Johnny Paddy’s

The recreation of a family home in Ireland

May 1st – A rolling stone gathers no moss

May 11th, 2011

We had been gone for less than a month, but we knew that a lot of progress had been made in our absence. Even so, we resisted the urge to go straight to the house on the way back from Dun Laoghaire on Saturday. We met Theresa Curtin briefly in the evening, and she said we wouldn’t recognise the place.

New RoadSunday morning was sunny and warm, and we took Bridie Kenneally with us when we went to have a look for ourselves. Theresa wasn’t wrong.

The first thing we noticed was the road. When we left at the beginning of the month, it was all but impassable to motor traffic. The rock breaker had been there for 3 or 4 days, working firstly on the trench for the water supply and then on the site for the septic tank. The important thing, Pat told us, was to bury the water pipe deep enough to stop it freezing during the winter. The easiest Quarryway to do this was to build up the level of the road with stone from the trench and from the hole dug for the septic tank in the hagart. We always wondered how easy it was going to be to bury the septic tank, now here we were standing on the edge of a small quarry! The road took nothing more sophisticated than a few truck loads of stone and a few passes with the digger to level it.

Last remnantsThe house looks pretty in the background, doesn’t it. Sadly, there is little now left of the original house and what there is will soon be gone too. Levelled to make room for a new garage. Such is progress.

The paths around the house were also nearly up to their proper height. No more need to negotiate an 18” step up to the front door. And, inside, the stonework on the chimney breast was Chimney breastdone. It had been, as regular readers will know, a particular goal of ours to reuse some of the stone from the old house to try and recreate a traditional or rustic feel in the new one. Our brief to the stonemason probably wasn’t very helpful, “we want it to look traditional, not too perfect, but not to rough either …” We think he got the look just about perfect, with the addition of a thin slab of flag for a mantlepiece and a couple of flat stones creating supports for candles or ornaments. In particular, we like the variety of colour in the stone … and the fact that some still have a little dry moss attached to them!

The concrete floors and bathroom plumbing were in, and we can begin to get a real sense of what our living space is going to look like.

On Monday, our tiler, Mickey Hehir (no relation of Pat’s) turned up to start on our bathrooms. Meanwhile, we went to get a quote on kitchen appliances …

April 5th – Absence makes the heart grow fonder

April 6th, 2011

Lifting flagsDuring our last week in Ireland, John’s mum came to stay. On the day she arrived, we spent the morning with Pat and John Devereux, lifting the original flagstones from the old house. To our 16 yards of serviceable flagsgreat joy, most of them came up intact. There weren’t as many as we had hoped, as the bedrooms had concrete floors. But, nevertheless, we were left with 16 yards of serviceable flags. While not enough to use for the main living room, there were easily enough to use in the entrance hall/utility room.

Betty’s first visitBy the following day, the plasterers had finished inside. The sun was shining (as it did for the whole week Betty was with us) and the porcelain-smooth skim coat was already beginning to dry. It was hard to gauge Betty’s reaction at first. She toured the house, showing a polite interest, then went outside to look at the tree where Mick’s ashes had been scattered several years ago. Bridie, on the other hand, seemed eMick’s tree with spring shootsxcited by the prospect of having us as neighbours, especially as she can see our roof from her house. In fact, when we rejoined Betty outside, there were tears in her eyes. She had simply been overcome with emotion, partly because of the progress with the new house, and partly because there is so little now left of the old one.

In ouCentral heating goes inr absence, work continues apace. At the time of writing, the plumber will probably have finished his first fix. When we left, the radiators were already installed and there was an impressive-looking manifold in the hot press, linking all the under-floor pipework. Suddenly, we were discussing finished floor levels and ordering tiles for the bathrooms. We tried to match the flags from the old house, but were told that they came from a local quarry, now abandoned and planted with forestry. The unusual thing about these sandstone flags, was that they were smooth. The flags that are most commonly seen around Co. Clare are the Moher flags, characterised by fossilised worm-casts creating whorls in the stone and giving them a rippled texture. We couldn’t match our original flags, but we were able to buy 40 yards of smooth black flagstones for the living room from Liscannor Stone.

