Wild West cat hotel and chic camping pod wow DIY judges 

And Great Granny Rita's electric carving knife is pressed into duty as a power tool on the refit of a speedboat 
Wild West cat hotel and chic camping pod wow DIY judges 

Gráinne Wilson in her travel pod.

A Wild West-themed cat hotel in the corner of a kitchen and a chic retro camping pod were the judges’ chosen projects at the end of the first episode of The Big DIY Challenge.

And they were just two imaginative entries in the opening show: A baby-proofed speedboat, walk-in wardrobe showcasing a wedding dress, and family skate ramp also featured in the programme, hosted by comedian PJ Gallagher.

This is the second series, and judging by the first episode, it's living up to the funnyman's promises that it would be very different to its pre-pandemic predecessor.

“Pre-lockdown, DIY projects meant people working on normal jobs, the bathroom, and so on,” says PJ.

“This year it was just nuts. The projects are just…off the wall! It was so not what we would have had before.” 

Back in February, RTÉ issued a callout to which hundreds applied, and the top 50 completed a DIY project over 10 days in March.

Providing advice for the viewers — and casting a critical eye on the projects — are two judges, Jennifer Byrne, a lecturer in construction at Technological University, Dublin, and Jimmy Englezos, Ronseal’s decking dynamo.


Gráinne Wilson in her travel pod.
Gráinne Wilson in her travel pod.

In Thursday night's show, we saw how Gráinne Wilson in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, started early on plans for a post-pandemic staycation by creating her travel pod.

She enlisted the help of her dad Daithí when it came to construction, her mum Elke in sewing soft furnishings, and her sister Sally for painting.

“I went home to my parents for Christmas for two weeks and I ended up staying four months, in Tipperary, in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere,” she said on The Late Late Show.

So, she seized the opportunity to create what looks like a tiny version of a tiny house — on wheels.

The nifty invention will be her means to execute her “escape plan”, to do some wild camping in the west of Ireland as soon as travel restrictions ease, adds fashion designer Gráinne.

"It's not much different to dressmaking," muses her dad at one point.

Judge Jennifer is impressed with the creativity and attention to detail. "The perfectionism and high quality of finish is really what sets her apart," she adds.


Lucy Ross with her cat hotel and 'outlaw' cats.
Lucy Ross with her cat hotel and 'outlaw' cats.

Lucy Ross in Rhode, Co Offaly, decided to create her Western-themed multi-level cat hotel in the corner of her kitchen when she realised: “Cats want to be everywhere you don’t want them to be — so where better than a county jail and a sheriff’s office?”

Of her four believed pets, she jokes: “I don’t like any of them and they don’t like me. 

"We just live in this spiteful relationship together.”

Lucy's project and personality stand out for Jimmy for its "clever and personal approach" as well  as its finish which he deems "really up to scratch". 

“She had a clear plan from the start and she delivered on it," he says. "And the shelves are class." 


Niki O'Connor in her walk-in wardrobe. 
Niki O'Connor in her walk-in wardrobe. 

We also met Niki O’Connor from Cahir, Co Tipperary, who showed off the fabulous walk-in wardrobe she built.

Niki, a DIY expert, had big dreams to showcase her wedding dress in this purpose-built space.

“So this is my wedding dress; this is the main feature in the walk-in wardrobe so I don’t have to hide it away,” she says.

“I get to remember every single day how I married my dream man.” 

With help from her children and, as PJ describes him, her DIY-challenged husband, Fintan, Niki gets the job done.


Michael McGovern with his skate ramp.
Michael McGovern with his skate ramp.

PJ also visited Michael McGovern and his son Darragh in Galway City as they created every child’s dream — a modular skate ramp. 

Daragh put his own stamp on it with graffiti. 

“The whole experience has been rewarding, it’s good for all the family — some of them don’t know it yet,” says his dad.


Shirley Mullins and Tom Mulcahy in their baby-proofed speedboat.
Shirley Mullins and Tom Mulcahy in their baby-proofed speedboat.

An heirloom carving knife was pressed into power-tool duty when PJ visited Terryglass, Co Tipperary, where Shirley Mullins and Tom Mulcahy were baby-proofing an old speedboat.

“We visit them in Terryglass — but they could be in Portumna, Banagher or Boyle, because the 100-year old barge they call home moves on the Shannon,” says PJ.

Shirley and Tom have been renovating the barge for years but the arrival of baby Charlotte meant they needed to change tack and baby-proof their speedboat. 

“Because we move around on the barge the speedboat has lots of uses so if we’re moored here, we use the speedboat to get chips in Portumna at night,” says Shirley.

They refurbished the speedboat’s shell and installed a new seat to “make it fit for purpose”, adds Tom, who created a new fibreglass base.

For me, the star of this part of the show was Great Granny Rita’s electric carving knife, used by Shirley to cut the foam for the speedboat's new seats.

While grateful to the kitchen implement's original owner, Shirley is also philosophical. 

"I’m sure she would have preferred us cutting a ham with it but it’s going cutting foam now.” 

Cut to a scene of the happy trio of Shirley, Charlotte and Tom sailing into the sunset in pursuit of sustenance once they pronounce the boat to be “ready for chipper duty”.

  • Viewers can select their favourite project online which will win the ‘Viewers’ Choice Award’; see www.rte.ie/lifestyle
  • ‘The Big DIY Challenge’ is on Thursdays at 8.30pm on RTÉ One

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