It was while looking for a holiday home that painter Liz Doyle and her husband, children’s author Malachy Doyle, happened on the fisherman’s cottage on Cruit Island, a small harp-shaped promontory off the Kincasslagh coast, in heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht. Pronounced Critch Island and connected to the mainland by a bridge, it is also accessible by foot at low tide.
Instead of buying it as a second home, the couple sold their house in Wales and moved lock stock and barrel west to begin extensive renovations.
Half way around the narrow road that necklaces the island there is a painted sign that points you in the direction of the Doyle house. Buoys hanging from the gate hint at the property’s original use.
The cottage, designed by architect Laurence McMullen of McMullen and Associates, is bookended by two extensions, a timber-frame double height design that captures the essence of Errigal, a looming loaf of granite to the east, and a second, smaller west-facing room that is warmed by the evening sun. Bare stone is a feature of the house. Liz’s art adorns most of the walls.
The couple share the house with a menagerie that includes two dogs, Juno and her son, Clover; Henry, a rooster who survived a fox attack that wiped out his harem of hens; three ducks who had a close encounter with wild mink and lived to tell the tale, and a goose.
Outside the front half door is a paved area, known in Donegal as “the street”. It leads into the kitchen, orientated so that Liz can stand with her bottom on the Rayburn range and see the county’s iconic mountain. Limestone flags, laid rough-side up, help create the rustic mood the couple wanted, and windowsills groan under the weight of their geranium pots.
A series of rooms lead through to the double-height sitting room. In the first is a grandfather clock that belonged to Liz’s father. A granite lintel has been used as a hearth stone and draws the eye in. A slab of elm, seasoned for 30 years by Liz’s late father, fills the window sill.
More menhir-like granite slabs form another feature fireplace in the adjoining room. These were once the property’s boundary posts. An elegant wood-burning stove in the new double-height extension is the room’s main focus. Memory collages, reminders of her father’s life created by Liz, sit on the grand piano.
In the mezzanine above is one of the property’s three bedrooms. Curtains, to shield guests’ eyes from the morning light, hang Tudor-style around the bed, instead of from the double height glazing.
From a roof deck there is a panorama of spectacular sea and mountain scenery. Outside, the garden is full of the foliage of country childhoods: wild roses, montbresia, fuchsia, and dog daisies that have been transplanted every time the couple moved house.
In a sun trap sits a table and old kitchen chairs that the couple have painted red. These belonged to a neighbour, Mary Alice O’Donnell, whose father made them about one hundred years ago.
Up on a rocky outcrop is a modern day booley house that Malachy uses as a writing studio. From here you can see Aranmore Island. The wooden hut is insulated with wood planking recycled from the original kitchen. Equipped with a bed, it is a place of contemplation, where Liz comes to steal a siesta. A small bell allows her to ring down to the main house should she need anything. Another bell in the cottage’s kitchen is what Liz uses to signal to Malachy that lunch is served.
An exhibition of Liz Doyle’s work runs at Burtonport Welcome Centre from August 4th to September 1st