All the hot and cold water and waste pipes should now be laid down, ready for the concrete floor. The mains water supply may also now be connected. This had been a matter of some concern since the start of the build. The original house stood on solid rock and had no water supply other than what Rock breaker digs trenchcould be drawn manually from a nearby well. There was no sanitation either, so there had never been any need to dig a trench for water or waste pipes. Our neighbour had spent a small fortune on a rock-breaker to install drains in his meadow and assured us that it would prove impossible to run the pipes down our right of way, offering to sell us an adjacent field as an alternative. Doubtless, he (and his bank) will be disappointed to discover that Pat’s rock-breaker was rather more efficient … and we wont be needing his field.Nearly habitable

Frustratingly, now that the build has reached such an exciting stage, we have had to return to France for a couple of weeks to put in our Tax Return and sort out our motorcycles prior to our Russian trip this summer. John spoke to Marie last night and could barely contain himself when she told him that the stonemason had started work on the chimney-breast.

March 5th – bring me sunshine

March 5th, 2011

The weather today is a bit gloomy. A pity really, as it has been beautifully sunny for the last few days and the ground has really begun to dry out. I actually went out without a coat two days last week! Spring is well on the way and gardeners are complaining that their vegetables will be at risk of a late frost if they develop too quickly. With Irish weather, you can’t win. It is, as they say, “hopeless altogether”.

South elevation with door and window bandsAlthough we have been up to the house on three or four days each week, I haven’t been taking pictures. There has been constant progress, but there didn’t seem to be anything particularly worthy of a photo going on. But I was wrong. Now I look at the pictures I took today, and notice all the small jobs that went on in the meantime that I haven’t recorded, e.g. the finished roof and the battening for the decorative plaster bands surrounding the windEast elevation showing roof bargesow and door frames.

The plasterers came back at the end of February to do the final coat of plaster (render) on the middle gable. Now dry, it has changed colour completely from a deep sand to quite a pretty pale grey. Last week they did all the door and window bands and, today, we arrived just as they were finishing the plaster around the rest of the house. Don’t the high barges look good now the roof and plaster is finished?

Inside, the roof has been insulated and the ceilings plasterboarded. The “hot press” (the airing cupboard*) has been built in the utility room, with the door opening off the main hallway. The electricians and the plumber have finished their “first fix”, and John has installed miles of cabling for the satellite dish, terrestrial TV aerial, broadband and IP telephone, as well as HDMI and speaker cables … no more trailing leads for Foggy (our fat grey cat) to chew on!

Feature beam in living roomThe projector for the home cinema system will be attached to a beam that spans the centre of the living room. I wondered whether Pat wouldn’t think me mad, wanting a vaulted ceiling and a false ‘feature’ beam to add a bit of character to the room. But he suggested basing the design on the exposed beams from a disused church in north Clare, and I think he’s done a grand job.

* In Ireland a “press” is the most usual way of referring to various types of cupboard, including airing cupboards, wardrobes, kitchen units, sideboards, or dressers.

February 19th – 24 little hours …

February 20th, 2011

The sun came out today, which was what we had hoped for as the plasterer was due to render the middle gable so that the roofer could complete the slating. We visited the site around 2.30pm, and got quite a surprise …

From the road above, we couldn’t see anyone working but something definitely looked different. It was only as we turned off onto the private road that I realised what it was. The whole house had been rendered with its first scratch coat of plaster! The reason we hadn’t seen anyone working was that the plasterers had just started the last wall, the eastern gable end.

