A little piece of heaven in Derrynane

The history of Coolisk in Derrynane.

When someone sees a lovely house in a gorgeous location, they may wonder who lives there and how it came to be. Over the years, many people no doubt admired the house perched on the promontory overlooking Derrynane Bay. So, what is the story?

We can start by telling you that the house was comissioned in 1958.  Declan Dwyer. and his wife, Dodo (nee Horgan), had a great affinity with the area. They met each other in Waterville in the early 1930’s and got engaged in 1936. Both their families had been going on holidays to Waterville for many many years.

The couple’s romance blossomed in Derrynane, and they were photographed picnicking overlooking Derrynane Harbour. No one was to know that 22 years later, Derrynane was where they would build their dream home.
Declan Dwyer’s family came from Clogheen in Co. Tipperary. Declan’s father Billy Dwyer started Sunbeam Knitwear in 1928. After Billy’s death in 1951, Declan expanded the company to the point that it employed 4,500 by the 1960’s

Dodo Dwyer’s family came from Macroom, and it is from here that the connection with Derrynane came. Her great-grandfather, John Horgan (1780-1874), was a personal friend of Daniel O’Connell who sometimes stayed with him when he was traveling through Macroom en route to and from his Kerry home in Derrynane.

Dodo’s father James Bowring Horgan was a renowned surgeon in Cork. He was an avid botanist and fisherman and loved to fly fish in Waterville. Summer holidays were spent at the Butler Arms with Dodo and her sister, Gwen, exploring the outdoors and picnicking on the beach at Derrynane. Dodo used to recount how she was dared by her sister to cross the roof of the hotel between the two towers – which she did!

James was second of the six sons of Michael J Horgan, who was Coroner of Cork County and a personal friend of Charles Stewart Parnell. All the Horgan brothers had careers practicing either medicine or law. His youngest brother, Francis Aubyn Horgan also had a strong connection with Derrynane.

Aubyn Horgan, was a Justice of the Peace for the County of Cork and lived in Firville, Macroom. Aubyn had an immense love of Derrynane and used to caravan with his wife, Ros, on Lambs Head.  It is fair to say that Aubyn was a bit of a character. When he decided to build a holiday home no ordinary design would do. No, instead he built his house in the shape of a boat.

Ship House Derrynane
St. Anne, M.O.B.Y.C.


The result was the fantastic ship house, St. Anne, M.O.B.Y.C. (My Own Bloody Yacht Club).  Declan recalled that when he announced that he was going to build a house, Aubyn sent over plans for him to build one that looked like an airplane!

Up until the early 1950’s, Declan and Dodo spent their holidays with their children in Ardmore, Co. Waterford. However, in 1954 they bought a caravan and decided to bring the family west to Derrynane.

Derrynane Circa 1956
Caravanning in Derrynane
The Dwyer family caravanning in Derrynane

At the time, Tom Doran was the caretaker for the O’Connell family and lived in the East Lodge at Derrynane. Tom was very accommodating and allowed the family camp along the dunes of Derrynane Bay each summer for the next four years. A great fisherman, Tom also educated the family on all the joys of Derrynane.

Tom Doran on Deenish Island

It was Tom Doran who suggested to Declan and Dodo that they should approach the O’Connell family in Derrynane House to see if they could buy a piece of land to build a holiday home. They were duly invited to present themselves for inspection and afternoon tea. The visit was successful.

The house was designed by the architect, John Wilkinson, with many suggestions and valuable input from Declan.

Design of Kerry home
The original blueprint, it remains the same today

While it was partly assembled in Cork, the final build was by local labour, many of whom stayed in Keating’s Hotel, now known as Bridies Pub. Bridie recalls a lovely story about when the workmen were laying the patio stone, while her brother, Father Michael, was visiting. The stone was unusual and had been exclusively sourced from Ardmore. Father Michael, who would divest himself of his dog collar while enjoying his holidays, had heard about the stone and he called over one day to see how work was progressing. There was trouble. The lads were having difficulties putting the patio together as it was random sized stones. The Lord’s name was taken in vain by all and sundry. However, it was not until the workmen went to have their supper that they realised that the man who had watched them was a man of the cloth!

