Conversions with old school charm


An old church and schoolhouse have been painstakingly restored and converted to very comfortable family homes just a short distance from each other outside Westport, Co Mayo, writes ELIZABETH BIRDTHISTLE


The Old Red Schoolhouse in Kilmeena, outside Westport town is deceptively large, taking up 320sq m of living space, yet at no point does this perfectly proportioned dwelling feel too formal.

Used as a schoolhouse since 1928, it features dual front doors that were once used as separate entrances for boys and girls that meet at a wonderful light filled foyer, now used as a living area.

The house has two further living areas equipped with an open fire and stove. There is a great flow of light throughout from the south facing garden and the fact that there are no doors, just vast openings with chunky architraves housing the 19 exposed stone walls.

The entire rear of the building is glazed with huge Rationel windows including two double doors from the generous kitchen which spill out onto a bright terrace and barbeque area.

The kitchen which features yet another stove is a lovely light-filled space. New owners may want to update the Shaker style wooden kitchen units, which would really enhance the fabulous Iroko worktops. Three of the five bedrooms are downstairs and new sash windows help to preserve the building’s heritage. Dual staircases meet at a mezzanine housing two further bedrooms including a master suite which completely closes off from the rest of the house and features a study which overlooks the kitchen. The house has four large bathrooms and the utility area, despite being rather small is smartly hidden away behind flush press doors.

The many stoves and fireplaces give a cosy atmosphere throughout the house which has semi-solid oak flooring interspersed with tiles. The interior colours work well with the hues in the exposed sandstone walls.

The schoolhouse is for sale through Tuohy O’Toole for €550,000 and would make a fine family home. It is three minutes from the new local school and Montessori in Kilmeena and it is very close to the excellent Greenway Cycle path. There are a number of beaches within a 30 minute drive. There is an option according to the selling agent to split the house to accommodate a granny flat but to break up such a lovely space would seem a shame.

THE CHURCH (€550,000)

Taking a dilapidated curiosity and transforming it into a beloved house takes imagination, time and perseverance, not to mention an ever changing budget. Thankfully this has all been done for potential buyers at Kilgallan; a converted Anglican church dating from the 1800s situated five miles outside Westport.

There is very little inside Kilgallan that makes one overly conscious of the many rites of human passage that took place over the centuries. On entering the building through the original Gothic doorway one gets the sense that the building has been sensitively restored and furnished to a very high standard. The hand cut limestone that constitutes the entire building has been carefully re-pointed, and coupled with neutral shades oozes warmth in contrast to its rather austere exterior.

The church has four bedrooms, two up and two down. Both upstairs bedrooms built on a mezzanine are en-suite, and feature shutters which open to overlook the vaulted kitchen below allowing a flood of natural light in. Some buyers may find the fact that the only shower is downstairs adjacent to the front door problematic but both bathrooms upstairs can be plumbed to accommodate shower heads in the freestanding baths.

Downstairs, a split-level living space divides along what would have been the church aisle, both of which have fireplaces and the view of the overhead wooden beams is dramatic. Following through towards what was the altar are two further bedrooms and lastly the kitchen where the old altar space now houses a vast fire surround and stove.

The kitchen/dining area while not vast on floor-space has the benefit of being flooded with light through full height church windows. The kitchen has hand-painted freestanding solid wood units and as with the house in general has very little wear and tear due to the fact it has been a high end holiday rental. Potential buyers have huge scope to develop the south facing split-level garden, complete with four occupied graves albeit from the 1800s.

Some period house lovers forsake the predictable and follow a different path to architectural bliss, Kilgallan is an example of a painstaking conversion that, while preserving the buildings integrity, perfectly blends the contemporary with antiquity. Kevin McCloud of Channel 4s Grand Designs described Kilgallan as the best church conversion he had ever seen.

The church was for sale for €800,000 in 2009 and is now available for €550,000 through agents Tuohy O Toole in Westport.

Architect's dream historic properties restored

Andrew Lohan, a Dublin-based architect with a background in conservation, spent summers as a child in the west and harboured dreams to eventually locate there.

Like many architects who have felt the cool winds of the recession, the bulk of his work is now based in Dublin, so he has decided to put these two historic properties on the market.

Lohan bought Kilgallan, a church with collapsing walls and trees growing inside it, in 1998 for €35,000.

He admits there were times when he thought, “we are completely mad, especially when the unstable bell tower was swaying in the wind, but once we started the project, it took seven months and cost the same as a two-bed apartment in Dublin at the time”.

The Schoolhouse, which operated as a hostel, followed in 2006 and took seven months to renovate.

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