Applying scratch coat to eastern gableTo give you some idea of the speed with which these guys work, as we pulled up, they had just applied a few dabs of plaster around the edges of the gable. By the time I had pulled on my wellingtons and got my camera out, they had done the gable and were starting on the wall above the windows! Compare this photo to the one at the bottom to see the difference 30 minutes’ work makes. The entire house took them no more than about 7 hours from start to finish.South elevation with electrical box and roof barges

These guys are good. They are Pat’s best men and he is keen to keep them working. But today’s work is a prime illustration of why Irish builders will always find employment – even if they have to leave Ireland to do so. We joked about their English counterparts, of whom we have encountered many over the last few years. Must have a fag and a cuppa before even putting their overalls on, stopping for elevenses, disappearing round the corner to the pub for lunch, packing in early because of poor light, the possibility of rain or lack of materials … and not forgetting numerous cups of tea and fag breaks thoughout the day!

Anyway, I digress. There was more.

First fixJohn had remembered something that we had omitted from the plan we gave to Joe, the electrician.  “No problem”, said Pat, “Joe’s guys are inside.” So we clambered in through the front door (I’ve never bothered to ask about the 18” step up. I assume it is temporary), to find the whole interior swagged with festoons of electric cable. Three electricians were on site, running North elevation with plastered gable endcables and channeling in conduit and backboxes for all the sockets and lighting that Joe had marked with chalk on the bare block walls.

All this had happened since yesterday. John and I just stood there for a moment, open-mouthed, taking in the sheer wonder of it all!

February 18th – a day without rain …?

February 18th, 2011

People joke that they don’t come to Ireland for the weather. But I don’t know why they wouldn’t? There’s certainly enough of it here …

North elevationOver the last couple of weeks, the west coast has been battered by gale force winds and intermittent bursts of torrential rain, hampering work on the house.  Our insistence on having roof barges has rather set things back. Pat only needed a couple of dry days to complete them, but very little else could be done until the concrete had gone off. There is no doubt that they look the part in this area but, in Pat’s words, they are a “pure nuisance” to construct.  In the end, Pat took to calling the Irish Met Office each morning to check the latest forecast and, if the morning South elevationwas forecast dry, he and John Devereaux would be down at the site at dawn to do one or two barges (the house has six: 2 on each of the 3 gables), which then had to be covered with heavy-duty polythene to protect them from the rain.

Even so, the speed of progress still amazes us.  The front door was delivered on Friday 11th and, at some point during a break in the weather, ESB have installed three new telegraph poles for the electricity supply. Mercifully, they have opted to locate them beside the road … and not, as threatened, in the middle of our neighbour’s recently re-seeded meadow.

Despite the weather, John and I have been busy. Armed with our kitchen plan, we met the electrician, Pat’s brother, Joe, this week, to discuss power sockets and lighting. How exciting was that?!  In fact, Joe has also agreed to put in back boxes for our home cinema speaker system, thereby avoiding unsightly leads. Naturally, this required us to know what system we were putting in … and precipitated a shopping trip to Limerick.

Having shopped around a bit for a kitchen, we’ve fallen back on Ikea again. Pat was intrigued when we compared the price of a similar kitchen in Wickes and B&Q. Ikea is a fairly new phenomenon in Ireland, so we’ve offered to take him with us when we go. Of course, it’s Marie that we were thinking of. She will be in her element in the Market Hall section. We’ve already warned Pat that he’ll need to bring his cheque book!

January 31st – What a difference a day (or 28) makes …

January 31st, 2011

“Corrigryn” takes shapeIt seemed such a simple idea for me to ride the 1150GS as far as Birmingham on Friday, where we were to pick up a new trailer, then to hitch up the bike and ride the rest of the way to Co. Clare in the car.  The reality was a little more complicated and will be written up elsewhere. However, suffice to say, we eventually made it home at 5.30am on Sunday morning. We had been away for exactly 4 weeks.

We paused for a moment at the top of the road to look down on the new building. There had been a great deal of progress since we were last here and I have to confess to a little emotion seeing Chimney breast will be clad in old stoneour little house for the first time, with its roof and windows installed. (In fact, we learned later that the windows had all been installed this morning!) 

Pat and John were working on the roof, putting up the wooden shuttering for the concrete barges*. It was about to rain, so we left them to get on while we sheltered inside.

