Living Here: ‘The house was designed with sunsets in mind’
Feilie Butler, an architect, and Colin Ritchie, a carpenter/surfer, on their self-build house in Skreen, Co Sligo
Colin Ritchie and Feile Butler at their home in Screen, Co Sligo. Photograph: Brian Farrell
‘We’re coming to our 10th anniversary on this site. When Colin and I returned from travelling in 2004 we moved here in a third-hand mobile home. There were just the two of us at that point, no children.
“I’d studied architecture at Bolton Street. Colin is a carpenter. Back then the approach to building materials wasn’t very exciting but travelling got us thinking. Working in architecture and carpentry in Australia and New Zealand turned everything on its head. Literally. When we came back I went to work for Colin Bell Architects in Sligo and came across earth as a building material. In 2005 Colin and I studied building with cob (earth and straw mixture) in Cork. That was it. It made so much sense.
“To build we used everything we took from the site. Added a bit of straw; no mixing or quarrying, no transporting, nothing like that. We used a digger, but only 120 litres of diesel, and only to make the cob.
“The house was designed with sunsets in mind; sunset views are one of the best things about it. Even the kitchen has a sunset view. It’s a good-sized 130sq m with the second storey in the roof.
“Downstairs we’ve an open family/kitchen/dining space, two bedrooms, shower room and utility. Upstairs we’ve got a big living room with views to the south of the Ox mountains and, to the west, sunsets and headlands marching all the way from Aughris to Dromore. The master bedroom is upstairs too, and my little office.
“We finished building and moved in at the end of November 2010. We’d been living in the caravan for six and a half years, the final months with two children and two dogs. Daithí was three and Fia four months. We had two home births in that caravan but I have no nostalgia for it. When we tried to give it away nobody would take it so we stripped and broke it up. We’ve marked where it was when Fia and Daithí were born and intend building two little seats there.
“We’ve a lovely garden. Colin’s the gardener and has planted lots of vegetables. When we moved here there were no children around but now there are loads of families and children. Ours can pop down the road for play dates and the school bus comes to the gate for Daithí in the mornings. It’s perfect, a lovely, friendly road. The sheep farmer who sold us the land lives up the way so we have sheep all around us.
“People thought we were mad in the beginning, thought the house would wash away. As time went on they became enthusiastic. A lot of people in Ireland remember the old mud cabins, and not with enthusiasm. I do conservation work and there’s straw in the mud of the traditional cabins. The 1841 census showed 40 per cent of the population lived in mud cabins.
“Colin’s a surfer. He came to Easkey to surf, ended up getting work and stayed. I met him in Easkey and, well, after a while things took off. This house is our baby. Anyone who wants to come see it in the flesh is welcome.”
Colin says: “It’s beautiful here, even on a bad day. It’s nice to move around in life and we’d like to go with the kids for a few big, world adventures in a camper van. But we’d always come back here, always.”
In conversation with Rose Doyle
Feile Butler and Colin Ritchie host free open days in their home, run mud and wood courses as well as others in design and working with natural edge wood. See mudandwood.com