When author Eoin Colfer and his wife Jackie decided in the mid-noughties they fancied a move from Wexford town centre following the global success of his Artemis Fowl series of children's books (25 million-plus copies sold to date plus an array of other titles that have frequently dominated the New York Times bestseller list), the Wexford natives knew exactly where they wanted to go.
Ballymorris House on the outskirts of the town had been owned by a local GP, and on visits to the adjoining surgery Eoin says it was a house they had always loved, in particular, its lovely sweeping approach.
The GP's daughter, Emily Maher, was also a good friend of Jackie's. Not only did they purchase the house, but they also employed her design expertise. Maher is now better known as the talented owner of Dún Laoghaire-based interiors design business, Lost Weekend. And in true meitheal style Eoin's architect brother Donal was enlisted for the structural design.
The brief was straightforward enough: take an old 19th century two-up two-down farmhouse and some outbuildings, extend and renovate them for the couple and their two young (at the time) sons, Finn and Sean. A writing space, and adjoining but discrete living quarters for Jackie’s elderly mum were also priorities.
The result is a restrained 416sq m (4,477sq ft) contemporary home connected to the rear wraparound courtyard with its original slate and stone buildings. The rear of the original house was dismantled and in its place a double height box extension added. The Colfers have loved living here, but Eoin says Ballymorris is no longer what they need.
“There was a time when I thought we should be living somewhere big, but it doesn’t make sense with our small family. We’ve loved living here, but we’re never here now, and I’d hate to see it deteriorate. The lesser of two evils is selling it.”
Ballymorris House, on 14 acres of grazing land, is on the market for €1.65 million through agents Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes and Sherry FitzGerald Haythornthwaite.
The sleekly-finished property pivots around an open-plan kitchen/living heart beautifully worked in natural materials, and encased in a wrapping of American oak on the ceiling, walls and floors. A vast wall-to-wall window invites the outside in via the enclosed courtyard, where the outer buildings echo the oak windows and doors of the main house, and the walls have been repointed and reclaimed with the original stone and slate.
Off the living area sliding doors access the small sitting room and dining room in the original parts of the main house. Solid wood-sliding doors behind the polished silestone kitchen access the utility, pantry, hot press and back door. And further along the corridor on this level is a small one-bed apartment with its own access for Jackie’s mum.
Upstairs there are three bedrooms, and here it’s possible also to appreciate the cleverness of the design. A lantern rooflight running the width of the original house is the connector between it and the extension. From here light floods down through the property, and a narrow bridge connects the front two original bedrooms with the main suite. Here again is a most impressive picture window providing lovely restful views from the bedroom to the courtyard below and the rolling countryside beyond. There is a sizeable en suite, dressing area and family bathroom also at this level.
Moving out to the courtyard buildings, the exceptional build quality and high-grade materials are retained. There is a long “games room”, wood panelled with underfloor heating, which the boys used as a hangout space. On the side facing the house accommodation runs the length of the outbuilding. Eoin’s shelf-lined office sits to the left, but it could also work as a second bedroom to the one-bed apartment located to the right.
The uniform and understated wood, stone and glass palette here is seriously high grade. It wouldn’t be outlandish to estimate a total rebuild and refurb investment here of close to €1 million.
Ballymorris House has been a productive and inspiring place for Eoin. Five Artemis Fowl novels, two musicals, a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sequel and five graphic novels were written in the courtyard office. Does he not worry then that the muse might dry up if he leaves these surrounds?
“You often worry you’ll hit the bottom of the well, but I have found moving house brings with it new experiences, new surrounds, new inspirations. You’re not as isolated, I find it invigorates in fact. We are a bit nomadic Jackie and I... in the near future we might look at Spain, or even Los Angeles at some point.”
Next year will see the launch by Disney of the long-awaited Artemis Fowl movie, produced by Kenneth Branagh and Conor McPherson. It's exciting, but a little surreal, says Colfer. "It's very weird to see something you wrote in a stable in Wexford realised with characters in a purpose-built £12 million recreation of Fowl Manor in the UK."
With Eoin constantly travelling overseas for book tours and projects the Colfers moved to Dublin in recent years , and have subsequently bought in and settled happily in the suburb of Monkstown. But Wexford will always be home. Eoin’s mum has moved in from Hook Head and currently lives in their original house in the town, and local builder Denis Frayne is completing a new bespoke house for them – including a replica of Jackie’s mum’s quarters in Ballymorris – on Wygram in Wexford town.
“We still think of ourselves as Wexford people, and maybe when I’m not running to the airport so much we’ll end up here. I’m looking forward to enjoying that village-living feel we enjoy in Monkstown, in Wexford, where we can stroll to restaurants, the arts centre, wherever.”