Walking on the land donated by their family, newlyweds Kelly Gaffney and Paddy Connor see the potential for ruin there.
The 1830s mill, in their native Dunleer, Co Louth, was once the most imposing building in the town.
It was abandoned for most of the last century, as architect Hugh Wallace notes in episode three ofin which he plays.
“It’s windowless, half-roofed and derelict – almost the opposite of the turnkey home most young couples would dream of. It’s literally built on an industrial scale.”
But gym manager Kelly and barber Paddy are intent on restoring it and turning the building into their dream residence.
Kelly and Paddy follow through on Kelly’s vision and with the help of Hugh and their builder John Hanratty, they turn it into what Hugh describes as “an amazing family home”.
All this despite the challenges of pandemic confinement, a baby on the way and the couple having to reapply for a mortgage.
As they show off the unique five-bedroom residence they’ve created, the sacrifices they’ve made are paying off, says Hugh: “Thanks to their savings and the sale of their first home, their mortgage payments are lower than the national rent. “
Kelly adds, “If we could inspire one person, that would be amazing because there are so many old buildings that need someone to be brave to take on.”
Initially, they have a budget of €400,000 in total.
They sold a house Kelly had bought when she was younger, and both moved back to their respective family homes to save more.
From this budget, they plan to restore “at least the two floors” of the mill, Kelly explains at the start of the episode on RTÉ One.
Inside, says Hugh when he meets the couple in early 2020 at the mill, “it’s as big as a cathedral; it is also an empty shell.
Kelly and Paddy had originally hoped to be there for December 2020.
Blockages “slow down” this project throughout, just like the couple who must reapply for their mortgage.
But amid all the uncertainty, there’s a whole new motivation to finish the project as soon as possible: Six months before Christmas, they announce they’re expecting a baby in December.
“If they want to start their family life in December, they will have to hope for the miracle of Christmas,” says Hugh.
In July, work continues at a steady pace thanks to contractor John.
At 420m², the factory’s floor space is “sprawling”, but it finally has three floors again, says Hugh.
The ground floor comprises a king-size kitchen/dining/living room.
Hugh is concerned that the 43 windows remain true to the building’s heritage.
In January 2021, the country is once again in lockdown and the couple are raising newborn baby Caragh from Kelly’s childhood bedroom.
Since no one is on site, security has become an issue.
“We are not homeless, but technically we are. We are a small family, we have Caragh, we are desperate to have a home,” Kelly says.
Finally, in May, work resumes with the underfloor heating finally installed, and Kelly concentrates on the interior decoration.
In October, Kelly is out of money and has no choice but to tinker with painting the house.
Shortly after, the family camp in the unfinished building, following a call from a local worried that someone may have been watching the house.
In January 2022 we see the revelation.
“Almost all the scaffolding is down and this imposing building has a huge impact; months of painstaking restoration have revealed all the beauty of its granite stonework and I have to admit that although the windows are not to my liking they do not detract from the mill’s impressive exterior,” says Hugh.
The architect is impressed by the immaculate kitchen/dining/living room which, two years ago, was only a “shell”.
“Yet the light and lightness remains,” says Hugh.
“My memory of that was walking here the black polyethylene on the floor.
“The two-tiered void is a triumph, bringing in light from all directions and achieving elegance without feeling cavernous.” The old oven of this mill now houses the stairwell.
Kelly is content with the upstairs living space, which she had originally planned as a bedroom until Hugh changes his mind.
“I think it was one of the best decisions ever made for the house,” she says.
The completed third floor also gets the torque boost.
“Fortunately, our builder told us, ‘You won’t do it if you don’t do it now,'” says Paddy.
The project was not without its challenges.
“Baby on the way, Covid came along, had to re-apply for a mortgage – one would be enough to send a couple to the brink, but you had all of those to manage together,” says Hugh.
But Kelly responds, “Caragh was the best distraction.”
“We were very lucky with our constructor. He was the one who really took care of this building and made sure there was no problem for me and Patrick down the line.
Their contractor John has undertaken to complete the whole factory with a builder’s finish for €375,000.
“The master bedroom has become this fabulous living space actually on the third floor, so up the budget,” says Hugh.
“You have saved a piece of the village’s architectural heritage which, within the village, was truly relegated to history.
“What they did was save that fabric of the building that was left, the walls, but through that they were able to build a new house inside while respecting the architectural significance and heritage of the building. and it wasn’t easy.
“Kelly and Paddy have created a unique and distinctive five bedroom home.
“Thanks to their savings, the sale of their first home and the repossession of an old building on land that had been offered to them, their mortgage payments are now lower than the national rent.
“And to be completely honest, I’m blown away; I am blown away by their energy to produce this amazing family home.
- is Sunday on RTÉ One at 9:30 p.m.