My wonderful love affair with East Cork

Broadcaster Vanessa Feltz has been holidaying in Cork for almost 20 years... but now she's put down roots, with a house in Ballycotton where she spends precious time with her fiance and family, writes Chris Dunne
My wonderful love affair with East Cork
Broadcaster and Big Brother celebrity, Vanessa Feltz and fiancé, Ben Ofoedu.

TV PERSONALITY, broadcaster and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Vanessa Feltz, plans to be a housemate with her fiancé, Ben Ofoedu, in her holiday home in Ballycotton for a long time to come.

Vanessa was one of the first-ever Celebrity Big Brother housemates, back in 2001, her tenure lasting only four days.

She has now found her dream home nestled near the seaside in County Cork.

“We’d been holidaying in East Cork for almost 20 years when I came across Ballymaloe,” says Vanessa, who has two daughters, Allegra, aged 32, and Saskia, aged 29.

“I had never heard of Ballymaloe, and when I arrived there a couple of years ago, I fell in love with it immediately. It was the start of a wonderful love affair with East Cork. I was absolutely entranced. And I’ve been in love ever since,” said Vanessa.

What did she fall in love with?

“I fell in love with the wonderful Myrtle Allen, the cliff walk in Ballycotton, surrounded by fabulous fuchsia. The people, the places; I fell in love with it all.”

While spending an Easter break at Ballymaloe in 2015, Vanessa fell in love with the Simply Delicious Simnel cake.

“Ben loves that cake too,” says Vanessa.

The couple are based in St John’s Wood, London. Vanessa is a broadcaster with the BBC. Her early morning show airs on radio BBC2, 5am-6am.

“We live very close to the center of London,” says Vanessa. “We haven’t a blade of grass between us!”

But she gets glassy-eyed talking about her favourite place in all the world, here in Cork.

“I remember sitting down relaxing in the beautiful East Cork countryside reading a bumper property supplement,” says Vanessa.

“It struck me then that I would really like to own a property in the area.”

“I gave myself a sensible talking to,” says Vanessa. “It wouldn’t be practical. It would work out way too expensive. I thought; why can’t I just come and visit? I had never been to Cork in winter. I did my best to talk myself out of it, I really did.”

Then the grandchildren came along.

“I wanted my grandson, Zeke, and my granddaughter, Neroli, to have roots,” says Vanessa.

“When they came along I wanted them to have some kind of roots, a place where they could make cherished memories and enjoy traditions and adventures there.”

Vanessa and her clan can now enjoy the simple pleasures of East Cork, with their own home, Balyknaidel, Ballycotton.“When we get off the plane, we take a deep breath of wonderful air,” says Vanessa. “It is like a new lease of life far away from the busy hub of London.

“When I am living and working in London, I dream of being back in our house in Ballycotton, walking on the beach.

“When I told people in London that we were walking on the beach, collecting shells in the bright sunshine in February; they hardly believed us. We had sunshine for the whole weekend. I documented the evidence!

“Zeke found an oyster shell with a real-love oyster inside. The excitement was amazing! It is wonderful to see the children run wild and free.”

Vanessa and her family are planning another house.

“Yes, we are collecting loads and loads of shells to build a shell-house. That is a really exciting project for us.”

When she and Ben set eyes on Ballyknaidel, they knew it had to be theirs.

“We called it Ballyknaidel, joining our two cultures together,” says Vanessa.

“It is a marriage of the two; Irish and Jewish. Ballyknaidel binds the two cultures.

“Baile na, or Bally, being place of, and knaidel is a type of dumpling served in Jewish houses during Passover,” explains Vanessa. “Hence the name: Ballyknaidel.”

Vanessa, Ben, and the rest of the family make good use of their East Cork haven.

“We try and come here every other weekend,” says Vanessa.

“If we have holidays or any free time, we are on the way. The sale of the house and the transition was very smooth. By July last year, it was ours — our new family home in Ireland.”

Vanessa, Ben, her daughters and her grandchildren, love being near the seaside.

“The views are magnificent,” says Vanessa. “The Atlantic Ocean is on our back door. My daughter, Allegra said; how can we ever be unhappy looking out at that view?”

“We have our very own trail down to Ballytrasna beach.”

Did the couple undertake any renovations before they moved into their dream home?

“We made a few changes,” says Vanessa. “Local builder, Mark Higgins, was our go-to man. He sorted us out very fast so that we could move in. We settled in right away.”

They were welcomed with open arms.

“Our neighbours are fantastic,” says Vanessa. “When we arrived the first night, our neighbours came over with a full John Dory. We weren’t sure what it was at first! We said; was it a shark? Was it a whale?”

Vanessa and Ben are patrons of the local hostelries in the area too.

“The variety of places to eat has played havoc with my waistline!” says Vanessa.

“I’ve had to say farewell to it. We love the Samphire Restaurant in Garryvoe Hotel, we love Sage in Midleton and O’Donovans. Carewswood is where we stop for breakfast. And of course, we visit Ballymalloe often.”

Other shops take their fancy too.

“Restore has lovely quirky bits for the home that have been revamped,” says Vanessa.

“I love browsing in Midleton bookshop. A good read is always great to have at hand.”

Vanessa and Ben are locals now.

“We rang in the New Year at the ball in Garryvoe Hotel,” says Vanessa. “It was one big great party.”

She is thrilled to be an East Cork native. I tell her that I used to dream of being a writer in the Big Smoke.

“Isn’t that funny, she says. “And here am I, dreaming of being back in Ballyknaidel by the sea. I can’t wait! See you there soon!”

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