What it's like spending lockdown in the Home of the Year

Ethna Dorman tells Eve Kelliher about the journey that led her to her carriage house haven
What it's like spending lockdown in the Home of the Year

Where better to spend lockdown than in Home of the Year?

Ethna Dorman couldn’t agree more. She has just returned from her daily walk along the nearby Royal Canal and as she surveys her converted 19th-century carriage house, the winner of the 2020 series on RTÉ One says: “I’m having a ball. I’m still celebrating — although on my own!”

The Clonsilla property stole the hearts of judges Deirdre Whelan, Hugh Wallace and Peter Crowley last month and its owner watched the grand finale along with her children, grandchildren and sisters, on Zoom, she reveals. “My home is a peaceful sanctuary and never more so than during these times, but I miss the hugs, I’m a hugging type, so I really miss that,” Ethna tells the Irish Examiner.

Ethna wanted the style of the dwelling to reflect her life’s journey. That voyage has whisked the former Wall Street high-flier across the Atlantic and back. Her career took her from Roscommon to Dublin and London before she moved to New York. “I was transferred to Wall Street where I worked as a commodity broker for many years,” she says.

She got engaged to William, a widower with three daughters, while living in the United States. They were married in 1984 and they went onto have two more children. The family relocated to Ireland in 1994, renting a residence outside Fethard, Co Tipperary. This property had a courtyard which William was keen to develop.

But when their son and daughter were picked on because of their American accents, Ethna decided it was time to up sticks. “I combed the country for a suitable school and found the John Scottus School in Dublin — so we moved to Dublin,” she says. “We lived in Castleknock’s Deerpark Drive for a few years and were looking for a place to do up.”

They discovered The Courtyard, Beech Park, in Clonsilla and moved in 1998. This 19th-century property was once part of the Beech Park House estate and encompasses five buildings, including a double cottage. The west side of the property backs into the famous Shackleton Gardens which have been restored and will be reopened to the public later this year by Fingal County Council.

And it has always been a “haven”, Ethna says. At one point, it was home to Ethna and William, their five children and Ethna’s dad, Michael Cox, who spent the last two years of his life with them.

The Dormans renovated the two-storey cottage on the site but did not get to develop the courtyard as they had hoped, due to busy family and work life.

Ethna has had many different careers in her lifetime, from accountancy to trading to investment banking. She trained in real estate by night when the children were very young.

Her most recent career is one she is passionate about. “I was a hospice chaplain. I went back and studied theology at Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy and did chaplaincy at Saint John of God Hospital, the Mater and St Vincent’s. I absolutely loved it,” she says.

William died of leukaemia in 2010 and Ethna’s training and experience meant she “was able to be chaplain to my own man”: “It was a privilege.”

Following William’s passing, Ethna was determined to realise their dream of restoring the courtyard and converting the carriage house, which also includes a hayloft, along with an adjoining stable building, into her own 120sq m, two-bedroom retirement sanctuary.

Ethna created a partly open-plan living room and kitchen, separated by the old stable wall screens and retained the original wainscoting on the walls. She lowered the floor upstairs in the hayloft to give enough room for the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Most of the furniture was made by William, including a desk and the dining room table. “My husband, when we met, when we were courting, took me on a tour of his house and showed me this desk and told me he made it himself,” she said. “If I had any doubts before that they vanished. He made all of the furniture in the kitchen. He was very handy.”

Memories are everywhere in her abode. As she speaks, Ethna picks out sculptures and other items made by family members, including statues of the Virgin Mary and Gráinne O’Malley or Gráinne Mhaol, crafted by her brother-in-law, sculptor H. Reed Armstrong, who died on April 11, and, outside, the gazebo, constructed by her son Liam, using stable dividers formerly in the area that is now the kitchen.

Ethna retained a stable theme in the kitchen, seeing as two horses once resided there, and the living room reflects that fact that it is in this space the carriages were kept.

During lockdown, Ethna is keeping busy. She continues to attend her classes in Sanskrit and Philosophy online with the School of Philosophy and is also involved in her local church community, St Motchta’s (“everything’s online at the moment!”). “And I have my daily walk, all along the banks of the Royal Canal,” she adds.

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