Island life: where big bosses, from Google to boardroom chairmen, find a work/life balance

West Cork's Reenaroga Island has been home to sex doctor Dr Andrew Stanway, author of the Joy of Sex, to Ronan Harris' Google VP and MD for the UK and Ireland,  and to the late Liam St John Devlin
Island life: where big bosses, from Google to boardroom chairmen, find a work/life balance
Google search: Reenaroga Island's admirers include VP of Google,  UK and Ireland MD,  Ronan Harris, seen here with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny  and Martin Shanahan, CEO, IDA. Picture by Shane O'Neill Photography.

WEST Cork islands are having something of ‘a moment in the sun’ right now, after the €5.5m purchase of Horse Island and the current bidding at €1.25m on the adjacent uninhabited Castle Island, and while they offer seclusion, they also have access issues.

However, there are easier access options, such as islands, with bridges to them. One such, Reenaroga Island in a sheltered cocoon in Roaringwater Bay facing Baltimore, seems to have been quite the lure for busy business types over the past half a century, and is likely to go on doing so as top execs now strive for that elusive work/life balance.

Reenaroga Island West Cork
Reenaroga Island West Cork
Search engine: Google's Ronan Harris, VP and MD of  Google UK and Ireland found his way to Reenaroga
Search engine: Google's Ronan Harris, VP and MD of  Google UK and Ireland found his way to Reenaroga

Reenaroga Island now includes as a part-time, low-key island resident Google boss Ronan Harris. When not messing about on the water, or the land, he’s the MD and VP of the €120bn corporate giant Google UK and Ireland, having acquired a discrete holiday home here which he now visits after a move from Dublin to London.

Another passionate Reenaroga ‘islander’ was the UK’s well-known ‘sex doctor,’ Dr Andrew Stanway, an author of 42 books and best known for The Joy of Sex.

Dr. Andrew Stanway
Dr. Andrew Stanway

Dr Stanway also knew a thing or two about property, penning a guide called The Ups and Downs of the Property Ladder: what to do when times are tough. 

Unsurprisingly, his Cork island grain store sold well for him, to a Northern Ireland property developer who’s now selling it on. It’s under very active wooing, with a €1.5m guide and with Irish and overseas bidders in pursuit.

However, Reenaroga Island has exercised it charms long before authors and Google heads found their way to its shores.

Half a century before Ronan Harris’s own ‘Google search’ for a secluded yet accessible island idyll landed him a plot on Reenaroga, the island had lured a lower-key business leader and public servant gentleman, the late Liam St John Devlin, who weekended in West Cork after his working week in Dublin, and spent family summer holidays out exploring the bays and other islands beyond Skibbereen and the Ilen river, out towards the Fastnet rock and lighthouse.

Getting the work-life balance bang-on, Mr Devlin traveled at the end of each week by train to Cork city, putting his position as Executive Chairman of CIE (1974 to 1984) to good investigative use: he may even have regretted the fact the West Cork rail line was ripped up before his time, in 1961, having run close to the road onto Reenaroga island to serve Baltimore harbour since the 1890s.

Liam St John Devlin
Liam St John Devlin

Among Mr Devlin’s various other high-profile public Irish roles were serving time as chairman of the B&I line, deputy chairman of AIB at a time of that bank’s high probity (he had a tussle with Charlie Haughey, who went on to bank elsewhere) he was a director of Irish Shipping, and Cork Harbour Commissioners, and he was a director of Cork Harbour Commissioners.

A lover of the sea, and sailing, he fell for the area after a holiday in Baltimore in 1960, competing in regattas in the Enterprise class in Dinghy Week with his wife Una. After giving up competitive racing, they bought a small cruiser, a Folkboat and the family “continued to spend two months each summer in Baltimore exploring the surrounding Islands,” recall the couple’s children Maeve, Hilary, Niall and Anna, all of whom learned to sail Mirrors and Fireballs, and all of whom have retained fond links to Baltimore, and Roaringwater Bay, with Hilary quipping “I think I have hit every rock out there.”

Devlin family home Reenaroga
Devlin family home Reenaroga

Also by the 1970s, Liam St John Devlin had become a director of the Rowan Group, who system-built prefabricated concrete panel homes (well ahead of current ‘trendy’ concrete panel ICF build methods) and he tweaked a design by 1973 for an extended five-bed (one en-suite) Ro-Fab home on a 0.75 acre plot.

A decade later, he got the chance to buy a further 5.2 acres of land in front, right down to a cove, to stop anyone else being able to build in his view.

What a view
What a view

Subsequently, the family built a boathouse/workshed, insulated to a building reg standard, as well as a large garage, and further decades of enjoyment and messing about in boats ensued.

Having moved to Sandymount in Dublin from Cork’s Rochestown in Mr Devlin’s early career, the couple retired happily to Reenaroga full-time in 1992. Liam Devlin passed away in 2017, aged 63, and his widow Una died last October, aged 96 years.

After such use and enjoyment, the Devlin family now are casting off from this island anchor of the past half century.

The comfortably dated 1,540 sq ft home, on over five acres with waterfrontage, is listed this month with estate agent Olivia Hanafin of Sherry FitzGerald O’Neill, who guides at €695,000 and who says the mix, with easy access over the Lag Bridge and proximity to Baltimore, stunning views including Sherkin and the Beacon, along with the vital ‘X-factor’ of waterfrontage is “a sought-after and rarely found opportunity in this part of the world”.

VERDICT: An easy island to be a castaway on.

Reenaroga Island, West Cork

€695,000

Size: 144 sq m (1,540 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 4

BER: D2

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