This couple bought a modern house and an old thatched roof - but removed the layers to reveal mud walls

This couple bought a modern house and an old thatched roof – but removed the layers to reveal mud walls

St Bernadette, Stamullen Road, Gormanstown, County Meath

Selling price: €545,000 Broker: DNG Wall Tuckey (01) 841 8100

Seventeen years ago Dave Fennell found a house in Co Meath representing three different centuries of Irish building and containing parts of a famous Irish holiday camp. But it still had one more secret to reveal.

St Bernadette at Stamullen near Gormanstown consisted of a traditional freshly thatched period country house with a more modern 20th century wing adjacent.

Meticulous restoration work that followed revealed that the oldest part of the house was in fact made of pressed earth, a process known as “cob” construction, which has recently been embraced by modern alternative builders for its sustainability and longevity in programs such as B. was revived and promoted Great designs.

Meath and Wexford in particular have a large number of stone built cottages. Surveyors and architects, brought in to help with renovations, regularly discover that the walls of homes over 100 years old are made of a hard-packed mixture of clay and straw. A recent heritage report suggested that many buildings in Gormanstown may be made of mud without their owners realizing it.

The thatched cottage was built in 1899 as a gardener’s cottage for the nearby Gormanstown Castle Estate, which later became Gormanstown College. In the 1970s, a block construction extension was added, which in turn was renovated and expanded in the early 1920s.

Dave knew nothing about thatched houses except that he liked the way they looked. “I’ve always loved old buildings, I love wood and stone and the kind of textured materials that make up a thatched cottage,” he says.


A side view of the thatched cottage

“On the road you pass thatched huts and you can’t help but be hit by them. I saw it, went in and around, and where other people might see problems, I saw solutions.” Although the house dates from 1899, its design reflects a much older style – with a hipped rather than gabled roof. These homes, in an older cob design, are almost oval in shape with a thatched roof that sits on top of the walls – much like a lid on a casserole dish. His purchase meant he would eventually need the skills of one of Ireland’s oldest trades, the roofer.

The main roofer in this area is Peter Childs, a master craftsman who grows the straw himself and sources the rest from local farmers. He’s training a number of younger people in the trades.” When Dave bought it in 2006, the thatched section was in good condition, “although the extension didn’t collapse, it was poorly insulated and needed rewiring and re-tubing,” he says.


The kitchen and breakfast bar

The thatched part is a protected structure and he hired an architect familiar with monument preservation and heritage. “It made the process easier and when we had ideas he said to us ‘this won’t work but this might…’ We were asked to leave as much as possible alone as it’s history you have to do it.” For example, the rafters are original branches as they were cut from the tree,” says Dave.

He was not allowed to insulate the attic area above the ceiling as it must remain ventilated. “The roofer understood that you need the heat to climb up to the attic to keep the thatch dry. The straw is insulation in itself. In the thatched part we have done very little apart from a new wooden floor and new windows.


A reception room with wood stove

“We were lucky the windows weren’t the originals, they had actually been brought from Mosney (the famous Irish holiday camp) in the 1950s. This allowed us to use new wooden frames with quadruple glazed, double glazed argon glass.”

The walls proved to be the trickiest during renovations. “There was plaster on the walls and although it wasn’t original we were told we had to leave it untouched.” The expert said the walls were made of mud and removing the plaster could endanger them. “The rest was really just re-wiring and making sure none of the existing buildings or walls were damaged,” he says.

Dave, his wife Rachel and their four children (ages 5 to 26) have enjoyed the renovated home for many years. The thatched block now contains two rooms and a small porch. It is entered from a hall connecting the two buildings and consists of a living room which would originally have been the kitchen/living area and a bedroom separated from the main room by the old chimney breast. Dave describes this bedroom as a soundproof room, ideal for a teenager with a weakness for loud music.

“The architect also helped us design the extension. We didn’t want to be too modern, but we also wanted to separate the old from the new,” says Dave. When rebuilding the extension, they raised the roof but made sure the eaves were no higher than the ridge of the thatched section. “You can’t really see the new part from the street and that was the intention,” adds Dave.

“In the annex we have two bedrooms on the ground floor and then upstairs, in the attic, we built a fairly large, long bedroom, our master bedroom with ensuite bathroom.” The new section also contains a modern kitchen, bathroom and utility room. The building is fully insulated with a heat recovery system, condensing boiler and zone heating system. “The insulation in the new part of the house is all hemp insulation and a breathable membrane with a heat recovery system and a pellet stove in the new kitchen.” Due to its age it has a BER rating of C2 using argon windows. clay and straw.


hallway and stairwell

The triangular site is just under half an acre and is bordered by a stream and the garden is tiered to the rear and houses a polytunnel. “We’ve had a great life here,” he says, “having been fully involved in the renovation, I know it to the core. Like any old building, it needs to be lived in and taken care of, but if you mind it gives it all back to you.”

The price is €545,000 through the agency DNG Wall Tuckey.

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