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TOUR: The restoration of a 18th century farmhouse

TOUR: The restoration of a 18th century farmhouse

View back to Turlough Lodge from the old stone bridge into Turlough Park (now the National Museum of Country Life)
The gateway entrance to Turlough Lodge
New trees planted by Michael along the river bank

Recently we bought a beautiful old stone farmhouse. Our plan is to renovate it into our family home. And of course, naturally, this new chapter has set us on a path of learning about the proper restoration of old stone buildings.

As part of our research, we reached out to Micheal Barrett who is restoring a beautiful old stone farmhouse that has been in his family for over five generations. Turlough Lodge dates from the 18th century and prior to Micheal starting work on the building it had been lying derelict for many years. It was really a case of now or never for Michael when he started the work in 2017. “If the roof went then the house was lost. Another two or three years and the roof would have probably collapsed or started to fail.”

Micheal responded immediately and very kindly offered to show us the restoration work he has been doing and share his advice and experience.

Luckily for us, Turlough Lodge is situated right next to an excellent playground on the grounds of The Museum of Country Life. This small coincidence meant that we were able to coax our 6-year-old along on a Saturday morning, with the promise of a trip to the big slide after.

It was a sunny, late Spring day when we arranged to meet Micheal at the house. We parked close to the museum playground so that we could enjoy a leisurely stroll across the river and along the elegant curving drive up to the house.

Immediately we were able to appreciate the work already achieved in this slow, careful and extensive project. To our left as we walked, we spotted the more than 100 native broadleaf trees that Micheal has planted along the river bank - an instant indicator of Micheal’s long-term commitment not just to this house but also to its wider environment.

We then spotted Michael, at the front of the house, waiting to greet us.

 

 

c.19th century maps of Turlough village, County Mayo showing Turlough Lodge (marked centre) and its relationship to the river and estate of Turlough Park.

 

The old stone bridge on which we are standing in the first photograph in this story is situated to the north east of the house, crossing the blue lined river. (Not included on these maps is the important, but much later, 21st century playground and big slide! )

 

The view a little further downstream along the Castlebar river, looking to the 9th century Turlough round tower, one of the most complete and best-preserved round towers in Ireland.

 

Turlough Lodge has been in Michael’s family for five generations and was last lived in by his father and grandmother. Some of Michael’s ancestors had worked for the Fitzgeralds in nearby Turlough Park House. Michael’s granduncle bought the home outright when he returned from some time in America.

According to architectural historian and author David Hicks “The Lodge is said to date from 1760 but carbon dating places this house's construction closer to 1740. Once home to the Semple family in the 19th century, in 1837 a Mrs. Semple occupied the house. At the time of Griffith's Valuation in 1857, a William Semple lived here, it was valued at £10 and leased from the nearby Fitzgerald estate of Turlough House. In the 1870's it was the home of Robert Powell and in 1876 he offered for sale the tenant's interest in the house and 90 acres of land.”

Michael began this restoration project in 2017 but speaking earlier this year to the local newspaper “The Western People” he recalls “I was probably about 23 or 24 when I first started thinking about it. I always had aspirations of doing it but I was probably put off by the amount of work it could take. But I felt if I didn’t do it it was something I might regret for the rest of my life. You could get a new house for half the price but it will never have this charm and character”.

 

New lime render, linestone door surrounds and overlight (window above door) and temporary black doors

 

The original doors awaiting renovation work

 

Having watched the renovation of this house from a distance for a number of years (we visit that playground often!) we now find ourselves standing and admiring the beautifully restored front facade of the house up close and in detail. It is a real treat. We chat a little with Michael about our own project, about natural lime render mixes and applications, stonework, and the unusual, original overlight (window above the door).

Michael recounts that his work so far on this building has been focused on the, not insignificant, tasks of stabilizing the structure, repairing the chimneys, adding a new roof of natural slate, and external lime rendering on the front and side facades. He points to the painted black plywood doors and tells us that these are a temporary measure to secure the interior until the original pine doors have been restored and are ready. He shows us the doors as they are, awaiting renovations. We marvel at the many thick layers of paint on the doors - a reminder of the many generations of lives lived in the old farmhouse.

