Cowshed transformed into Derrycahill dream cottage
Photo: Ted Kelly’s beautifully restored thatched cottage was originally the home of his grandparents Alice and William Cruise.
Walking into Ted Kelly's pristine Derrycahill home is like stepping back in time or coming to judge TV's 'Home of the Year'.
Your eye can't help darting back and forward to all the special elements of this loving restoration of his grandparent's cottage which dates back to the 1800s - from the beautiful beamed ceiling, red half-door to the two impressive loft bedrooms, the large farmhouse dresser full of delph or the working spinning wheel, and the pots hanging over the open fire.
After leaving Dysart village and sneaking around long, narrow lanes for a several minutes drive, you turn a corner and the view opens up to Alice and Williamland, a picture-perfect cottage brought back to its former glory in a fitting tribute to Ted's grandparents – Alice and William Cruise.
While it feels a long way from civilisation, in reality, it's only a few kilometres from Dysart and Taughmaconnell, the Suck river is nearby, and the scene is sheltered by 20 acres of forestry. All in all, you can why this country oasis so close to nature would be a hit with visitors, and if it was on Airbnb it would be a sell-out!
But that's not Ted's game, he is just happy to welcome visitors and show them around, have a cup of tea and a chat like an 'open house'.
“My grandparents were so happy for people to come in and out. The whole of Derrycahill, Dysart was like that. I remember the ghost stories,” he laughs heartily at the thought to different times where everyone helped each other.
“I remember coming up the laneway (as a young child), I remember my grandparents sitting by the fire in a wicker chair,” he recalls.
“In here there wouldn't be much more than 100 acres upland, but they (grandparents) grew everything, they lived off the land. And as I said there was so much wildlife and fish in the river that no one died in the Famine here in Derrycahill. I'd say there could have been anything up to 300 living here at that time. There were 32 houses, with maybe ten in each house,” he explains, something that changed hugely in the interim with only six homes now.
Giving the grand tour, Ted is clearly proud of his handiwork and design and so he should be. What TV's Dermot Bannon is to modern glass-filled homes, the Dysart man is certainly his match in design terms for a more traditional Irish cottage. And certainly, he had his work cut out for him when he started out as the dwelling hadn't been lived in since 1965.
“It was rough, there were cattle and sheep in it. There was that height of muck,” he gestures to illustrate the condition of the house that was little more than a cowshed when he started in the summer of 2017.
“I always wanted to do it up but I wanted to in such a way that it would last a lifetime,” adds Ted, who agrees that it was absolutely a labour of love for him to bring the house back to life in such an authentic way that blends modern comfort with the traditional cottage feel.
“I did it all myself, everything. I even did the thatching,” he tells the Westmeath Independent proudly.
A farmer, he has done bits of building and stonework over the years, and jokes when I suggest he must be fairly handy that like the old saying he is “as handy as a small pot on a big fire”. He also describes himself as a bit of a “chancer” with a grin.
“It all came natural, nothing really held me up. I would have started in June or July 2017 and finished in November 2018,” the Derrycahill resident explains.
“I wouldn't have been at it every day, I did things in between, farming, etc,
He hadn't thatched before either, smiling only to say: “I might have thatched the crib in the church but that's it”.
Certainly not one to buckle from a challenge, he set out to do a first-class job his way, and he's delighted with how it turned out. There's even a modern extension added to the back out of sight to the eye when you come in. He says 'open Sesame' with great delight, pulling back a dresser to walk into a completely different world – from the traditional to the modern, a blend of old and new.
The only concession he had to make in the thatched cottage was not to use solid fuel otherwise insurance was a difficulty, but the electric fire with a natural-looking flame still fits in well.
He agrees he saved a lot by doing it himself, around €15,000 on the thatching alone, and sourcing much of what he needed locally.
One of 16 in family, Ted grew up about a mile from Dysart, the son of Tom and Annie Kelly (nee Cruise) who both left Derrycahill to Dysart in 1929. Sadly, five brothers and three sisters are now deceased.
Ted or Eamon as he is also known left school at 13 when his father was left paralysed and he took over the farm and has been at that ever since. His family is delighted with what he has done with the old house to bring it back.
“There's a visitor book there and there are hundreds of visitors who have come to see it. It was lovely to have people in here that was in the house with them, my grandparents, older people...Everyone loves it,” he says.
“I was only very small,” he recalls being in the house as a child. “Do you see the gun over the fireplace, I'll never forget, I was only four or five – I used to see my grandfather's gun over the fireplace and all I wanted to do is get my hands on that gun. That's why I have the gun in honour of him.”
Every piece in the cottage has a story, and he is very thankful to people who gave him older pieces to showcase which makes it all the more authentic.
“Some pieces are from the house - people brought them back to me. The crucifix that's on the mantelpiece, someone brought that out of the wrecked house over 50 years ago and last August, a woman had given it to my sister-in-law to bring back to the house because they heard I was doing it up. That's the original crucifix from the 1800s that was in this house,” he says, pointing to two other pictures which came from the original house, and his grandfather's bed board is in one of the four cottage bedrooms.
Two years living in the house this Christmas, Ted has never regretted taking on the project and doesn't rule out another in the future. He's love to see more cottages locally being brought back into use in the countryside as they are such a big part of our heritage.
While making tea Ted, who clearly enjoys hosting visitors, sings the 'Little Thatched Cottage,' joking that “the tea is like the house – perfect.”
“I just love it, I feel so at home here,” he says, adding that all he wants to share this beautiful place with other people. “I love people coming. I actually had the stations here on February 29. I had about 30 people here.
“I don't do Airbnb but anyone is welcome to stay. I didn't do this to make money. I did this for my grandparents really,” he ends, and it certainly is a fitting legacy to their memory.