Raising the bar: Meet the architect who sorted the rural pub issue by building his own at his home

Derek McCarthy has no reason to fear the new strict drink-driving laws that punish offenders with a three-month driving ban – if he ever fancies a tipple, he can walk the 7.5-acre grounds of his Co Limerick home, to the private log cabin pub he has built in his garden.

The Alpine-like hideaway, set on a boreen and surrounded by his home’s woodland, has Guinness on tap and shelves stacked high with bottles of whiskey and other drinks brought by party guests. In this man-cave, Derek can relax in front of a wood-burning stove, use the cabin’s wi-fi to stream Spotify, or take a snooze under a lambskin throw at the mezzanine level.

If he or one of his five adult children feel like socialising, they can host a barbecue at the stone fireplace outside on the sheltered porch of the pub cabin. He called his private pub The Hooting Owl, because he occasionally spots owls in the woodland, along with red squirrels, buzzards, hawks, foxes, pheasants and hares.

The Hooting Owl sits on land belonging to Sleepy Hollow, the 3,450 sq ft home he shares with his wife Mary in the Thornfield area outside Lisnagry village, Co Limerick.

Ten years ago, Derek had the log cabin shipped all the way from the small Polish town of Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains. The delivery was arranged by his friend and business partner, Bogdan Wojcik, whom he met after selling him Irish lambskins to make jackets for the Russian and Polish markets.

Derek, 58, belongs to a family that has been in the fellmongering business since 1810, and he set up a venture called Irish Hide Designs that sells Irish sheepskin, cowhide, lambskin rugs, throws and furniture.

Over in Zakopane, Bogdan had introduced Derek to four craftsmen who were willing to assemble the log cabin in Lisnagry. “It was delivered within a month. The men were older than 35 but they had never been on a plane before. We got boozed up every night of the build, but these men were very hard workers. There’s a calmness about people who work in nature, and these men were like currach builders.”

While in Poland, Derek had mentioned to Mary in passing that he was considering buying a cabin. But she had no idea of the scale of the project until the parts began arriving outside her house.

Mary says: “We’ve been married for 32 years and Derek does not communicate. When he was in Poland and said something about getting a shed, I thought he meant somewhere to keep the shovels. But it was a really big job.

“I thought the cabin was beautiful and I loved the men who brought it over. But we had five teenagers at the time, so I didn’t like the idea of having a bar in the cabin..”

Unbeknownst to the couple, their daughter had sent photos of the cabin to the UK’s Shed of the Year competition, and in 2016, The Hooting Owl won the competition’s pub and entertainment category. It was the only Irish entry that year to the competition, which rates designer sheds and features them every summer in the popular Channel 4 programme Amazing Spaces Shed of the Year, presented by architect George Clarke.

The McCarthys spent a day with the film crew when five of them arrived at Sleepy Hollow film The Hooting Owl segment for George Clarke. Derek says: “When we were on the show, we had to film our surprise at winning the category, about six times. Everything you see on TV is so choreographed.”

Despite the effort and money spent on The Hooting Owl, Derek has been too busy to enjoy it as much as he’d like. “But on Christmas morning, it has been a fantastic place for the family to get together. Our kids are now aged 24 to 30, we had a few 21st birthday parties there. If the kids are having a party there, you can hear the occasional ‘boom’ in the woods from the music.”

Now that the children have grown up, the McCarthys have put Sleepy Hollow on the market and are looking for new adventures, considering perhaps buying a café in Limerick City or a property by the sea. The couple originally purchased Sleepy Hollow back in 2008 for €1.1m.

Mary says: “We were living in Annacotty village at the time and we were looking to move, so I would often drive around in the car looking at houses. Even though Derek said we couldn’t afford it, I liked the location because it meant the children could stay at their existing school and still play for the same rugby and football teams.”

Sleepy Hollow was built in 2000, the same year that the eponymous Tim Burton horror film was released. The décor of the house when they bought it suggested that the previous owner had an affinity for Gothic horrors as “at least one of the rooms was painted entirely black”.

So the couple set about giving Sleepy Hollow a more rustic vibe. Like the pub, the main house is decorated with lambskins, sheepskin and cowhide rugs and throws from the family firm. Derek got out of the rawhide business last year because it was becoming too difficult to source hides amid the closure of small butcher shops that had once been killing livestock themselves.

Instead he sends Irish lambskins and sheepskins to Bogdan in Poland to be tanned before selling the finished products online to customers around the world.

The cabin’s wood theme also looms large throughout the main house. The McCarthys hired James Grace, an architect who specialises in wood, to design a decorative front porch large enough to accommodate a seating area and table.

They also brought in a Polish craftsman with a background in cabinet-making to handmake built-in wooden furniture.

The main house is approached by a 250m-long boreen, which in turn leads to a winding gravelled driveway behind a set of electric gates with an intercom and CCTV cameras. The positioning of its 42 windows, designed by Tipperary architect JJ Lewis, was to take advantage of the sunrise and sunset.

A curved front door behind the porch leads to an entrance hall with a feature staircase and solid wood floors. Double doors lead from the hall to the larger of two reception rooms; this open-plan space has two solid-fuel fireplaces, exposed timber beams, and French doors that lead to a large outdoor deck and lawn at the rear.

The second reception room has solid wooden floors and a bay window. It links to the open-plan kitchen/dining/living area, which has a dining snug, exposed wooden beams, a country-style fitted kitchen, and another set of French doors opening onto the decked area. Also on the ground floor is a utility room that doubles as a bootroom, a guest lavatory, a cloakroom, and a study.

Upstairs, there are four double bedrooms – two of which are ensuite – and the main bathroom. The master suite has built-in window seats and a walk-in wardrobe. There are solid wooden floors throughout the first floor, including in the family bathroom, where the focal point is a claw-legged bath.

To one side of the house, there is an entrance to a double garage with a mezzanine floor and French doors – this area could easily be converted into an additional 1,500 sq ft of living space.

Sleepy Hollow may be secluded but it’s still just a few minutes’ drive from Limerick City. The property is situated 1km from junction 28 of the M7 motorway.

So when Sleepy Hollow is finally sold, Mary won’t spend too much time mourning for Derek’s man-cave pub.

“What I’ll really miss the most is the meandering road that leads up to Sleepy Hollow – it’s the most charming feature of the house,” she says.

Sleepy Hollow, is selling (along with the Hooting Owl Bar) for €900,000 through Rooney Auctioneers.

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