An island for you alone or with 50 friends by Uta Abendroth | 23rd November, 2018 | Prime Properties
Horse Island lies in Roaring Water Bay off the coast of West Cork. Just a few minutes from the mainland by helicopter or boat, this idyllic private island features a main house and six guesthouses. The spectacular scenery all around here is quintessentially Irish, while the views out to sea impress from every corner of this exceptional haven.
Back in the mid-19th century, Horse Island had a thriving copper industry. At its peak, there was a population of 137 mine workers living on the island in Roaring Water Bay. Since the mine’s closure in 1874 though, the simple stone houses they had built slowly turned to ruins as the island lay deserted and dormant. Then along came Adrian Fitzgibbon, a former banker. On something of a whim he decided to enter a bid to acquire Horse Island, without ever thinking that his offer might actually be accepted. Yet before he knew it, this approx. 63-hectare plot of green, craggy land jutting out of the sea off the southern Irish coast belonged to him. That was back in 2007. Debbie, his wife, took one look at the remnants of the buildings and decided that something could be created from all of them. It took ten months in total for the main house, which was a dilapidated old barn at the time, to be transformed into an elegant and cosy family retreat.
The Fitzgibbons have five children, and during their childhood the island became something akin to an enormous adventure playground for them: “Horse Island works very well as a family retreat,” says Adrian Fitzgibbon. “There is a very wide range of activities on offer, from pier diving and kayaking to tennis and treasure hunts.” With all this recreation literally on their doorstep, they managed to keep the kids away from their electronic devices most of the time. “They certainly got to enjoy freedoms that are seldom accorded to children nowadays.” He also recollects how large social gatherings were a frequent pleasure for them during the summer months, often with up to 50 people convening on the island at a time. The houses are well spaced out and everyone had their own bed. “For even bigger occasions we would accommodate people in bell tents too. It was such great fun.”
For Adrian Fitzgibbon, Horse Island is a place to escape the worries of the world. There are kilometres of pathways taking you through breathtaking views that change every day with the mood of the sky and the ocean. “There are also days when the ocean is so calm you can take your boat to the last outpost of southern Ireland, Fastnet Rock, drop an anchor and just take it all in or, in my case, smoke a cigar,” he says, fondly recollecting. On other days there are majestic storms that provide for fantastically invigorating walks followed by a nice sauna and a hot drink by the fireside.
The main house on Horse Island is located on an elevated site overlooking Roaring Water Bay. The complex is made up of three two-storey buildings, set around an enclosed courtyard. The large living room with a fireplace lies in the middle between the two other building wings. Finding such a modern and commodious space here within these traditional grey stone walls is quite a surprise, and thanks to its double-height design and extra-large panorama windows the entire interior is flooded with light. A mezzanine level above the main living room accommodates a separate television room. The west owner’s wing features a kitchen and dining room on the ground floor, with a master bedroom and roof terrace on the floor above. Meanwhile, the east guest wing incorporates five bedrooms, with a total of four bathrooms in the main house. The inner courtyard – which can be accessed from all three wings – forms a sheltered outdoor space for residents and guests, even in windy weather. The vast wooden deck is ideal for lying out in the sun, enjoying al fresco dining at the long table, making pizza in the wood-fired oven, or preparing meals on the charcoal-fired barbecue. This space also enjoys access to a wine cellar and various other outbuildings.
The six guesthouses and guest cottages on Horse Island are all original, and each have their own name: Pier House, Well House, Pump House, Beach House, White Cottage and Stone Cottage. Each of these individual buildings varies in size and style, with space to accommodate two people in some and as many as four or six people in others. They all have living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and Pier House even has a sauna. All conceivable comforts await here too, just like in the main house. The contrast between the dark stone façades and the contemporary white interior design is just as surprising as it is inviting.
In order to make sure that it can be self-sufficient from the mainland, Horse island has been installed with its own electricity grid, powered by a total of three diesel generators. There are also a number of wind turbines charging batteries, which serve as an emergency back-up for electric lighting. The drinking water supply is sourced from a socalled aquifier, which is located some 400 ft below the ocean floor. The water is of absolutely outstanding quality and is filtered and softened in the pump house on its way to the water tank located at the top of the island, before returning down to the houses with excellent water pressure. A 150 ft pier with a slipway and offshore licence is installed, making the island conveniently accessible both by boat and by larger ferries. The island’s harbour is large enough for several vessels to be moored at the same time. There is also a separate boathouse with a great deal of storage space located beside the pier. The helicopter landing pad on the island provides convenient access by air in addition to the access by boat. And then there is even a small farm on the island too: It consists of a main cattle shed with modern divisions that give maximum flexibility to livestock movements when the cattle are not out in the field. There is also an implement shed, as well as a workshop and generator shed. All sheds are situated around a concrete yard.
Over the course of the years, the Fitzgibbon family has spent a great amount of time on the island. They even had grand plans to set up their own whiskey distillery on Horse Island including a visitor centre, café, whiskey bar and barrel stores. But planning permission was not granted for the vision. Now the children have grown up and flown the nest, it has become less and less often that the whole family comes together on the island. Time to move on, that is Adrian Fitzgibbon’s sentiment: “I would say Horse Island can be everything you want it to be and what you make of it. It can be as much for contemplation as for celebration. It can be as isolated or connected as you want. I just hope the new owners will enjoy it as much as we did.”