One of the main features in the house is the breath-taking views from all the rooms. Unlike most houses of the day that were built to keep mother nature away, Coolisk embraces the elements and brings them right into the living room with massive plate glass windows.

A room with a view
The view from the living room

The kitchen, below, was built by a local carpenter, Tom Fenton. It still looks good to this day, despite the many years of wear and tear.
The outside of the house is clad in Burmese Teak. The upkeep of the hardwood proved to be difficult to maintain. It was decided to remove the layers of yacht varnish that had built up over the years and re-coat the hardwood with more modern products. It was slow, painstaking work that took over two years to complete.

Although only a bungalow, the house could sleep 11 people. Even the attic space was home to smaller family members under four feet in height! When the house was first built there was no mains electricity, and the cooker and fridge were run off bottled gas. Declan installed two Lister diesel engines with generators to provide electricity literally at the click of a switch. A battery- operated system called ‘Start O Matic’ would start up the generator when a light switch was turned on, bulbs would glow dimly and then reach full brightness!

Ahead of its time, a back boiler was installed behind the open fireplace to heat the water. Water itself was an issue. There was no fresh water or a well on-site.  Declan was resourceful and went about the task of providing the house with an ample water supply. Firstly, he collected rainwater from the gutters into a large holding tank. Then he constructed a dam with a holding tank and filtering system in a stream at  Derrynanebeg and ran a pipe all the way down the hill and along the bog to Coolisk.

With approximately 5 acres, the property is extensive. Local man, Thady Galvin, maintained the grounds for many years, upkeeping and clearing where necessary and creating pathways with steps to access the beach. Thady built a nine hole pitch and putt course around the house under Declan’s direction, where many enjoyable times were spent with friends and family, losing more balls than sinking putts! After Declan died in 1982, the greens and tee’s reverted back to nature.

In 1961 Coolisk house featured in an Irish magazine called ‘Creation.’ As you can see, very little has changed over the years.

Declan and Dodo’s family, Peter, Robin, Daphne, Kevin, Ginny and Margot all loved Derrynane. It was a perfect place to grow up in. Summers were filled with all kind of activities, both on the sea and onshore. Everyone has happy memories of those days.

There was so much to do. Declan loved boating and he owned a motor cruiser called the Minihaha. The Mini, as she was known, was used for fishing trips, visits to Parknasilla or picnics on Deenish Island. There was also a speedboat for water-skiing, and a little sailing boat called a Superior Pram.

Skellig Lighhthouse
Lighthouse Keeper on the Skelligs Circa 1958

Weather permitting, visits to the Skelligs were also often undertaken. The lighthouse on the Skellig Michael was still manned in those early days and the  keepers were always delighted to have visitors, especially if you bought out all of the previous week’s newspapers!

Golfing was also a favorite pastime. Dooks (where Declan’s mother, Agnes Dwyer, had a holiday home) and Parknasilla were frequently visited. There was plenty of opportunities to hone the short game around the house too! In the 1970’s, Waterville Golf Links was an additional bonus on the list.

Declan loved cinematography and took many films over the years of the family on boating trips, visiting the Skellig’s or enjoying water sports. Like her father, Dodo was a keen fisherwoman and did a lot of bass fishing off the rocks of Derrynane Bay. There was, and still is, a family tradition for shrimping in the harbour, followed by laborious hours of peeling then potting the scrumptious little crustaceans.

Coolisk remains in the family ownership by Declan and Dodo’s daughter, Ginny Darrer.  Ginny and her family are lovingly maintaining the property and upgrading it to make it more of a year-round retreat.

If you have noticed a number of Fairy Houses springing up around Derrynane House recently, that is the handy work of Ginny. In 2013, Ginny approached the Head Gardner, James O’Shea, with the idea of erecting little houses in the woods for the delight of young and old alike. However, the houses are not just a frivolous whim, they serve a very worthwhile purpose in that the revenue raised from donations and map sales go to worthy local causes, such as the the Inshore Rescue Boat.

Coolisk is an exceptional home and will always be close to the hearts of everyone in the extended Dwyer family.

This article was coordinated by Ginny Darrer for the  Caherdaniel Annual Community Magazine, published in January, 2018. She  would like to acknowledge the following family members for their help  Kevin Dwyer,  Margot Mulcahy (nee Dwyer)  and Margot’s husband, Kevin Mulcahy.

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