Peek inside this charming five bedroom home in Donegal for €335k

Two into one does go…swimmingly; as proven by The Cottages at Fintra, in Co Donegal, a house that has two of everything, because it was originally two homes.

The mirror image pair of sturdy estate workers’ stone cottages, on what was once the Fintra Estate on the outskirts of Killybegs, Co Donegal, were constructed when Henrietta McNeil O’Hara married Thomas James Hamilton Gorringe in 1884, in whose family the massive Fintra demesne had been for over 200 years. Like many newly-wed wives, she soon set about putting her own stamp on the estate of 3,000 acres which had hunting, shooting and fishing territory.

Under her guidance, in 1888 Thomas started a series of works including the construction of the cottages close to both the stables and the main house.

Caroline Carr of Donegal County Museum says these were upper crust small homes built for high-ranking estate officials. “In the hierarchy of staff employed by the landed gentry, senior figures included the land agent or steward who managed the estate, the coachman, footman, head gardener and gamekeeper. These were upper middle class, and the standard of their accommodation was commensurate with their station. Considering the quality of the cut sandstone used to build these cottages, and their proximity to both the stables and the main house, it’s most likely they were for the agent and coachman. Landlords had only their most trusted staff living near them.”

Having extended the main house and built new out-offices, including a meeting hall, the Hamilton Gorringes decided in 1896 to add an ornamental clock tower and stable block. To celebrate the laying of the foundation stone, they threw a party for their 90 tenants, along with their 102 children, who were treated to a fireworks display, tea and dancing in the hall, with hundreds of fairylights illuminating the front of the residence.

Despite the free cake, the main house was burned down by the Republican Irregulars in 1922, and although subsequently rebuilt, its replacement was also destroyed in an accidental fire and has since been demolished.

In 1985 a fisherman bought both cottages as a fishing lodge. When it came up for sale in January 2016, John and Marianne Shine, owners of Killybegs Catch and Shines Irish Tuna, couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. “It was love at first sight,” says John. “It’s a quirky house with a big personality and our biggest challenge was how to bring it into the 21st century without losing the character that drew us to the property in the first place.

“An architect friend advised us, ‘If you want to give it a modern, streamlined look you can dry-line and re-plaster the walls, but you’ll kill the house.’ He was right. We kept the beautifully uneven plasterwork intact, and exposed some of the old stone walls inside, and instead of ripping out the walls, we upgraded the heating system. This house has a history and we wanted it to be a warm, cosy family home to be lived in, not an anonymous showhouse.”

It has two front doors, two patios, two hallways and two sets of stairs, one to the main bedroom, the other to two further bedrooms. The new kitchen with its polished quartz worktops and Belfast sink is in a single-storey extension that links the main house with what were two outbuildings. The former outbuildings now house a dining room with an original high-beam fireplace, a study, utility room, pantry and guest toilet.

The house has oak beams, wainscot panelling and panelled ceilings with antique light fittings, and wood and tiled flooring. The sitting room has a cast-iron Charnwood stove.

The master bedroom has an en suite bathroom and a walk-in dressing room with barn-style doors. There are two further bedrooms and another shower room upstairs. Outside is a workshop.

The Shines hadn’t bargained becoming empty quite nesters so soon. “We find the house is too big for the two of us, and Marianne’s knee has given her trouble, so the stairs are not ideal. We’re moving into a single-level apartment in Killybegs town, overlooking the harbour,” says John.

Standing on just over an acre of grounds, the house is within reach of the spectacular Slieve League cliffs, which some claim are Europe’s tallest and St John’s Point with its peach coloured coral beach. The sheltered blue-flag Fintra Beach is on the doorstep while Killybegs, one of the last remaining commercial fishing ports in Ireland, attracts cruise ships. And in Killybegs the famous Mrs B’s award-winning coffee and cake shop sells Ireland’s best peanut slice cake.

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