PEOPLE are lured from all over the world to the beauty spots and hideaway havens of West Cork and, to a lesser extent, to East Cork.
Ballydehob, West Cork
Size: 1,000 sq ft plus 800 sq ft
Bedrooms: 2 plus 2
Bathrooms: 2 plus 1
Best Feature: Exquisite renovations on wildlife haven gardens
Yet, it’s something of a truism that Corkonians are either ‘east’ or ‘west’ people — when they migrate, or go on holiday, they go one direction, or the other; rarely the twain shall meet,or cross.
Gifted gardener Beth Hallinan is an exception to that rule.
Born in the West Indies, but to parents with Midleton roots and part-schooled in Ireland (she ran away from a Dublin boarding school aged just seven, making her own way by trains and naive guile to an aunt in Midleton,) she has lived and put down her own roots in many spots.
With her family reared, she moved in the 1990s to East Cork from Fulham, London. She bought, and subsequently restored, the 300 year old Rathcoursey House, on 40 acres by East Ferry. This gently restored 18th home of a former sea-faring family the Tynte Smiths, was opened to guests, who include ambassadors and European royalty. But in 2003 the quietly steely woman was ready to trade down.
Beth did the unthinkable for a repartriated member of the east Cork ‘set’ — she moved west, to Ballydehob, to a hillside hideaway, up the sort of lush, boreen that even driving it today will transport a visitor back to the 1960s and simpler times. She had bought Rathcoursey House on impulse, and the same spirit of adventure informed her purchase of Lisín na Cré.
It is on a sheltered ‘mere’ four acres with the sea off in the distance, and Mount Gabriel to the west. It was a spot which had already found favour with another gardener, the late Michael McMullen, who planted trees and gardened here using biodynamic principles, working with the seasons, and cycles of the moon.
What she bought was the start of a horticultural adventure, radiating around a simple farmhouse, built around 1900, and facing it was a derelict and far older long stone outhouse.
Every part of her purchase got the benefit of the Hallinan touch, with deft hospitality and horticultural nous. Over a few short years, she upgraded the two-storey 100 year old farmhouse, rescued and re-slated the low-slung outbuilding, now a supremely comfortable and romantic two-bed, two-bath guest cottage, pretty in a pink limewash and strewn in scented rambling roses.
If it’s almost chocolate-box pretty, it’s on a par with 100% organic chocolate.
Opening up the other house a tad, she made it over from a three-bed to a two-bed with large bathroom, with distant sea glimpses from the bath, and from where the sweep of the Fastnet lighthouse can be seen, scything over the gnarly hills around Ballydehob three miles below this slightly elevated rustic setting.
The name Lisín na Cré means ‘Little Fort of the Earth’, and the earth here is on the acid end of the scale, so that azaleas, rhodos, camellias and many more acid-loving plants thrive.
Chilean flame trees (embothryum coccineum) are resplendent here right now in blazes of scarlet bloom, and the acres are divided into distinct sections, with a wild-flower meadow and orchard leading to a netted fruit garden, and on to a woodland section complete with tree house and zip wire for visiting children.
In one section, a line of little regarded pines have come down, and almost overnight a carpet of violets has popped up, having been dormant in the pines’ shades for decades.
Every second tree or plant here has a provenance, or a tale of where it was sourced, or donated, or slipped, or liberated, including daisies from the walls of Midleton distillery, and — appropriately, forget-me-nots coming back year after year, from plants grown by Beth’s own mother, who’d be 116 this year, and recalled now by a blue-eyed plant.
While the plantsmanship is serious and erudite and have colours combining like impressionist paintings, there’s an evident sense of fun to the place.
A section of a hugely useful old corrugated barn had been previously used as a chicken coop, and now Beth’s grandchildren have turned it into a sort of museum for all their finds, from rabbit skulls to rusted farm implements, wirelesses and a stuffed badger. The sign on the door names the museum as ‘the Guggenhen.’
As amusing is the proximity of the stone and fern-ringed ‘Secret Garden’, which had been hidden by an old copper beech tree. That tree had to go: the new name, for the uncovered place? ‘The Obvious Garden!’
Having decanted from the semi-grand Rathcoursey House in east Cork, and easily filling her two houses here near Ballydehob with its possessions, Beth Hallinan is itching to do some new, as yet unfathomed, project, and claims(!) she’d love to do a minimalist house, a simple structure, staying in West Cork.
Maeve McCarthy of Charles P McCarthy in Skibbereen is entrusted with Lisín na Cré’s sale, and guides all-in, two houses, and four acres, at €395,000.
“If one could imagine a picture of a West Cork bolt-hole, Lisín na Cré would come very close to the mark,” says Ms McCarthy.
VERDICT: Retreat, oasis, haven all the words apply, and all the hard work has been done.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved