Family swapped rat race for rural life in West Cork

When the Hodgins family of Dublin clapped eyes on Dunowen House in West Cork, they decided to follow their dream and move there, they tell CHRIS DUNNE
Family swapped rat race for rural life in West Cork

LIVING THE DREAM: The Hodgins family in the library of Dunowen House in West Cork

THE daily grind of the rat race can wear anyone down. Keeping all the balls in the air, a life dictated by the clock, the same routine on auto-pilot... No wonder we often harbour dreams of a new lifestyle.

Stephen and Kela Hodgins, from Dublin, did just that when they found their dream place in West Cork — Dunowen House — and they decided to make their dream a reality.

“We saw a property for sale so we planned a night away without our children, Ben, 22, Thea, 20, and Lucy, 13, so we could take a look,” says Kela. “It wasn’t for us, but while we were in the area we had a look around to see what else was available. We saw Dunowen House and it was pretty much love at first sight.”

What did the couple see when they viewed it?

“There is a parting in the road through Ardfield that gives way to the beautiful view of Galley Head,” says Kela. 

“I couldn’t believe the beauty of the area where you can see 180% around the peninsula. Within 10 minutes drive, there are five beaches. Yes, the house needed work, but it was gorgeous.”

Kela was enthused from the start, if a little hesitant in the beginning to up sticks and move to the country.

“It was a big decision,” she admits.

But Dunowen House beckoned.

“It is set in four acres of land and our intention was always to try and make a living out of it, to create a luxury self-catering experience,” says Kela. “The house is a beautiful 18th century property with a barn, mature gardens and an orchard.”

Time was of the essence now the pact had been made to swap the rat-race lifestyle in Blackrock, Dublin, for a slower pace.

“When we saw Dunowen House from the driveway, we arranged to view it the following week,” says Kela.

Did the couple know then that they were going to transform their lives?

“I realised we were going to change our whole life,” says Kela. “Stephen said to me; are we going to do this?”

And they were.

“We had moved a few times over the years,” says Kela. 

“We tended to move every five or six years.”

The ‘For Sale’ sign went up again outside the Hodgins’ residence. “We put our house in Blackrock up for sale and it sold within three weeks,” says Kela.

Had they any qualms selling the family home?

“It was all a bit of a whirlwind,” admits Kela. 

RURAL IDYLL: From left, Stephen, Lucie, Kela and Ben Hodgins, plus Alfie the Whippet, outside Dunowen House. Picture: Rafael Sanchez
RURAL IDYLL: From left, Stephen, Lucie, Kela and Ben Hodgins, plus Alfie the Whippet, outside Dunowen House. Picture: Rafael Sanchez

“We had a beautiful house in Dublin that we had just renovated. The kids were happy in school. People said to us, you’re so brave! What they really meant was, you’re so mad!”

Brave or mad, with a good gut feeling, the family took off for pastures new.

“We knew,” says Kela.

 “Everything fell into place. We just knew.”

“We found ourselves packing up and heading for Clonakilty. We’d only been here once before viewing the house!”

The adventure was about to begin and the daily grind of city living was left behind. Stephen admits he was ready for a change.

“Every day was the same. Get up, battle your way into the city centre, sit behind a desk, eat the same sandwich for lunch, get stuck in traffic on the way home. I was sick of the rat race.”

But moving to the country for born and bred Dubs must have been a huge departure?

“We always worked hard,” says Kela, who worked in marketing and graphic design. Stephen worked in finance.

“It was really Stephen who felt he couldn’t sustain that lifestyle.”

Like all of us, the Hodgins dreamt of pastures new, where the grass was greener.

“Of course, over the years, we’d have dreamy conversations about moving to the country but we never took it seriously, until Stephen decided he’d had enough,” says Kela.

“He said he spent 25 years sitting behind a desk and he didn’t want to do it for another 15 years. So we both agreed we’d look into moving to the country properly.”

How did the children transition?

“They were fine with it, even though our eldest found it a bit harder. Adapting for them was easy enough. When we went on summer holidays somewhere nice, we’d say, we could do this, or we could do better.”

Kela and Stephen began their labour of love.

“We could see the full potential of Dunowen House,” says Kela. “We could see that we could make it an idyllic place for people to stay.

“Living by the sea in the countryside, we also could see the lifestyle we could have.

“The previous owners had done quite a bit of work on the house. We wanted to make it our own by decorating it ourselves.”

The cottage on the grounds of Dunowen House proved more challenging. It would become home for the Hodgins when they rented out the house to families or large parties.

“The cottage was an option for a summer house, but it was where we would live while the main house earned an income. Edge Architects, Clonakilty, did an amazing job on the cottage and soon we moved onto the next project — the barn that would eventually become our family home.”

In January, 2016, Dunowen House and the cottage welcomed visitors from all over the world.

“We love it,” says Kela. 

“We’ve created the kind of holiday experience that we always looked for ourselves.”

Who seeks out Dunowen House?

“We’ve welcomed groups of friends getting together, milestone birthday gatherings, we’ve hosted weddings. We’ve 10 weddings on this year. Business just took off!”

The welcome probably helps...

“Everyone arrives to freshly made scones which are most welcome after a long drive or flight. Lots of guests add meals into their stay, especially since the dining restrictions due to Covid. Like everybody else in business, we took a hit and had to close for a time. It was stressful being closed 12 months out of 18 months.”

Kela must be a good cook?

“I’m pretty good,” she says. 

“We shop local and use fresh vegetables and potatoes from our garden.”

So everything is rosy in the garden?

“The West Cork lifestyle and community is wonderful,” says Kela. 

“The beauty of nature and the sea around it is fabulous. I meet the locals at Red Strand and even in deepest winter we can walk to Galley Head.”

So the rat race and the humdrum lifestyle of everyday routine is but a distant memory?

“Every day is different here,” says Stephen. “I’m busy in the garden some days; other days I’m doing maintenance in the house. If I was in Dublin I’d still be behind the desk.”

Presumably he doesn’t eat the same sandwich every day anymore?

“No chance!” says Stephen. “Everybody is happy. The kids are happy. It’s great.”

Dunowen House, Ardfield, Co. Cork. Phone: 023-8869099

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