Owners have worked for the Sultan of Brunei, and appear handsomely rewarded, writes Tommy Barker.
Guileen, Whitegate, Cork
Size: 228 sq m (2,454 sq ft)
Bedrooms: 3 plus galleries
t’s a toss-up as to what’s most interesting, the story of this remarkable Guileen, east Cork coastline’s thatched home, or the background and personality of its vendors Kieron and Bernadette Stone, who made this cottage exactly what it is.
Given that this cottage with 17th century roots has a gold-plated towel rail, underfloor heating, fiber optic broadband, satellite TV, and CCTV, as well as furniture from some of the Sultan of Brunei’s many London property clear-outs, perhaps it’s as easy to say their stories are inextricably bound up, one fully deserving of the other.
But, where do you start?
Start local, perhaps. Location is little-known Guileen, just a handful of homes and a local bar, and a slip and a coastguard rescue station, and a clutch of very old thatched houses in a postcard-pretty seaside setting just around a headland from the mouth of Cork harbour and Roches Point.
Guileen’s just a few miles out past Trabolgan, but once past the entrance gates to that self-contained holiday resort, the road narrows so much that it fully fits the description ‘boreen’ for quite a stretch.
You really do feel you are going back in time, and when you hit the road’s decline down towards the beach and slipway at Guileen, descriptions like ‘hamlet’ begin to come to mind.
Then, you seen Carrigdangan, a sizeable and shining two-storey thatched rebuild, one of several thatches in the locale keeping the flag flying for east Cork’s notable heritage builds.
Next, you see its gardens, polytunnel, sheds, veg beds, satellite dishes across the road by a stream, and you just know there’s a story or two to unearth.... if you probe just a bit.
Now, technically, Kieron Stone shouldn’t be able to tell you much of his background: after all, he has signed confidentiality agreements about his property maintenance, data cabling, and even satellite communications work for the Sultan of Brunei.
So, he can’t tell you much about zipping around mini-palaces and London pads worth tens of millions of pounds, hotels in the sultan’s Dorchester group, or of being flown at short notice to Paris to fix the sultan’s TVs, and getting work too from extended royals, enriched by oil reserves, with net worth of billions, and a personal, 1,700-bed palace in Brunei, said to be bigger than the Vatican.
Pity about that. But Kieron can tell you everything you need to know about this unique project, a labour of love for himself and Bernadette, who also previously worked in the upper echelons of the hospitality business in the UK.
Now well into retirement years, at least in age terms, they have indefatigable energy levels and a heroic work ethic. They worked on this home after buying an original thatch/part cow shed as a holiday bolt hole in 1997.
Kieron has just finished a reinsulation job, by hand, up on scaffolds, packing in the Kingspan under the thatch of this circa 2,450 sq ft character and comfort-packed home, reskinning it, and finishing it with timber laths and dowel pins, helping it to get an enviable C1 BER rating... not too bad for a place with a 300-year history.
“We had the Christmas decorations up on the scaffolding for the best part of two years,” says Bernadette, though there’s no sign anymore of work in hand or in train; it’s a completely finished entity, immaculate inside and out, and with craftsmanship of the highest order.
The Stones are now selling, moving to Cobh for a Victorian period house with full-on harbour views, and they are rolling up their sleeves to do the necessary renovation work, even considering putting in a small lift in case of any future mobility issues.
(Having worked in palaces, hotels, and London mansions, you may suspect they are not at all fazed at such luxurious ‘practicalities’).
Bernadette is originally from Cobh, so there’s a sense of her returning to her roots, and she recalls going to piano lessons on the same terrace many moons ago, and always loved this setting.
Kieron’s from around Shandon in Cork City, and is still a proud Corkman. His Cork accent is almost undiminished, and it’s only when he pronounces English towns and cities the intonation comes out that he’s lived abroad.
But when the Irish Examiner visited, he had a lapel tie-pin with the Cork crest proudly displayed, and he says he was going to get the same crest, with castles and boat, carved into the heavy Irish oak beam in the kitchen, over the Stanley range.
Oak is the timber of choice for almost all of the internal joinery here, including hefty, Elizabethan-style doors specially made up to match ones Kieron had seen in an English home owned by golfer Nick Faldo, and a number have been made up to meet fire door standards, with steel concealed within.
Acclaimed Midleton joiner Billy Garde did almost all of the woodwork, flooring, and more. Billy Garde also does faithful, conservation-style sash windows.
But, at Guileen, Kieron and Bernadette decided to go for PVC double glazing even in the dormers in the thatch as “I didn’t want to be sanding and painting wood windows every year by the sea”, says Kieron.
Portions of this long, angle-crooked cottage date to the 1600s, with old rubble walls, but it has been elongated with its new section, including a curved, sheltering gable, done in block-work, and the couple brought over a mason and a roofing carpenter they’d worked with in the UK to do all that heavy lifting.
