Living here: John Spillane’s cottage in Passage West, Co Cork has inspiring views

‘The best thing about living here is looking out at the river when I’m singing and composing music. You couldn’t ask for more really’

Singer-songwriter John Spillane in his bedroom looking out on the River Lee, Passage West, Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Singer-songwriter John Spillane in his bedroom looking out on the River Lee, Passage West, Cork. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Thu, Mar 13, 2014, 00:00

‘We moved here in 1997 and we rented for quite a while before we bought. The town is called Passage West and the area we live in is called Glenbrook, which is facing the river. We look out onto Great Island. Having rented here we liked the area and got a tip-off about a private sale of a house on the same terrace where we were renting from one of the locals.

“So we moved seven doors down to where we live now in Victoria Cottage, a house built in the 1850s and still retaining a lot of the old features. It has the old window shutters and an overhanging oval shaped window upstairs. It is a beautiful house where we can look at the river Lee from our pillow. To be honest, it is like being on your holidays all year around. What was amazing to me was that we bought it in 2004, and at the time we received a damning engineer’s report because it is old.

“At the time, the [Celtic] Tiger was roaring and everyone was spending fortunes on badly-built boxes and lovely old houses like this that needed work were ignored. I found it very strange. We paid €210,000 in 2004 for it, which I think was a very good deal. It has three bedrooms but it doesn’t have a garden. But, as my friend, the singer Ger Wolfe says, it has the garden of the river and the imagination.

“The immediate area is very mature and settled, and there are beautiful places all around including lovely walks down the old railway line and out to Monkstown.

“My favourite room is our bedroom as it has a view of the river. We didn’t have to do that much to the house when we bought it. It had a small old bathroom on stilts half way up the house and we had to build a little extension and also bring a company in to damp-proof the walls and do some insulation, but that was about it.

“The town of Passage West was once the port of Cork and it has this huge maritime history. I wrote a song for the town that is going down a bomb and I also wrote a song called The Ferry Arms about one of the local bars. I have a new one on the go now called the Ballad of the Steamship Sirius , which is about the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. I’m getting continued inspiration from the area.

“There is a fantastic mixture of people here. It’s seven miles outside Cork city and you have an older maritime crowd who mess around with boats on the river, a fishing crowd, an older Protestant settled crowd, and a strong Irish working class community. Up the hill there’s a farming community, and then you have the bar that has a Glasgow Celtic crowd. So a real mixed bag.


Inspiration
“I grew up in Wilton in the eastern suburbs, but I am completely happy here now. I can’t see myself living anywhere else. We’re settled here for good now – myself and my wife Cathy. There’s not much room to do anything else with it. I was thinking about converting the attic but there’s only the two of us, as our respective children are scattered.

“Work-wise, I had a great year last year, with a television series on TG4 called Spillane an Fánaí as well as a new album. We’re making a second series of the TG4 show this year. I work at the opposite end of the house to my wife, but generally get inspiration outside the house.

“I walk the dogs every day in the countryside near Monkstown. I usually stop in a little Italian cafe and I walk back by the river. I make up verses on my walks and go on the guitar straight away when I get home. I suppose the best thing about living here is looking out at the river when I’m singing and composing music. You couldn’t ask for more really.”


In conversation with Brian O’Connell

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