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The Story of Home: A retreat to the hills

These Dubliners in Donegal have created a stunning home which is also a unique high-end design retreat for all

Breac House is a beautiful ode to Donegal. This modern retreat is the home of its owners Cathrine Burke and Niall Campbell and a “home from home” for the guests who stay there. Reflecting the splendour of Donegal’s land and sea back to guests at Breac House, which sits on the breathtaking headland of Horn Head in Dunfanaghy, was fundamental to the couple in creating their home and business. This very special place to stay has the dramatic, unspoilt beauty of Donegal singing seamlessly throughout.

“When people come in, the first thing we say to them is ‘for the next few days you are to make yourself feel completely at home.’ We are here to look after them to make tea, coffee, whatever they want over the course of their stay. But the whole concept is, you come and you use this house as you need to,” she said.

The couple are both from Dublin and met while doing business degrees in DCU. They went on to work as accountants but always knew they “had another career in them.”

“Niall has been coming to Donegal since he was a child. I have been coming since college so we decided that at some point in the future we would build, buy or certainly do something in Donegal, and we would do something from a business perspective,” says Burke.

It was a question of finding the time, the opportunity and the right place to do something a little bit different

“Over the years we built a plan in our heads of something we thought would really work in Donegal and it was a question of finding the time and the opportunity and the right place to do something a little bit different.”

They had bought a holiday home in Gaoth Dobhair, over half an hour away from Dunfanaghy, where Breac House is located. They found themselves spending more and more time there as they loved the coffee in the local coffee shop, Muck and Muffins, who would later be commissioned to create crockery especially for Breac House.

“We would be walking for the day and we’d find ourselves doing a detour via Dunfanaghy for coffee on the way back. We thought, if you are going to do something, particularly in tourism, you want to be near a really nice town that has nice restaurants, nice coffee shops, nice services so I think, little by little, we realised that it would probably be in this part of Donegal rather than further west,” she says.

The couple knew the location had to be perfect. They were familiar with the house that existed where Breac House is now from their walks around Horn Head, and in 2014 they jumped at the chance to buy it.

“There was no doubt in our minds and we both knew on that day. We made the decision in five minutes that we were doing it once we stood here.”

Their passion for keeping things as local and sympathetic to the landscape and community as possible is evident throughout Breac House. They used the award-winning Letterkenny-based, MacGabhann architects for the new design of the property, which took inspiration from nearby Muckish mountain.

Rural landscape

“I think you have a certain responsibility when you build in rural Ireland, and in particular areas of natural beauty, that the house becomes part of the landscape. I suppose, our vision for the architects and our instruction to them was that we want everything about this house to be Donegal. So Donegal architects, Donegal builders, Donegal joiners, materials, wherever possible, were to come from the locality. It was to be a complete reflection of everything you see when you look out the window,” says Burke.

For such a modern property, there is an authentic connection to tradition throughout. From the handcut Ardara quartz flagstones to the gorgeous oak to the Fanad granite. Donegal is all around you, inside and out.

“Breac House, for us, is all about people experiencing ‘authentic Donegal’. That phrase is very overused but when people travel nowadays, often they stay in a modern hotel and they meet no one, they speak to no one and they don’t get to discuss where they are.

“Anyone coming to Breac House will either sit in the lounge or in their room and the first thing they will see outside is Muckish mountain and we have a whole theme within the house that runs off that. From the colour of the pottery through to the chairs in the bedrooms that are all inspired by that mountain that we look at every single day.”

The incredibly clever design allows for awesome views from every part of the house, be it the thrashing waves of the north Atlantic in Sheephaven Bay or the green and heathery fields and outcrop that lie between you and Muckish.

“This home is at once traditional and contemporary, and the couple have created a celebration of their passions for design, architecture, food and travel, as well as for Donegal. There is outstanding craftsmanship in the home and painstaking attention to detail.

“I had a very strong view that every piece in the house had to speak to something and had to be from someone that we had developed a relationship with. I can name every person who was involved in every piece of furniture here.

“Our couch, to me, is kind of the perfect combination of Dublin and Donegal. The fabric is from Donegal and Eddie Doherty, the legendary hand weaver in Ardara, and then the base of the sofa is made and designed by Simon O’Driscoll in Dublin. So these are just the little things that in years to come will still mean an awful lot to us.”

Home from home

Although Breac House is only open just over a year, their “home from home” approach is clearly working as guests have already rebooked for next year.

“To have people who have never been to Donegal, some people having never been to Ireland, in fact, who came to Donegal because we are here and who are coming back again – I mean, that’s the greatest compliment you could ask for, which means we’re doing something right.

This is home, no doubt. And we said that very quickly

“First and foremost, this is our home and it’s a home that we share with other people for most of the year. We have welcomed people from all over the world so that has happened very, very quickly. We have also settled in very quickly so that’s the answer – it feels like home for us but it also feels like home for people who stay with us.”

There are lots of luxurious and interesting touches in the Breac House experience and food is one of them. Breakfast is a tray that arrives into your room with a spread of fantastic local food like homemade breads, pastries, jams and butter, local eggs and honey and turf-smoked salmon from the Haven in Carrigart. Lunch backpacks with homemade soup, bread, fruit and some cheese and cake are provided for your day’s adventures.

“We like to see it as a full experience from start to finish. Our vision is that everything that guests taste and touch and experience, they can see from their window and that’s really what happens.”

And where do they call home now?

“This is home, no doubt. And we said that very quickly, so now we say ‘we’re going down to Dublin and we’re going home to Donegal.’

“That happened amazingly quickly but that’s, I think, the point. Home is a sense, it’s a feeling. It’s much more than the physical building but once you’re there, you know you’re there. So, we are home.”

Next week: Will Sliney, illustrator, Ballycotton, Co Cork

About the Story of Home

The Story of Home is a six-part weekly print, video and online editorial campaign that explores the idea of home through the eyes of creative people who have found their dream place to live.

We are all writing our own Story of Home and to help inspire you we will travel Ireland over the next six weeks to hear stories from chefs, architects, illustrators, writers and more on their own Story of Home.

We’ve turned to a group of people who have managed to find a home that reflects their own personality and lets them live the life they dreamed of.

This is the second series of this award-winning campaign, again supported by Ulster Bank, which won the 2018 Global Media Award for best execution of native content from the International News Media Association in Washington this year.

That win reflects the global interest in these very local stories, reflecting the importance of the Story of Home to all.

Ulster Bank are also helping to write that story, working with customers all over Ireland: "One of the first major steps in creating your own story of home is getting a mortgage," explains Rachel Roche, a mobile mortgage manager with Ulster Bank.

“In this series we want to help with that and to help people consider the role of their homes at the very earliest stage so they can create a home that reflects their own story perfectly.”

“We also want to take away as much of the stress from the mortgage process as we can, so we’re available to meet people at a time and place where they feel totally at ease,” she says.

“My role is to make the process as easy as possible and not one that is just about form filling. We’re here to help. Building your own Story of Home has never been simpler.”

For more, see ulsterbank.ie

The editorial team behind The Story of Home

Series editor: Gary Quinn
Series videographer: Ana Conlon
Writer: Caitríona Mc Bride
Photographer: Leonie Ferry
Digital production: Cillian Mc Donnell

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