune, the officer built a modest thatched cottage in the Victorian style, then sold it shortly afterwards to Brenda and Said Yasin, the parents and grandparents of the present owners, the Callenders, a well-known family in their own right.

The officer’s lodge has just been lavishly restored by Alan Callender, son of Rosheen Callender, a driving force within the union SIPTU and the partner of prominent union leader Des Geraghty.

The Lodge was used by the Yasins, Callenders and Geraghtys as a holiday home for many years. Then in 1997, the family decided to restore the it and save its 50 acres of oak woodland from the attractive but highly invasive rhododendron ponticum. This aspect of the restoration is an ongoing battle.

First brought here by hunt-loving landlords in the early 1800s as cover for game, the ‘rhodo’ is native to the Caspian Sea and the Balkans. While it grows calmly in its natural habitat, it runs rampant in Ireland’s wet climate, forming an impenetrable ground cover which stops woodland from regenerating. The Callenders have received some funding to support their clearing work from the Forest Service.

The lodge is located in Glengarriff Nature Reserve, the entirety of which formed part of Lord Bantry’s original 1,500-acre hunting estate. This ground is now managed by Dúchas as a nature reserve, second only to Killarney National Park in terms of its ecological significance.

Alan Callender explains: “When we realised what we had here, we knew there were three elements to the work in front of us. Firstly, to clear the rhododendron and restore the native woodland as a nature reserve. Secondly, to develop and re-expose the gardens, which were also totally overgrown. Thirdly, to restore the house. The challenge has been daunting, but rewarding.”

Thankfully, the woodland’s old sessile oak trees are now starting to regenerate. The Callenders are also currently restocking the gardens. This phase follows the earlier unblocking of the river, construction of new bridges and the uncovering of old paths and other features of the historic gardens.

In rebuilding the woodland, the owners hope to restore the native ecology in sympathy with the surrounding state nature reserve.

The woodlands are home to deer, otters, foxes, badgers, pinemartins, red squirrels and many birds. The river is home to salmon, sea trout and the endangered fresh water pearl mussel. One surprising treat for guests is the family of otters who live 100m from the lodge.

The Callenders have restored and remodelled the house, rethatched the roof, changed the layout and added two extra bedrooms and a conservatory. They have tried to incorporate every modern convenience without compromising the period feel.

There is a definite oak theme running through this house, an apt choice for a lodge built in the heart of a native oak woodland.

Oak from the estate was used in the ornate kitchen, custom-built by local craftsmen in natural harmony with the granite worktops, slate floors, exposed beams and an impressive sandstone fireplace. Oak was also selected for the exposed beams, the internal doors, the impressive front and back doors and all the antique furniture.

The new but traditionally styled timber conservatory features magnificent views over the river. With its under floor heating, it allows the guest to enjoy expansive views of the grounds. The conservatory leads to a stone patio, ideal for a river-side barbecue.

The owners reclaimed a lot of wasted attic space to develop three spacious upstairs bedrooms. A fourth is located downstairs. All have en-suites. The reed for the thatched roof was imported from Hungary. Due to a shortage of available experienced Irish craftsmen at the time, thatchers were flown in from Switzerland to work on the roof.

The house had leaded windows throughout. Painstakingly restored, this feature significantly adds to the old world charm of the house.

It was replastered, replumbed and rewired and new floors were put in place. The quality of the freestanding and built-in furniture, along with the bespoke fixtures and fittings, all contribute to an atmosphere of relaxed elegance.

Three new timber bridges were built to connect the island home to the surrounding wooded estate. The bridges are functional and attractive, notably the curved bridge which leads to a cluster of pine trees to the front of the house. Designed in a Japanese style, this arched feature adds to the lodge’s sense of calm.

While visitors to Glengarriff Lodge will be glad that they are contributing to the restoration of one corner of Ireland’s endangered woodlands, they will endure no physical hardship on this ethical crusade. Penury it ain’t.

As Alan Callender explains: “I am trying to bring the luxury and elegance of the boutique hotel into the self-catering market. I will be offering ancillary services such as catering, outdoor activities, and complementary therapies such as massage will available on demand.

Glengarriff Lodge in west Cork is available for rent all year round. It can accommodate two to three families, corporate or other large groups, which put the rates of €1,500 to €2,500 a week into a broader perspective; Christmas and New Year carry an extra premium. www.glengarriff-lodge.com or email: info@glengarriff-lodge.com Phone: 027 63833.


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