Why I fell in love with this lightkeeper's cottage in Cork...

Actor Matt Damon showed an interest in buying the 200-year-old lightkeepers house in Youghal, but as CHRIS DUNNE finds out, it was globe-trotting local girl, Saoirse Fitzgerald from Claddagh, who snapped up the property. Here's an interview we did with Saoirse back in 2017 when she bought the property - which features in the Home of the Year final this week
Why I fell in love with this lightkeeper's cottage in Cork...
The keys to her new home... 

FOR Saoirse Fitzgerald, whiling away the hours on Facebook last summer; it was love at first sight when she saw her dream home for sale.

“Sale Agreed went up outside the property on July 29,” she says. “I was so excited when the keys were handed over to me.”

Saoirse, from Claddagh, County Cork, has fallen in love with her newly acquired property, hook, line and sinker.

“I’m going to install a hot-tub that overlooks the Atlantic,” she says.

Saoirse’s new home is not a modern three bedroom semi-detached place atop a hilly glade, nor is it a luxurious apartment overlooking mountain and glen.

Saoirse’s purchase is much, much more romantic than any of the above properties.

“I bought the most spectacular lighthouse cottage on the market in Ireland,” she declares.

Saoirse Fitzgerald who purchased the lighthouse keeper's house, with brother Jamie and mum Siobhan.
Saoirse Fitzgerald who purchased the lighthouse keeper's house, with brother Jamie and mum Siobhan.

That is pretty spectacular, isn’t it?

“Pretty much,” agrees Saoirse, who works in the technology area in Solution Sales, in London. Her job takes her all over the world, but she’s based in Notting Hill.

No wonder, then, that the rich and famous were after the amazing lighthouse keeper’s cottage atop the cliffs guarding the entrance to Youghal Bay?

Saoirse smiles.

“Rumour has it that the actor Matt Damon showed an interest in it. He was looking to buy a lighthouse in Ireland,” she says.

How did Saoirse come to own the panoramic property?

“You know, I entered this third decade of my life and suddenly I had an urge to find a little corner of this world that would be mine.”

She certainly achieved her ambition.

“For many of us, buying your first home is something that you do when you are ready to ‘settle down,” says Saoirse, who doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet.

“But I am part of a generation who, for some reason or another, are choosing not to settle, in the traditional sense, but rather to travel, learn, experience the world.”

And the idea of being tied to a 25-year mortgage didn’t float her boat.

“The idea of being tied to anything, let alone a 25-year mortgage, was something I wasn’t so sure would be for me,” she says.

Saoirse Fitzgerald, who lives in London, has bought her ideal property in her hometown.
Saoirse Fitzgerald, who lives in London, has bought her ideal property in her hometown.

“But recently, I found myself wanting to have bricks and mortar to call my own.”

The lighthouse keeper’s house is a lot of bricks and mortar.

“I know,” says Saoirse, laughing. “I love it. I can’t wait to get to work on it, planning the rooms and capitalising on the magnificent view outside my front door.”

Saoirse, now living in London for nearly three years, enjoyed life like all her thirty-something peers.

“I’ve spent the past 10 years travelling,” she says.

“Living in several different countries, gathering ideas and experiences. I enjoyed great holidays, and spa breaks were my favourite.”

But one day, Saoirse saw the woods for the trees.

“All my experiences abroad led me to the notion of buying a 200 year old structure in the town I went to school in, Youghal.”

Saoirse left her home where she grew up on a farm for pastures new and to work in the Big Smoke.

“There was nothing but sea near where I grew up on a farm in a beautiful and very remote place called Claddagh, Co. Cork,” says Saoirse.

“I have lived in built-up cities for most of my adult life. So the idea of a house on a cliff, looking over nothing but sea, drew me in.”

Saoirse works hard.

“I wanted to make something of the money I had worked so hard to earn,” she says.

“And my parents had worked so hard to afford my education to get me this work. Instead of filling my wardrobe with more clothes that I didn’t need, more make-up and more spa breaks, I wanted something to call my own, a project to work for, a focus.”

Saoirse made owning the lighthouse keeper’s house her focus. It was the start of a beautiful love affair when she got the keys of her new home a few weeks ago.

