Dirk Cove is a small harbour that faces southeast across Dirk Bay, sheltered by Dundeady headland, where blades of jagged rock jut out to sea. There was a boat slip on the wedge-shaped site, and some old stone buildings. “On the site was an 18th-century coastguard’s cottage, with a lovely door with cut-glass panels, salvaged from the wreck of the Lusitania,” says Níall McLaughlin. “Two rooms. Robust rubble walls. All naïf/primitive. The door didn’t come with the house. It was a contrast, refined. It was nice to find it. The building behind is an early 20th-century British Admiralty boathouse, of cut ashlar. At back was a very ruined rubble stone enclosure, an old potato house. I wanted to find a way of connecting these three fragments on the site and using them.”
McLaughlin, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by UCD earlier this month, had worked for the new owners before, converting their home in Hampstead, London. They had found the site on the internet and invited him to see it with them. There was a problem. “We were straining to get afternoon light,” he says. “We went in August and it was natural to want to sit in the last shred of sunlight. The coastguards had wanted to be under the hillside, out of the weather for launching, but we wanted the best of both worlds.” The windward orientation was at odds with sunlight. It seemed the new owners wanted to be looking back at the hill to catch the light.
McLaughlin’s second thought was that the last house on the road should be more or less invisible, that you would discover it behind a low-key wall-cum-roof, before opening out to a more lovely and glamorous private world. That you would drive down the road, see the beach from a distance, then back up the hill again before you see it closer. “It’s about the discovery of a landscape through the house, a gateway house,” he says. “The façade is unprepossessing, dark fibre-cement slates that continue up over the blade roof, a sheltered courtyard with dark old stone and ivy, overgrown. Because the road is 2-3m above the site, I wanted to make a shady court and put a door in it. I was thinking of Barragán, bringing the scale down, enjoying the drama of a small dark space, opening up to a bigger vista, an enfilade revealing a view of the headland across the water.”
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