Leaning against thSouth elevatione chimney breast, it is easy for us now to imagine how the room will look when it is finished. The vaulted ceiling will have one or two “feature” roof trusses installed (dependent on cost) below the French windows look over The Burrenplasterboard. Apart from lending a bit of character to the otherwise modern cottage, the exposed beams will provide a convenient fixing point for John’s home cinema projector (… for the football. What were you thinking?!). The chimney breast itself will be faced with stones from the old building and the room will be heated by a multi-fuel stove. We still hope that we will be able to re-use the original flags from the old house for the floor.

North elevationThe weather has been kind to us, so once the roof barges are finished and the slates are on, the electrician and plumber can crack on with the first fix. We are now at the point where we have to decide on the design of our kitchen.

*Roof barge: a painted concrete extension of the gable that sits above the tiles – a common feature of traditional Irish cottages, particularly in the west.

December 2010 – the big chill

January 9th, 2011

Looking north from living roomJohn and I arrived back in Ireland on 20th December.  Betty was due to join us for Christmas the following day.  We were so looking forward to showing her how the work was progressing,South elevation but it wasn’t to be.

Since our last visit, it had barely stopped snowing.  Temperatures of -10°C had been recorded in Dublin and it had been even colder in parts of Co. Clare.  Things were worse in London.  Following heavy snowfall, Heathrow closed its runways … and stayed closed.  Thousands of passengers were forced to sleep in the terminal buildings, while others were being told not to come to the airport.  Eventually, on Tuesday morning, we received a text from Aer Lingus, telling us that Betty’s flight was cancelled.  Though there was a slim chaNorth elevationnce that she might get another on Christmas Eve, we felt it would be better all round to cancel completely and rebook when the weather was better in the Spring.

The ice and snow had also hampered work on the house.  Although the block layers seemed to have made great progress, what you see in these photos was achieved in just 8 days – before the weather became too cold for the mortar.

Nevertheless, John looks pretty happy, doesn’t he?  The external walls are up to wall-plate level and are only a couple of layers of blocks required to build up the interior walls to the same level. Notice how the previous block work is now below floor level.  View of old house from “kitchen window”

The gaps between the two skins of blocks will be filled with Styrofoam insulation boards as can be seen in this photo. The next stage will be to get the roof trusses up before building the gable ends. Once the block work is finished and the roof is on, work will not be so dependent on the weather.


November 24th – the Radon barrier

November 24th, 2010

Another peek at the viewThe first time I noticed radon gas mentioned was when we put our house on the market in February.  One of questions our solicitors sent us was whether we were in an area known to have high radon levels.  We hadn’t a clue.  Radon, apparently, occurs naturally as part of the decay chain of uranium, which the earth is full of, according to Wikipedia, and is the single largest contributor to a person’s lifetime background radiation dose.  Not healthy then.  Hence, where the levels of radon are higher than average, modern building regulations now require a barrier and sump to be sunk into the foundations of houses to stop the gas accumulating where it oughtn’t.  And this is what we found Pat doing when we turned up today.  radon barrier

Pat is very much a ‘belt and braces’ man.  Most builders will simply lay a layer of sand over the thick polythene membrane to protect it until the flooring material is laid, but Pat says this is all very well until it rains and then it is a “pure mess” – added to which, by the time the builders have trampled all over it, raked out the sand, erected scaffolding and dropped tools, the whole thing is full of holes and utterly useless.  So Pat uses a weak mix concrete instead.

Site canteenOur visit today was principally to see our neighbour, over whose land our right of way runs.  In theory, we already have his permission to run water pipes down his road, but it is good to talk and we also wanted to ask his permission to level an unsightly mound on his side of the boundary.  As usual, the 11.30am appointment was delayed by an hour or so, and 12.30pm also came and went with no sign of yer man.  Pat and his foreman, John, repaired to the site canteen for their lunch. (As I took this photo, John said “now don’t be putting that in the Champion”.”Oh no”, I said, “just the Internet”. “Well that’s ok then.”)Meet the neighbours