(This is a great post that shows images of the front of the property prior to the beginning of Micheals restoration work)

 

 

We step inside. Immediately, we feel transported back in time. We stop for a moment to take it all in. Peeling layers of colourful paint and a 1960’s domestic light shade have survived alongside exposed lime plaster with cow hair and ceiling lathes from the 18th century. The feeling of layers of time and a sense of pathos almost knocks me back.

 

Looking from hallway back up at the window above the front door.

 

Exposed ceiling lathes, and crumbling plaster which Micheal has discovered includes bovine (cow) hair in its mix.

 

 

And yet, as we then step into a room to the left of the hallway, (Michael tells us this will one day be his kitchen) the significance of his labour overtakes the atmosphere of the space. We are drawn to the recently restored and reinstated sash window. Looking back out onto the driveway we admire the texture of the original 18th-century glass panels. Micheal draws our eyes to the original brass fixings and demonstrates the smooth and clever opening of the windows. We cannot help but ohhh and ahhh out loud in appreciation.

As we move through the house Michael describes how much of the original internal woodwork, such as shutters and doors have been retained and only small elements have been replaced where necessary.

 

Looking back out to the front of the house through original bumpy glass panels

 

Original brass window fixtures were restored and reused

 

Butterflies waiting to fly

 

Our daughter excitedly points out two butterflies. We take the excuse to open the windows again, to more ohhhs and ahhhs, and we watch together as they fly away into the sunshine.

 

More butterflies.

 

Once we have explored downstairs we head up to see work underway on the first and second floors. As we climb Micheal points out the handrails and worn steps. He describes how special it feels for him to have the chance to live, one day, in a house where he knows that these steps have been worn away, over time, by the many footsteps of generations of his ancestors. He is walking in their footsteps each time he travels up and down these stairs. He plans to restore the stairs to make them safe while also, he hopes, retaining the visible wear sections.

 

How many generations of hands have moved across this hand rail

 

Visibly worn treads in the pine staircase

 

View out the first floor room

 

View into attic space bedrooms

 

Upstairs, on the first floor, the rooms feel brighter. There are beautiful big sash windows looking out across the front field and in the roof space, there are two further rooms (most likely bedrooms) with smaller windows looking out the gable end of the house. The space is starting to feel like a home and it is going to be magnificent. I think of Michael’s own words “You could get a new house for half the price but it will never have this charm and character”.

 

 

We head back outside. This time we look at work underway at the back of the house. Like the front door, the black-painted door is a temporary placement. We stop to admire the thick, curving walls. On this exterior facade, we stop to look at some sections of the original lime render. There are also some sections of the facade that have been repointed and we admire the newly rendered gable end along with new windows (originals were not possible to restore) and restored chimneys. From this vantage point, we can take a better look at the detailing of the new roof with natural slates.

Michael also shows us some further sections of the building (later extensions) that now lie in ruins. He hopes, one day, to design and develop these sections into living spaces also, but tells us this is definitely further down the line.

We stand in the sunshine for a moment, looking at the river, at the house, and again at the section of ruined walls. If it was anyone else I might think this idea to renovate this next section of ruined walls was a fanciful proposal, a nice idea that would be next to impossible to achieve. But looking at Micheal, and all that he has so painstakingly and carefully achieved so far, you believe him.

 

 

As we say our goodbyes Michael generously offers again to help us out in any way with advice on our own restoration project. Then, as we admire a great old beech tree at the front of the house, he heads off to a nearby polytunnel. Moments later he comes back. He is carrying a large pot. It is one of a number of small beech tree saplings that he has been growing from beech nuts gathered from the great beech tree that we are standing and admiring. This, he explains, is a gift for our new home.

Without saying it he tells us… One step at a time is all it takes to get you there. From little saplings, great trees grow.

 

Notes

Since he started the work on Turlough Lodge Michael has been keeping a record of work as it progresses. You can follow along with his renovation work:

Michael's Facebook page detailing the slow and steady restoration of Turlough Lodge

Michael's Instagram page detailing the restoration of Turlough Lodge

 

There are also a number of other online sources of information about Turlough Lodge and Michael’s ongoing restoration work:

The listing for Turlough Lodge on Ireland's National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Old family photos and story of Turlough Lodge restoration in local newspaper "The Western People"

Before and After Images of ongoing restoration work

 

A nice poem about home places, partly situated in Turlough Village:

A poem by Paul Durcan about memories of driving to his fathers home place, also in Turlough Village

 

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