Coastal outlook

Tommy Barker pays a visit to an old coastguard station which was converted into lovely holiday cottages.

SAM and Anne Mearns went against a prevailing tide when they arrived in the seaside village of Courtmacsherry back in 1969.

It was a time when old buildings were allowed fall into decay, or were bulldozed, and shiny new bungalows began to represent an emerging and mildly affluent Ireland.

Instead, this enterprising couple saw their future in the past, and were part of a vanguard that saw merit in restoring historic old buildings.

They took the structure of the old and abandoned coastguard building and atmospheric Tower House set just above the (then small) hamlet. A two-year project from 1970 breathed new life into it injecting nine cottages and a main residence into the long, stone building which had housed a fortified station/armoury and was home to a coastguard watch of, mostly, retired naval personnel.

There was in fact an element of going full circle for Sam Mearns in fetching up in such a defensive setting, given his background as a navy pilot in arctic convoys in WW2, as well as campaigns in Korea and Suez.

His other careers included a spell with a hovercraft business and with a pharmaceutical company, and when he arrived in Courtmacsherry 35 years ago he was heading towards 50 years of age and a quieter life.

Instead, he became actively involved in the rebuilding of the coastguard station, and ended up as cox of the local lifeboat. He was pressed into duty the night of the Fastnet sailing disaster in 1979 when mountainous seas and flimsy racing yachts made a tragic match.

Prior to coming to Courtmacsherry, he and Anne had worked on the restoration of four houses in England, and felt confident about tackling the shell of the coastguard station.

There was a 14-month rebuilding project, plus a six month finishing period where Anne took over, making up nine guest cottages and making comfortable a 1,800 sq ft main residence mid-ships, complete with three storey signal tower and entrance gangway.

They opened for PGs (paying guests) and now are in the midst of their 33rd, and last, tourist season.

They have put the Coastguard Cottages on the market with Sherry FitzGerald O'Neill, who are guiding it at €2 million, and who say it gives a great chance to buy a unique residence and business capable of giving a good annual income (the three-star business is listed on internet and Irish Cottage Holiday Home guides.)

And, the property does qualify for the often-abused term 'unique', originally built as one of just five similar fortified stations, it is the only one in such good condition: the one is Rosslare has been knocked, says Sam Mearns, while others in lesser condition can still be seen in Ardmore in Waterford, in Ballyheigue in Kerry, and in Ballycastle, Co Antrim.

Courtmacsherry's station was built in 1870, is reckoned to be the largest fortified Coastguard Station in the country and is listed in the Sites and Monuments record for the country.

Explorer Patrick Keohane, on the Scott Antarctica Explorer, married Ivy O'Driscoll, daughter of the Officer in Command of the station, and their daughter was named Nova after Scott's ship.

Anne and Sam Mearns enhanced the accommodation, putting in first floor living areas with bedrooms underneath to make the most of the harbour and rural views, while the three storey tower has granite steps, rooms on each floor, plus a rooftop turret with gun-holes equipped for a time when visitors might have been discouragedrather than encouraged.

Since the Mearns' arrival in 1970, Courtmacsherry has stepped up from being a small fishing village with a clique of summer callers to being a favoured holiday and permanent home destination with plenty of outdoor attractions (beaches, walks, headlands, woodlands, etc).

Location is 30 miles from Cork city and airport, 35 miles from a ferry serving the UK and France, and it is off the coastal route from Kinsale to Clonakilty, via Timoleague.

The property is on 1.5 acres (the family have kept back and part-developed some of the original five acres of grounds) and it squats just above the village, reached by the uphill Wet Lane.

There's a range of outbuildings as well, including workshop, laundry and stores. Oh, and a boathouse, of course.

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