When yer man did, eventually, show up, he was helpful to a fault, allowing us to run our water pipes under a corner of his meadow rather than force us to employ a rock breaker to dig a trench in the road. Equally, he didn’t seem to mind in the least if we pushed the mound of overgrown earth over the escarpment to improve our view. We don’t know what to make of our neighbour really. He owns a lot of property all over the county, but he seems to have remarkably bad luck doing anything with it. He was particularly anxious that we shouldn’t disturb the meadow too much as he had spent a lot of money draining and re-seeding it.  It didn’t seem a particularly profitable enterprise though, as it had cost 100k to do and produced just 16 bales of silage. Such is farming, perhaps. However, he had also been in trouble with the county council over a percolation bore hole that had been left uncovered and had crossed swords with the ESB over re-routing some electricity lines underground. All over the county there seem to be planning applications started and abandoned, where, in the face of an apparently minor setback, he seemed to have simply thrown in the towel and given up, often leaving himself out of pocket in the process.

November 22nd – the road rises up

November 22nd, 2010

Well, its an odd thing, but each time I see the site, the rooms seem to change size.  When Pat first marked out the outline with a few blocks, I was slightly disappointed as the main living room looked smaller than I had imagined it.  Then when the first layer of blocks showed where the interior walls would be, the whole thing seemed much bigger.  Pat says these differences of perception are quite normal and can mostly be put down to tricks of the light.  Anyway, I hadn’t looked in on the site again while John was away so quite a lot of progress had been made in the interim. It wont be long before we have to start thinking about plumbing, so we sat down on Sunday night and desigView from our living roomned our new kitchen.  Now when I go to the site, it is easier to visualise how the furniture and kitchen units will fit.

The most obvious change was the ground level.  The foundations are now mostly buried and the walls have been filled in with gravel. You can no longer see the difference in height between the eastern and western ends of the plot. The radon sump has been installed, and the next step will be to lay a gas-proof barrier over the whole foundations before installing the damp-proof course and finishing with a final layer of smooth concrete.  Finished floor level will be approximately 7″ above what you see here. This picture hints at the magnificent view we will have from our living room, towards The Burren. Ready for radon barrier

When we saw Pat yesterday, his main concern was how to compensate for the height of the new building above the original rock bed.  A steep slope now exists between the main house and where we are to site our new garage and we need to find the most cost-effective way of dealing with it.  We could bring in more stones – a lot more – and bring the garage up to the same level as the house, but this would require some sort of retaining wall and would result in a sharp drop off the other side, perhaps not ideal for John’s and Mike’s grandchildren, should they (please God) come to visit. So, instead, we will borrow back a section of the hagget and build up a gentler slope towards the house.  It will probably make a great skateboard park, though we’ll have to keep a good supply of sticking plasters in the medicine cabinet for all those grazed knees.

November 16th – Floor plan

November 16th, 2010

I dropped John off at Shannon Airport this morning, before calling in at the site on my way home.  I was feeling rough, as I have caught John’s cold. Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood to be caught behind the world’s slowest tractor, travelling at 20kph, towing a heavy load of shale.  Driving a left-hand-drive car, I couldn’t see to get past, so I just had to wait until he turned off.  But, as luck would have it, the tractor was going the same way as me, so I carried on and took a later turn.

Room layoutThe blocks for the foundations are nearly all in place now, and you can see the room layout. It is easy to forget that all this will actually be below floor level in the finished house, so there are no apertures in the walls for doors and windows. The notches you can see in the tops of some of the block walls will carry the plumbing. Nevertheless, I hopped over the living room ‘wall’ and tried to imagine how our fully extended dining table would fit with our kitchen units and the lovely dual-fuel range that we saw yesterday at the electrical store.  (I can dream …)The world’s slowest tractor

I climbed up on the pile of grassed-over stone that used to be the front wall of the old house and took the annotated photo below.  Just as I was about to leave, I heard a tractor approaching.  Sure enough, the slowest tractor in the world hove into view.  It was Pat.  I should have guessed …

Click photo for larger image.

Floorplan at foundation level