The carpenter insisted on handing all the oak roof timbers himself, solo, with blocks and pulleys — pure old school — and the Irish oak beam which weighs many tonnes for the main, inglenook fireplace mantle, came in on rollers, inch by inch, painstaking in place, a job for centuries to come, with bark still attached.
Architect Alex White oversaw the design and detailing, and master thatcher John Barron, originally from the UK, now in Kildorrery near Fermoy, did the exquisite thatch job and detailed ridge work, in Turkish reed.
The work was done as a job for life, and they have grown family and visiting grandchildren, but feel their adult children (ahem, one of their ‘children’ is coming close to retirement age, they let slip) wouldn’t be in a position to take it on in future years.
In any case, they’ve nothing left to do here as it’s such a finished package, with tall stone-built barbecue unit by the house and a stone boundary wall.
Across the way are ornate, country-style gardens, veg beds, polytunnel, log store, bulk tanks for LPG gas fires and central heading, biocycle unit, veg and flower beds, and there’s even a stream as a low-down boundary to the far garden.
Leaving it all ship-shape, and justifiably with a sense of pride in a job well done, the hospitable and engaging couple are enthused with the prospect of a new chapter in Cobh.
As a result, Carrigdangan is now on the open market, listed at €395,000 by impressed estate agent Robert O’Keeffe of Irish & European.
Its 0.75-acre site straddles both sides of the road down to the beach, and Mr O’Keeffe can expect interest in this east Cork pearl from far and wide, and from near to hand.
He says: “Rarely does a property that is presented in such fashion come to the open market.”
With coastline routes round headlands towards Ballycotton, tucked-away Guileen has its keen admirers, and there’s only ever the rare chance to buy here, while the prospect of getting a site so close to the sea is close to zilch.
Mr O’Keeffe calculates the floor area at just under 2,500 sq ft, but that doesn’t include much of the upper floors and mezzanines, with three different sets of stairs necessary to the various upper levels and galleries.
The house is effectively one room wide along most of its considerable length, and its front and gable-end entrance points are traditional half-doors or, in the case of the centre front one, a door-and-a-half, with a full door set inside the lower half.
There’s a charming, homely kitchen with units in solid oak, topped with granite, and appliances include an untraditional microwave; there’s a double ceramic sink, French farmhouse style, and a Stanley range, gas-fuelled, while the first-floor living room has a gas insert fire.
Flooring is Welsh quarry tiles, heated underfoot, and lighting is eco-friendly LEDs, and behind is a high-ceilinged dining room, whose walls are adorned with Titanic memorabilia, a woven hanging, and a pair of polo mallets.
One of these elegant timber mallets had been used by Prince Charles, and the other by the polo-obsessed Sultan of Brunei, who at one stage had up to 200 polo horses, reveals Kieron.
There are three ground-floor bedrooms, with the master suite at the far gable end complete with fireplace, dressing room, wet room-style bathroom with power shower, and, like the main bathroom with its gold-plated towel rail, there are bidets in both wash rooms for ablutions.
A handcrafted and marble-topped vanity table in the couple’s bathroom suite came from one of the sultan’s many property makeovers in London, and they altered it to fit and be more at home in an Irish cottage.
Next to the master suite is a traditional living room, with double-height ceiling and old, stone inglenook fireplace with wood-burning stove inserted for efficiency’s sake. However, also kept in situ are an old fire bellows and a fire crane for hanging pots.
The enormous chimney breast rises in steps, with antique objects on display including old Tilley lamp, and a framed Sacred Heart picture. Wall lights in this room are working gas lights, for old-style effect, and other lighting in various rooms include painted solid brass ships light.
Random, and not so random, bits of nautical memorabilia include an ancient piece of battered and worn timber with dowel pins, which had been part of the 1750s-built HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, replaced during one of the Victory’s several phases of restoration in the early 1900s.
An oak ladder staircase case leads past roof beams to a gallery room overlooking the living section beneath, and is the smallest of the three first-floor galleries.
The mid-section gallery is used as a sewing and crafts workroom by ever-busy Bernadette, and is partly split level, while all ducting and services for this up-to-spec 21st century re-creation runs across the house under the steps, which can lift up for access/servicing — just one of Kieron Stone’s many clever touches.
The main first-floor living room is a real feature space, with high, vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, and a gas-fuelled fireplace.
There’s a low-down gable window, much graced by Bonny, the couple’s West Highland dog, as it offers a perfect vantage point out the road to the sea, beach, front gate, and over the kitchen entrance half-door — Bonny’s quite the guard dog.
Bonny’s also quite fond of the rug in front of this room’s fireplace. The rug’s a ‘cast off’ from the Sultan of Brunei, cut down to size. It weighs a tonne, notes Bernadette, and while they were told it was made with gold thread, she’s not too sure that it was.
What is gilded, however, are the ornately carved and plushly upholstered chairs and sofas in the room — another, eh, palatial touch, and oddity, ending up under an Irish thatch.
VERDICT: Superbly built charmer, in a beguiling Guileen seaside setting, and with a tech spec usually only seen in new builds. And... in a certain sultan’s many palaces.
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