“When I saw the property on Facebook; I knew it was the home for me,” says Saoirse.

“I won the bid on the lighthouse keeper’s house.

“Following a few delays, all the contracts were signed and the sale was closed.”

And the house was hers. It was a great day when Saoirse got the keys to her new kingdom.

She learned the lingo as she sought her dream home.

Saoirse Fitzgerald with sister Triona, at the lighthouse.
Saoirse Fitzgerald with sister Triona, at the lighthouse.

“A lot of my colleagues talk about investments, properties, buying shares, investing in start-ups, re-mortgaging,” she says.

“Living in London you are often reminded about making your money work for you, and when I started out in this journey, I didn’t know the first thing about it. But living in the hub of London, and seeing this fabulous property for sale, something clicked.”

She worked overtime.

“I spent a lot of time on the phone and in email contact with my solicitor and his secretary during the property negotiations,” she says. “Your solicitor will become your best friend.”

“You might laugh, but I spent more time speaking to and engaging with my solicitor, David Keane and his secretary, Nora, than I did most of my friends this past year,” she says.

“But their attention to detail paid off in the long run.”

Saoirse had a good team around her.

“A local builder assessed how much work could be done. The property is a listed building.

“I was lucky that my cousin, uncle, and my younger brother are all electrical wizards,” says Saoirse. 

“So I had them check the electrics for me to see if there were any major issues.” Saoirse did her sums.

“Normally, people bid about 10-15 per cent under the asking price, although in the cities, especially Dublin, it can go much over. I made up my mind how much I could afford to bid.” 

Saoirse Fitzgerald, whose home features in the final of Home of the Year on RTE1.
Saoirse Fitzgerald, whose home features in the final of Home of the Year on RTE1.

She got sound advice.

“I have a friend who was able to give me solid advice on buying overseas, and her bank, EBS in Athlone, offered the best rates for a ‘holiday home mortgage.’ Saoirse agrees the piggy-bank needs to be kept intact to buy that dream house.

“If, like me, you are not living in the country you wish to buy in, then you will need to have been taking care of the piggy-bank that is all but forgotten for most of your 20s,” she says.

“Although I am a first-time buyer, I am classed as a ’foreign investor’. That meant I needed to be in the range of 30-50 per cent deposit. In my case, just over 40 over cent deposit was required. Gulp!” 

Saoirse jumped through a few hoops, getting life assurance and income protection.

“The income protection is in case you get sick and you are unable to cover the mortgage repayments,” says Saoirse. “I thought: I never get sick. But my dad reminded me that it is better to be safe than sorry in the case of large repayments. So I included that.” 

The bathroom of the home of Saoirse Fitzgerald in East Cork, which features on Home of the Year on RTE1
The bathroom of the home of Saoirse Fitzgerald in East Cork, which features on Home of the Year on RTE1

Did Saoirse enjoy the whole process of securing her beautiful domain?

“Yes, I did,” she says. “Sure, there are lots of decisions to be made, but when you get through them, you end up with a home that you can call your own.” 

Saoirse has grand plans for her new acquisition.

“The lighthouse got a new lick of paint,” she says.

Renovations are beginning on the house.

“I am installing a new heating system,” she adds.

“And because it’s on the side of a cliff, the house is a bit damp. So the walls need dry-lining. And the floors need sanding and varnishing.” 

Saoirse is oozing with enthusiasm about her new project.

“And I’m adding a conservatory to modernise the house a bit,” she says.

“I’m not allowed to change too much. I’d like to keep it the same, but open-plan. I’ll take my time. It is not going anywhere.” There are many advantages to the house sitting on top of one of the finest vantage spots in Ireland.

“I hope people will come and stay,” says Saoirse. “It will be a huge novelty.” There are other novelties too.

“In the bedrooms, you can hear the waves crashing,” says Saoirse, dreamily.

She is not disclosing how much she paid for her dream home, but she thinks it was a steal now she is the sole owner.

“I am thrilled with it,” she says.

Mat Damon, eat your heart out.

This interview was published first back in 2017 when Saoirse first bought the property. It recently featured on Home of the Year and was nominated by judges for the final, which takes place tomorrow night (Tuesday, April 14 on RTE 1)

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