Full circle in Mayo – meet the New York-born woman who has restored the thatched cottage where her grandmother was born

Kellys Cottage, Bunnanertish, Knockanillaun,, Ballina, Co Mayo Asking price: €285,000 Agent: CK Auctioneers (096) 70878

ew York-born Christina McDonnell achieved her dream of restoring and living in a thatched cottage in Ireland when she acquired Kelly’s Cottage outside Ballina with hubby Paul.

But theirs wasn’t just any old thatched cottage, it was the home where her maternal grandmother was born in the early 1900s, long before the cottage was sold from the family.

Thus, by purchasing and restoring Kelly’s Cottage for future generations, Christina brought her family story of emigration full circle.

Situated 7.5km from Ballina and Crossmolina, the house is off the N59 road connecting the two Mayo towns.

Although born in the Big Apple, Christina grew up in Crossmolina when her parents and siblings relocated back to the ‘old country’.

She had always wanted to own a traditional thatched cottage, but life took her far away from thatch and green fields before she got that opportunity.


Christina McDonnell, her husband Paul, Conor (3) and baby David in the living room at their cottage near Ballina

She met Paul, from Castlehill in Ballina, when they were both in their teens. As a young couple, they also retraced her parents’ journey when they emigrated to the Big Apple.

“I had qualified as a primary teacher and Paul is a welder. In New York I worked as a kindergarten teacher and Paul worked in construction,” says Christina.

“We stayed there for four years from 2010 and 2014 and had a great time. We traveled a lot before coming home in 2014 to get married. We went back again for a short time and moved home to Ireland for good in 2015.”

They were living in Crossmolina and looking to buy a house when the cottage at Bunnanertish, Knockillaun came on the market.

This was the one Christina wanted. Because this was the cottage in which her maternal grandmother and her siblings were born in the early 1900s.

“It had been in the Kelly family for generations. My uncles subsequently lived in it and then it came into the ownership of my mother’s cousin.


Another view of the living room

“He renovated the cottage adding the extension, re-doing the fireplace and installing the central heating. When he sold it, the cottage went out of the family for the first time ever, so there was great delight when I bought it back.”

The house was in habitable condition but needed significant upgrading.

“We said we’d go for it. We didn’t do any external structural work, but we revamped everything else, we rewired it, we replumbed it, put in the double-glazed sash windows and replaced the doors,” Christina says.

“We dug up the floors and insulated them, we insulated the attic and installed underfloor heating in the old part of the house, which is the traditional three-room cottage layout taking in the living room and two bedrooms. The extension was added about 25 years ago and didn’t need that much work.”

The McDonnells also renovated the kitchen and completely refitted the bathroom.

Maintaining thatch can be challenging enough, but finding a good thatcher today can be extremely difficult.

But Christina was put in touch with a German lady in the Sligo area who took on the job and did it to perfection. “She came with her assistant and, by God, she worked hard. We had her back again last year to do the ridging and patching so all that has been done within the past twelve months.”

The thatcher sourced a water reed from Turkey. “I know some people thatch with straw,” Christina said, “but the water reed is a harder material. No matter what material you use you have to look after it and make sure to get the repairs done in time.”

Unusually, for rural houses of its type and vintage, the cottage is perched on an elevated site. The Big Wind of 1839 destroyed about 50% of the rural housing stock in the country and, after that, houses were built in hollows and valleys with their gables facing the prevailing wind.

“The site is a beautiful little hill and the house was built obviously with a view to the sun flooding the front. We have our table and chairs outside and any opportunity we get we eat our meals outside,” she says.

While the work was only completed in 2019, the McDonnells are selling because they have outgrown it. “We now have two children, Conor is three-and-a-half-years-old and David is 11 weeks. The two-bedroom house is just not big enough,” Christina explains.

They had considered adding a modern ‘Dermot Bannon-style’ extension to the side but, it might not suit this historic property. Meanwhile, the thoughts of living on a building site with two small children were too much.

The front door leads straight into the living room, centered around an Inglenook fireplace fitted with a back-boiler stove and a timber mantle. The flooring is in timber-effect tiles and heating is also provided by an underfloor heating system.

The kitchen is fitted with solid timber counter tops and white subway tile splashbacks. There’s a Belfast sink, a stainless steel dishwasher, a stainless steel fridge freezer and a Rangemaster stove with a gas hob and electric ovens. A hallway off the kitchen has shelving and space to hang coats.

The main bedroom is a double with a sash window to the front overlooking the garden. It has a built-in closet and, like the rest of the house, has a high ceiling while the flooring is in timber-effect tiling.

The second bedroom is similarly finished and both have underfloor heating.

In the family bathroom walls are paneled and the shower cubicle, which is completely tiled, includes a rain shower and hand sprayer while a freestanding round hand basin on a timber framed bench and period-style claw bath.

The house has fiber optic broadband delivering 500mbs and a mobile phone signal booster, smart heating controls and a 50amp power supply to the sheds is suitable for EV charging or a solar PV system.

The landscaped gardens include mature trees and shrubs while two outhouses have car parking and storage spaces.

For this postcard thatched cottage, CK Auctioneers and Property Management is asking €285,000.

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