New Lease of Life for Burke’s Farmhouse in Cordal West

The poster which advertised the Cordal Races of December 27th 1937 which were run on Burke's land. The poster hung in Skevenas Bar for years and is now in the care of Joan Nolan. ©Photograph: john Reidy
The poster which advertised the Cordal Races of December 27th 1937 which were run on Burke’s land. The poster hung in Skevenas Bar for years and is now in the care of Joan Nolan. ©Photograph: john Reidy Click to enlarge image.

Few old houses in the category of Cordal’s pride and joy and historic ‘Burke’s Farmhouse’ find themselves lucky enough to be plucked from certain obscurity. This was and it’s bristling with new life and thorough revitalisation.

This Christmas the house joined its neighbours in exuding the glow of seasonal light as it celebrated its first year of occupation in almost 40 years.

It’s a project suitable for any of the home restoration TV programmes. It’s almost incredible to see that the landmark farmhouse in the heart of Cordal has been lovingly restored to its prime and is now a family home again.

Burke’s Farmhouse at Cordal West

The house in question is Burke’s Farmhouse at Cordal West, Castleisland. The house has a long and interesting history and was a focal point of the community in times past.

In 1853, William Burke moved from Molahiffe, Firies to Cordal West to rent the associated farm from Lord Ventry.

His son, John Burke took over the lease of the land in 1861, a year in which he also married Ellen O’Sullivan.

Castleisland was a hotbed of agrarian strife during the Land War and John Burke was honoured by the Land League for his imprisonment in June 1881 as a victim of the Coercion Act of 1881.

Completed in 1884.

Upon his release, he built the present farmhouse which was completed in 1884.

In 1906, his youngest son, Jeremiah took over the lease on the farm and house as the rest of the family had emigrated.

Jeremiah and his wife Nora Geaney had five in family (see the inset family photograph) and the house and lands subsequently passed to his son Jack in 1945.

The Burkes were keen sportsmen with Jeremiah hosting an annual horse race and athletics meeting. A poster advertising one such meeting was on prominent display at one time in Skevena’s Bar in Castleisland.

Locals will remember Jeremiah’s son Andy as a good middle distance runner. The great Con Houlihan referenced Andy in one of his columns:

A Remarkable Story

“In my area, Jimmy O’Connor from Knockeen and Andy Burke from Cordal were fierce rivals and competed against each other almost every Sunday in the sports season. One of their duels produced a remarkable story. Andy was leading by about one hundred yards going into the last mile but it was feared that Jimmy would outpace him at the finish and so the Cordal committee brought the finishing rope some distance from the gate of the Sports field so that Andy ‘won’. This caused a controversy that lasted for a long time – it wasn’t all verbal.”

Both Jack and Andy were bachelors and after Jack’s death in 1985 and Andy’s passing in 1989, the house was unoccupied and became derelict.

Saw the Potential

In 2003, the present owners, Pat and Melanie Walsh saw the potential and fell in love with the property and purchased the house. Pat’s grandmother was Ellen (Nell) Burke, a daughter of Jeremiah and granddaughter of John’s.

Pat engaged the services of Chris Southgate of Southgate & Associates Conservation Engineers who advised on the structural repair and the sensitive restoration of the property.

A restoration project of this kind required a very dedicated builder and local man, Seán Nolan of Nolan Homes took on the job in May 2012.

Sean’s experience of working on period properties in London ensured that he managed the whole project effortlessly and on schedule during the undertaking.

Retained or Replicated

Key parts of the house were retained or replicated. These include the timber sash windows and timber window shutters, the retention of the original oak beam over the fireplace and the use of stone flagstones.

A replica of the original front door was made to keep with the external aspect of the house. The external pointing of the stone around the house was supervised and approved by the Heritage Officer from Kerry County Council.

The original pillars and pedestrian gate were repaired and restored and the front wall repaired to its original state.

Sympathetic and Functional

It was the same with the chimneys which were also restored back to their original best.

For the final interior decoration and finish for this stunning house, local interior designer, Tina McAuliffe advised Pat and Melanie and ensured that the finish is both sympathetic and functional.

A commemorative plaque is positioned in the hallway. This details the history of the people associated with the construction and restoration of the house.

The fine, old building is a credit to all who had a hand in breathing new life into it and to Pat and Melanie for seeing its potential, taking on such a project and seeing it through to completion.

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