Take a bow, Mr Swash, to great applause

How a theatre producer transformed a derelict stone cottage into a star attraction. Tommy Barker reports

Take a bow, Mr Swash, to great applause

Renovations, extension, up-grading, acquiring more land and planting nearly 2,000 trees, plus creating four themed gardens is the genial Mr Swash’s Irish legacy

Welcome to one of the longest-running Bob Swash productions, Kilkenny style. Credits for this set-piece cottage property must go to the long-retired but highly successful theatre producer, one of the men behind the mega-successful Blood Brothers show.

Some of Bob Swash’s earliest Irish connections were when he produced Brendan Behan’s The Hostage in Dublin; he collaborated with the legendary director and writer Joan Littlewood, befriended Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards, and worked for years with Willy Russell on hit shows like Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers.

This doyen of what was one of Britain’s golden ages of theatre cemented his Irish connections back over 20 years ago when he bought a derelict stone cottage, overlooking a sweep of classic Irish vista toward the Comeraghs near Piltown, in Co Kilkenny.

Renovations, extension, up-grading, acquiring more land and planting nearly 2,000 trees, plus creating four themed gardens as well as a theatrical garden house with set-like murals and frescoes, along with a temple salvaged from a Chelsea Garden Show, is the genial Mr Swash’s Irish legacy, now set to transfer to new ownership.

Advancing years means a more permanent move back to his London apartment, hence the arrival of this cottage on the market with agent Margaret Fogarty of REMAX in Waterford, who guides it at €295,000.

It had originally been a two-up, two-down, home to a family of five children at one stage, but rooms were small and space very tight.

So, the changes sympathetically brought in by Mr Swash included a new side wing ground-floor bedroom/den extension with garden access via French doors, and its walls lined with bookshelves.

Off alongside is a wet-room bathroom, by the high-ceilinged character-full galley kitchen, and other uplifting improvements included opening up the upper level of the original dwelling, with a big slate-hung dormer section, handily adding to the overall headroom and sense of space. It’s now home to an en-suite bedroom, full of character, with stone chimney breast and rich, wood-panelled ceiling.

It has all had an injection of taste and practicality: the old, open stone and raised hearth chimney in the main living-room has been reinstated and is very much centre-stage, particularly when night closes in. Meanwhile, adjacent to the slender kitchen is a smart aide, a re-done old pantry or larder with slotted vent in the thick stone wall for cooling. Food sits enticingly here, neat and orderly like a still-life.

No drama. The galley kitchen is simplicity itself, with blue-beamed ceiling, deep window sills, and storage under runs of countertops, or up on the walls on plate racks.

There’s a hospitable air to the place, inside and out, and Bob Swash approves of tales of older days when musicians gathered in small throngs here for lively sessions by the open fire. Those days aren’t gone yet.

A new sun-room has been added to the south-west side for views and light, and those views include immediate garden ones, and distant delights, with the Comeraghs as a rolling backdrop, changing mood as the weather dictates.

While there was a sensibility to the house’s renewal, Mr Swash commissioned a folly - a great little garden house. Internally this room with gothic-shaped door and lancet stone windows, is pleasantly mad-cap, with naif murals playing with and tricking the eye, with false perspectives, and splayed windows reveals as examples of trompe l’oeuil.

Sloping gardens between this handsome folly and the stone house and its stone-paved terraces are just the right, casual side of formal.

What was initially bought on a quarter acre, as an early 19th century cottage, is now twice the size inside, and externally it spreads across four acres and on both sides of a country road after piecemeal land acquisitions from neighbouring farmers. They’re now loosely titled The Garden, The Stream, The Glade and The Wood.

At least 1,500 trees have been planted on the far side of the road, and back on the house side, hundreds more have taken root.

More prosaically, there’s enough wood to harvest as firewood or other uses for generations to come, says Mr Swash with some quiet pride and after years of hard graft, much of it done with his own hands.

After all, musical triumphs like Blood Brothers might have decades of life, and revivals, to them, but woods once planted can go on for ever.

Take a bow, Mr Swash. Exit stage left, to deserved applause.

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