What was once an old cottage near Bantry in West Cork is now a boutique B & B called ‘Gallan Mor’ which is run by husband and wife duo Noel and Lorna Bourke.
The house which was five years ago an old cottage and due to the dedicated and hard working couple’s immense work since 2010, it is the beautiful place it is today.
Mr and Mrs Bourke moved from London where they reared their three daughters to Ireland where they have made West Cork their home.
“We had actually come over to view something else but it was a complete disaster so we went to see a local estate agent in Bantry with whom I had developed quite a good rapport with,” explained Mrs Bourke.
“Just about every property in the office was sold as the Celtic Tiger was still roaring at that time and right in the corner of the estate agent’s office was a flyer/ advertisement for our cottage which Noel had dismissed having seen it on the internet in the UK because it only had one acre of land, which we are very thankful for now- landscaping an acre of a garden is hard work! The cottage was about 200 years old and in a very bad state.
“The purchase of the house was completed in January 2007. We were commuting back and forth between the UK and we came back to Cork at every possible opportunity and holidays that we had and mostly tried to tame the land which was unbelievably overgrown and at the same time, we tried to assess the condition of the house and get the builders in for assessing the renovation,” she added.
“In 2009 having secured a builder, we went ahead and tried to renovate the old cottage whilst still living in the UK. However as the main structure of the building was some 200 years old there were just too many structural issues to deal with and various experts advised that we would never really eradicate the damp totally and then there were issues around heat loss etc. We actually got as far as a new roof and then crunch time came and we had to make a decision to carry on with the renovation and its increasing costs which were a complete unknown or be brave and demolish and build from new.
“One thing we learnt the hard way was that you need to be on site when you are having such a major project built because there are many decisions that you can’t leave to the builders or the architects, at the end of the day you have to live in your home,” imparted Lorna.
When the Bourke’s demolished the cottage, one stone stayed in place; the 3,500 year-old standing stone that the house ‘Gallan Mor’ is named after as ‘Gallan’ means standing stone and ‘Mor’ means big.
“We really loved the old cottage and the simplicity of its layout- simple symmetry, two foot thick walls and beautiful carved old barge boards. We drew out plans and got them professionally drawn up and obtained the necessary planning consents.
“In 2010, we put the project out to tender which was managed by a local planning consultant and in 2011, we opted to go with Kieran Crowley of CHOM Construction of Bantry. On these exposed peninsulas which in the winter can get very wild, windy and wet it is absolutely essential to use local builders who have a real understanding of the landscape and weather conditions that your property will be subjected to,” she said.
“I was advised not to have the Bi-fold doors I had chosen because although they are fine in cities they are not able to keep out the driving rain and winds that we sometimes get. We wanted to replicate the old cottage as much as possible as seen from the outside but with all the mod cons inside.
“Again, we chose a self-coloured rough cast external finish for the cottage which will not need repainting and proven over many, many years to be one of the best materials for repelling water,” added Mrs Bourke.
“Noel climbed onto the roof and measured the chimneys to get the right pitch of the roof as modern new builds tend to have a much steeper pitch in order to gain more height in the house interiors. We salvaged all of the stone from the old cottage together with the big beam over the fireplace-we also salvaged the stone lintel from over the front door and it now sits proudly in the kitchen above our antique Godin French stove.
“The property is south facing and we paid great attention, reading cover to cover of the ‘West Cork Planning Guide’ and recognised the importance of maximising the solar gain and building a house that was in keeping with what would have been built in the past.
“Noel designed the windows (which are long and not wide) to allow the maximum amount of light and still exploit the views without dominating the property and remaining true to the original. We chose Velfac windows because I wanted windows that I could throw open on those beautiful, warm, sunny, dry days or nights without having the view spoiled by the bar in the middle and just listen to the waves on the rocks or just smell the sea,” explained Lorna. “The windows are hugely thermo efficient. There are six large Velux windows in each of the sloping roofs.”
Taking in paying guests was never part of the Bourke’s plan when they arrived in West Cork! Mr Bourke who was born in London spent his boyhood summer holidays in County Tipperary, his parents native home and had dreamed of living in Ireland. Mrs Bourke’s parents are from the Caribbean Island of Grenada and had always wanted to live by the sea. They arrived in Ireland with the hope of finding work as Noel is a Paediatric Occupational Therapist and Lorna worked in London as a Marketing Officer in Social Services. With the HSE jobs freeze, it meant that there were no openings for the pair of them in West Cork so they sought alternatives and found there was a demand for a high-quality B&B on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.
