History is squared in Kilbeggan restoration

The Square, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath Asking price: €300,000 Agent: Heffernan Auctioneers (057) 932 4622

uch has been made by Government of plans and incentives to refurbish derelict buildings blighting rural towns and villages across the country.

Yet historic main street and secondary street town houses lie derelict in droves across the country, with builders avoiding them because of growing costs and obstacles. At the same time too many towns struggle with a shortage of good housing and prices have been surging as a result.

Despite big noise schemes like the five year Our Rural Future plan launched last year to encourage rural town rejuvenation; the reality on the ground according to one brave renovator, is that there is no worthwhile help coming from the state. In fact, quite the opposite.


Pádraig Egan. Photo by Bryan Meade

In the town of Kilbeggan in Co Westmeath, Pádraig Egan has just completed the restoration of a vital part of the town’s historic and visual make up — two landmark period houses facing right into the central square, which have been derelict for years.


The Square, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath before work began

Through a painstaking process of restoration just completed, Egan has saved the pair of 19th-century dwellings from a state of dereliction and preserved them for future generations. Today they are both BER B grade dwellings of almost brand new standard, one of which is now owned by Padraig’s daughter Deirdre. And now a new family is due to live on The Square as he has placed the other for sale guiding €300,000.

When it comes to a key project like rejuvenating historic residential buildings in a town square, many would assume this is exactly the sort of project Government was talking about. But Egan’s experience wouldn’t chime with this. In fact, he says, reams of red tape plagued the project from the start and greatly increased the costs for Egan at many steps along the way.


The staircase before work began

“The locals and the neighbours are delighted with the result. They are asking me if I might buy another building in the town and do it up as there is a lot of dereliction.” But now he isn’t too keen. That red tape has left a poor taste.

The two homes likely have important historic links to the distillery town and were built between the 1820s and the 1840s just as Locke’s famous distillery was being developed, “As far as I know they had something to do with the distillery. My daughter was looking for a house and was interested in one of these but the two were for sale together and were on the market for a number of years. We bought them for €110,000, or €55,000 each. She funded one and I funded the other.”


The newly installed kitchen

Both buildings had been idle for about 30 years and in extremely bad condition. Not only were they a festering eyesore right at the centre of the town (as Egan’s ‘before’ photographs show) but like so many key town buildings throughout Ireland, they were also in critical danger of failing beyond the point of recovery.

It started with the practical work. “We dug down about a foot and put in hard core and new insulated floors. In fact both houses are now completely insulated, the floors, the walls, the ceilings and the attics.” He added timber floors, fitted kitchens, tiles, all the sanitary ware and both are now brightly painted. “We put in new wooden sash windows in the front and new wooden front doors. Both houses, from top to bottom, are as new.”

Egan renovated them together and both have been completed in recent weeks, “The heat is by oil-fired central heating, we had intended to install an air-to water system but it got too expensive in recent months,” he said, referring to another problem for would-be rural restorers: the rapidly hiking costs of everything associated with construction and renovation.

“Thirteen months ago I bought the first insulation slabs for €38 each but the last ones I bought cost €69 each,” he said. “Nothing in the buildings surprised me. The only surprise I got was the red tape involved in doing them up. For instance, originally I thought I had agreement to do the roof but when I had it done I was told I hadn’t permission to re-slate it so I had to apply for retention.” Egan says that only for the political support of his local councillor Liam McDaniel and Senator Paul Daly, he would never have succeeded.

“They are talking about rejuvenating towns and all this, and we looked into it at the early stages and we got back word that there is hardly any funding available,” he says.
“If you were to get the little bit of funding they were talking about, it would be gone on engineer’s reports to get everything certified. Any of these reports costs €2,000 to €3,000 and €4,000 and if they look for three or four of them, they don’t be long using up the price of any grant.”

The replacement of the front doors exasperated him. It was suggested to him that he could repair them, as they were the original front doors. “Anyone on the street could see there was galvanise on them and bolts run through them. They weren’t the original front doors, they were made of softwood in the 1980s and the man who made them was still alive.”

The project took 13 months and two weeks. It was finished within the last fortnight and Deirdre has just moved in to her smart rejuvenated 19th-century townhouse. The finished homes which today brighten up Kilbeggan’s Square are almost identical. The version being offered for sale extends to 1,668 sq ft over two floors with a new extension to the rear. A smart tiled hall leads to the living room and then the sitting room with its cast-iron fireplace and timber floors.

The kitchen/dining area includes a new fitted kitchen with fitted appliances while a sliding patio door leads to the back garden. Downstairs includes an ensuite bedroom, a utility and a guest WC. A solid wooden stairs leads to the first floor where there are three bedrooms and a bathroom. One of the bedrooms has a bay window overlooking the square while a folding stairs leads to the floored attic.


The new dining area and back garden at the Square, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath

A garden extends the rear of the house and fronts on to the Mullingar Road where it has an entrance and a drive. Despite the hurdles, Egan is very happy with the way the houses turned out. But would he do it again? “I would. If I could do it without the red tape!”

Enquiries to Heffernan Auctioneers at Tullamore.

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