Tommy Barker takes a look around Property’s house of the week - St Michael’s, Ballinskelligs.
Size: 644 sq m (7,000 sq ft)
Bathrooms: 3 (communal)
Best Feature: Heavenly-set
Up for sale for the first time in its almost 80-year history is St Michael’s, Ballinskelligs, just off the Ring of Kerry, and in an unrivalled beachside setting, with as dramatic starry night views as daytime vistas over the ocean and headlands: it has been visited by many hundreds of nuns over the decades from the Presentation Order, on their three-week bursts of summer holidays.
Built in 1939 on five acres of land acquired in 1938 for £5, the distinctive flat-roofed dwelling was capable of accommodating up to 64 nuns in dorms. It was reordered in the 1980s when it was instead configured to have 20 first-floor bedrooms, plus four at ground level, plus communal areas. Now up for new uses, and adaptation once more, St Michael’s is for sale with joint agents John Daly of Sherry FitzGerald Daly in Kenmare and Killorglin’s Darragh Burns of Jim Burns Auctioneers.
It’s guided at €649,000, has been well kept, and is on over five acres, most of it to the rear, almost paralleling GAA sports playing pitches. Best of all, it has direct shoreline access in front, close to a public parking spot called Dungeagan.
What temptation for residents or, if not bought by a wealthy private buyer and altered, as a tourism option for anyone who can lure enough business down to beautiful Ballinskelligs Bay and Bolus Head, 15 minutes out from Waterville. Star Wars’ second round of filming at the Skelligs might well bring a suitable Hollywood starry bounce in business? After all, Ballinskelligs pier is one of the departure points for trips to the sublime, wind-swept Skelligs.
Also coming on stream is a new, second €50m 18-hole golf course at Hogs Head by Waterville, due to open later this year to earth-shattering designs by Robert Trent Jnr. Local rumour is that half of Wexford’s sand deposits were trucked across Munster to reshape the dramatic cliff headland outside Waterville, and a new hotel is in the offing also thanks to the US investment.
When open, that monumentally sand-sculpted Ring of Kerry golf course is expected to attract the sort of international attention lavished on Donald Trump’s Doonbeg course in Clare, or the Old Head of Kinsale.
The selling agents for the Presentation Order’s 7,000 sq ft St Michael’s in Ballinskelligs say it “embodies a milieu of dramatic panoramas, majestic mountain shapes, ancient archaeological sites, magical beaches, and indigenous Irish hospitality, and offers a superb residential haven retreat, providing a rare opportunity for a buyer to bring their own imagination to redevelop such a unique property”.
Apart from beaches, holy wells, and chocolate factories, historical and archaeological attractions, walks, climbs, sports activities, sea angling, and lake fishing at Lough Currane, and the Cill Realig Artists Retreat, St Michael’s also has its own retreat history and aura, with privacy and the bonus of being set in a Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserve, with dramatic views to the constellations and the heavens above (see Don McMonagle’s mesmerising accompanying image of night sky views from a perch close to St Michael’s).
Reports recount how in the early days, the Presentation Sisters were given strict beach rules to observe, imposed by the then-Bishop of Kerry Michael O’Brien, dubbed “the Ten Commandments”. They dictated they should not swim more than once a day, must not go out in boats, should not wear immodest swimsuits (knees and elbows were to be covered), they shouldn’t speak to people on the beach, or go past a certain point. They should not go to the shop without permission, could only go for walks in company, and should speak Irish as much as possible (Ballinskelligs is still a Gaeltacht area,) while still observing long periods of silence.
In pre-Vatican II years, the nuns had to maintain their habits, “six yards of serge and a wimple”, even in sweltering days, one recalled in a newspaper interview, though rules were relaxed in more recent years. Nuns came from all around Ireland and from abroad, even as numbers dropped, and, for a while, accordions were lifted and dances enjoyed before lights out and study of the stars and heavens above.
VERDICT: Blessed setting
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