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The Story of Home: From ruin to barn conversion

In the fifth instalment of the Ulster Bank Story of Home series we meet Kevin O’Neill, who brought a barely-standing barn back from the brink

New York City had a big impact on the imagination of architectural technologist Kevin O’Neill, so when it came to drawing up plans for his own loft-style barn conversion, details of the Big Apple can be seen peppered throughout this sleek home in County Cavan.

O’Neill works in O’Mahony Pike architects in Dublin, where he spends most of his days making other people’s dream homes become a reality. But when it came to designing and building his own property, just outside the small village of Ballyjamesduff, he wondered what he had gotten himself into.

"It was a ruin, and we started the project in January, dragging everything out in rain and snow. It’s an old building so you never know what you’re going to find inside. We found a gable wall that we didn’t think we’d have to knock but we did. The back and side walls are completely original and everything at the front is from what we reclaimed here."

The house sits on two acres of land, which is shared with his brother’s family home, situated across from his own property and his parent’s bungalow to the side.


"We’re lucky in that we’re a close-knit family,” he laughs. “We all get on really well and in designing this house I wanted it to be a place that the kids, my nieces and nephews, could run in and out of."

New York architecture can be seen regularly throughout the house, reflective of O’Neill’s many trips to the city. “I like big open spaces but you can see it in the brick work too. In the loft is a games area, where I keep my guitars, Fusbal, and PlayStation, but it also doubles as an office space,” he says.

As a keen cook – Jambalaya is a speciality – the kitchen was designed to allow him toil over the cooker, while socialising with his friends and family.

“I put a lot of thought and effort into it and how I like to use the kitchen. I didn’t want to be excluded from the craic, while doing the cooking, so that’s why I made this room open plan.”

It’s hard to believe this house is a conversion project, and that a year and a half ago, the building was in ruins. Why take on something so arduous?

"I was looking out of the shed one day, where the double-height window is now and I saw this room in it. It evolved from that really. It was part of the bigger house across the road which belongs to my brother, and the stone work is reflective of that house,” he says.

“My brother is a quantity surveyor and my dad is a builder, so they were very involved in the building of it. All of the finishing touches are mine, I drew up the kitchen and my brother-in-law made it for me. I made the dining table and cut out both the beds.”

Community is vital to O’Neill and it’s part of his reason for not living in Dublin, close to his work.

“I lived in London for a couple of years but you can get lost in a big city like that. Ballyjamesduff is a small, close-knit community, everyone knows everyone else. That’s quite important to me,” he says.

Given his job and the sense of satisfaction from his own home conversion, he says he’d love the chance to renovate again– for someone else this time.

“It’s just something I like doing, creating a place somebody wants to live in. My work is about creating homes for other people... I’m proud of the buildings I’ve worked on, as you invest so much time and effort into them.”

While he is proud of the many projects he has worked on through the years, his own stands out.

“We were working till all hours at night and it was a family project, so for that reason I’m very proud. I think my Dad is proud of me for doing it – he’d never say it but he shows everyone around when they call up here,” he laughs.

“I see this as my home for life, I can’t see myself moving. Family is important to me, to have them close by, and I have created a space where the kids will call over. They go straight for the sweet jars, watch the telly. Basically it’s the cool house they want to be in, and so do I.”

About The Story of Home

The Story of Home is a six-part monthly 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 around Ireland over the next six months to hear stories from a range of creative individuals on their own Story of Home.

For inspiration 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 third series of this award-winning campaign, again supported by Ulster Bank, which won the 2018 Global Media Award for best execution of native content at the International News Media Association.

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

Ulster Bank is 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 Susan Hogan, 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.”

Ulster Bank Ireland DAC is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland

The editorial team behind The Story of Home

Series editor: Gary Quinn
Series videographer: Ana Conlon
Writer: Mimi Murray
Photographer: Declan Devlin