“As the house is a purpose built B&B all the bedrooms have ensuites with luxury power showers. We also installed a commercial fire alarm system,” stated Mrs Bourke. “The new build is as close a replica of the old cottage as was possible, everyone thinks it’s an old house until they get inside.
“Energy efficiency was extremely important to us so we had the house super insulated with Quinnlite blocks as well as the normal highly insulated cavity walls with four inches of Kingspan insulation. We also have 12 square metres of solar panels on the garage which heats the water of the bed and breakfast.
“There is Zoned underfloor heating installed throughout the house and guests are able to control the temperature of their rooms and in the back porch we have the ability to turn it into a drying room because of its zoning capabilities. The heating is powered by Calor Gas,” imparted Lorna.
“In addition, on the ground floor we have two wood burning stoves; a retro Godin stove in the kitchen and a large Nordvica stove in the living room. The entire ground floor is covered in 600mm x 1200mm porcelain tiles from Italy.
“CHOM Construction sourced an excellent stone mason to build the fireplaces exactly like those we uncovered in the old cottage and then worked from photographs. CHOM were excellent in using their skills to marry some of our architectural salvage finds with the new build which isn’t an easy task,” she said.
“CHOM Construction were our Main Contractor and they brought in the specialist trades for the electrical, tiling, plumbing, heating, solar and other specialist works. The garden landscaping was carried out by Colm Cronin and our one indulgence was the outdoor wood-fired hot tub which is great,” revealed a laughing Lorna.
“Our front door was from an old English Cricket Club dating from around 1749 and was originally a pair of double doors- due to the fact that we were going to open a B&B and in order to comply with regulations, they had to be made into a single door so we had to employ the skills of a local blacksmith as well as the carpenters!
“We sourced the beds in Grenada, the Isle of Spice and three of the four guest bedrooms have four poster beds. They are handmade of solid Mahogany to my unique design and they are a blend of antique, contemporary and quirky! As the beds are slightly higher than standard beds, I needed to have slightly taller bedroom furniture and I had to get the help of the local auctioneers to find the bedside cabinets and sideboards.
“The Nordica wood-burning stove was bought from The Woodburning Centre in Drimoleague, County Cork, the hot tub was bought from Terete Hot Tubs UK and the decking was bought from Hennessy Decking.com,” she added.
“On entering the hallway through the bright-yellow front door, a wall clock framed in a stencil of a Grandfather clock catches the eye, it’s a bit quirky and it puts a smile on people’s faces. At Christmas I hang a red bauble over the shape of the pendulam. The other feature in the hall is a bench that we got from Petersham Nurseries in England- you pay dearly there for something that once had woodworm! “In the living room which is used by guests during the holiday season, there is a large Nordvica Stove which sits in a fire-place made from stone from the original cottage and the beam that spanned its fireplace. Three red leather sofas add some colour to this space,” explains Lorna.
“A marble-topped island dominates the kitchen and it has to be large because this is where I make all our breads, cakes, biscuits and pasteries. The marble has flecks of blue in it which is why some of the kitchen cupboards are blue.
“The dining area is full of light, in there is a dining table that was once a Victorian writing desk and the leather upholstered dining chairs were sourced at an Irish country house auction. I love finding things at auctions because I love mixing them with contemporary pieces to give the house a unique style of its own,” she said.
“In the bedrooms, we have turned to the Farrow and Ball colour palette of greys, creams and whites using accent colours on some walls. The east room has a feature wall in the green-based grey-brown shade ‘Mouse’s Back’ while the west bedroom features the warm colour of ‘Charlston Grey.’
“We love living here- our daughters still live in London but they call here ‘home.’ The B&B as a business has been a great success! The B&B is closed until St Patrick’s Day (17th March 2016). We have also recently been listed in the Michelin Guide 2016 as one of Ireland’s ‘Little Gems’ and we are Failte Ireland Four Star approved which is fantastic after only three years in business!” said Mrs Bourke.