Holiday House - August 2017

Holiday House
Golden Bay, Lough Corrib, Co. Galway

Diamond Redfern Anderson

c1970 – 1972

Photographs credit line – Henk Snoek / Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections

This holiday house in the Gaeltacht by Denis Anderson was in the mix at much the same time as his renowned Castlepark Village in Kinsale but disappeared from public consciousness soon after featuring on the cover of House and Garden in March 1975 under the headline, ‘Swiss Family Connemara: Holiday House on a Remote Bay’. It appeared that year in Baumeister, the leading German architectural journal, as did Castlepark. But that was it.

The house no longer exists. It was replaced by the next generation of the family with a larger dwelling in 2011, to a design on the same spot but an altered setting that removed the essential rustic romanticism of the more petite original, which had been conceived as a wilderness retreat in a forest by the edge of a lake with great fishing. The fishing is still great but photographs of the muscular new fishing lodge show it sitting rawly upon a suburban lawn, lightly fringed by a scalped forest.
Anderson’s clients, Peter and Ray Bär, belonged to a Swiss private banking dynasty, a family known for its sharp eye for quality and its support of the arts. In 1957 the family had gifted a Henry Moore bronze outside the entrance to the Kunsthaus Zürich. 30 years later, Peter commissioned the kinetic artist Jean Tinguely to make scrap-iron lamps for the bank’s Café Münz on the city’s fabled Bahnhofstrasse. 

The Bärs discovered the sloping, south-facing site by a secluded cove while on a fishing holiday at Ashford Castle Hotel in nearby Cong. They had recently built a home on the slopes overlooking Lake Zurich, and invited Anderson to stay with them to see how the family lived and to develop ideas for a relaxing holiday house. They wanted the house to be immediately part of the genius loci, while combining continental quality in fittings – including, apparently, Ireland’s first telex machine in a private house – with the highest standards of native craftsmanship.

An existing outline planning permission stipulated that the house was to be kept a considerable distance away from the lake, which would have made it impossible to relate it closely with the water, while also making it more prominent in the landscape. Using photomontages, Anderson persuaded the planners to rescind the original condition and approve a split-level house on four levels near the water’s edge, nestled within the largely undisturbed landscape and without a formal garden, only an elegant agglomeration of great boulders in front of the bedrooms.

The house has rendered walls, a simple fibre-cement slate roof and a dry-stone rubble boundary – the same palette of materials he used at Castlepark. “Generally, wherever we’re building, we try to limit the number of materials,” Anderson told PLAN in the summer of 1974. “We [Irish] are not like the Continentals,” he said. “[When] they build something, they build it well. We’re always skimping and cutting corners with the result that our buildings are an amalgam of all different materials and textures and colours.” There was no corner cutting at Golden Bay for this exquisitely refined, yet modest, house.

The house is casually pulled up onto the hillside from the shoreline. A gentle slip rises to the garage-cum-boathouse (big enough to take two typical Lough Corrib boats, commissioned to a traditional design), its maw projecting forward from the house, with service rooms behind. Also on the lower level are a full-depth hall and a pair of children’s bedrooms. To their rear and up half a level is a guest room with a tall corner window offering an angled view to the lake. The projecting master suite sits atop the children’s rooms in a fibre-cement-clad oriel that shares a fire breast and a plain timber balcony with the pine-ceilinged living room. A long, thin, open-plan kitchen, utility room, dining area and planted terrace set half a level below, on the roof of the boathouse, completes the accommodation of this timeless, now-vanished, 1970’s classic.

“O well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

“And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!”

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘Break, Break, Break’ (1835/42)