When American Jack Disbrow visited the family cottage of his wife’s grandmother in Malin back in 1980, it was a truly memorable experience.
He returned last year with his daughter Eirinn and found the cottage in a state of disrepair.
A landscape gardener, graphic designer and video maker, Mr Disbrow felt compelled to restore the cottage to its former glory.
In telling of his time there in 1980, he said: “We stayed in the cottage in the winter of 1980, heated by the open-hearth peat fire where we cooked stews, scones and tea.
“I was 33 years old sitting by a peat fire reading Leon Uris’s book Trinity and drinking a Guinness, which was dreamlike and as close as I could get at the time to the traditional way of life.”
But it wasn’t only the cottage itself which made this such a special visit.
Mr Disbrow writes: “Along with that was the wonderful way we were treated by the farmers living on either side of the property. Without asking we would find bags of peat and a jar of paraffin outside the cottage left with a simple note ‘You will be needing…’
“We chatted with our neighbours often carrying buckets of turnips for the cows while hearing stories of the old ways. We had late night dart games in their byre along with more stories and a host of laughter. All of this was magical and transforming.”
The American visitor and his wife-to-be Brooke were so taken by this magical experience that they married at Lughnasa. And when their daughter was born, they named her Eirinn.
Fast forward 37 years to the return visit made by Mr Disbrow, this time with his daughter.
The cottage in which his wife’s grandmother was raised with nine brothers and sisters was in a bad state. The thatched roof had fallen in and the site was badly overgrown with wild fuschia.
Nonetheless, Eirinn fell in love with the place and people and so the plan to restore the cottage was born.
The father and daughter are well aware that they cannot do this on their own. They hope that more people will get involved. In return they will make the cottage available for visits by family and friends. Those who donate through the gofundme page will also be able to stay, depending on the donation.
Way of Life
Of course, the restoration will also help keep alive a way of life that existed in Ireland for hundreds of years. The heritage aspect is hugely important and the finished cottage will be a great asset to the community. People both local and from abroad will be able to experience first-hand a way of life that has all but disappeared, as have the many thatched and whitewashed cottages that once dotted the Donegal landscape.
Mr Disbrow will document the project stage by stage.
He said: “We will be creating a documentary of the entire process from this crowdfunding, through the restoration including those who join this effort and their experience staying at the cottage and warming their feet at a traditional open-hearth peat fire.”
He welcomes the support of the County Donegal Heritage Officer who he quotes as saying: “It’s sad to see the deterioration of these examples of our built heritage but I applaud your interest in restoring the cottage.”
Mr Disbrow is inviting people to join him on this journey, through donations of time, expertise or money.
“In the end the cottage will exist for family and community use and the documentary will be a how-to educational resource for restoration and the experience of Ireland’s heritage,” he said.
To date the team comprises of Mr Disbrow who is an experienced landscape gardener, graphic designer and promotional video artist; his daughter Eirinn who is a video artist and sound technician; Pete who is also a video artist and sound technician; and Chris, a carpenter builder with experience in restoring New England post and beam barns.
Mr Disbrow explained his reasons for turning to crowdfunding to meet the cost of the restoration.
“The physical infrastructure of traditional farming methods are the cultural expression of the Irish people and should be valued for that very reason, alongside the grander buildings designed for the wealthy landowning class,” he writes. “The everyday farm heritage generally does not have as many champions and consequently is much more vulnerable to decay, disuse, dismissal or perhaps ill-advised alteration. The historical value of this building is steadily being lost.”
He estimates that the first phase of the project which is a clean-up and assessment will cost around $5,000 (€5245*). It will involve the removal of the rotted thatch and fallen-in roof as well as assessing the timbers and masonry. All the fuschia will also have to be removed.
Once the first phase is complete, Mr Disbrow will have a better idea of what will be required. But he estimates that the overall cost will come in under $50,000 (€42,464*).
As well as needing financial support, Mr Disbrow would welcome volunteers. He would also like to hear from those with expertise in any aspect of the project.
“We are very interested in making this a collaborative journey and would love to have local experts be part of this process,” he said.
The team also welcome interest from people who are interested in volunteering on site.
Donation rewards range from a hand-drawn illustration to two-week stays at the completed cottage and much more in between.
Mr Disbrow can be contacted via the gofundme.com page Restoring A Traditional Cottage.
*Currency conversion as per Xe.com at time of writing.
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