Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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The Sea Lodge, County Louth, Ireland

Photographs by James Fennell.

That the voice of the sea speaks to the soul is something few would deny. The lives of a thousand generations have been caught somewhere between the thundering crash of stormy waves and the silent ripples of calmer dawns.

A two mile beech avenue wends its way through green fields and yellow gorse before abruptly terminating near Dunany Point on the south coast of Dundalk Bay. The air, laden with manure a few fields inland, now swims with soft aromas of salt and sea. To the north, across the bay, the shrouded mountains of Cooley, Carlingford and Mourne. In about 1840 this dramatic location inspired the owners of the surrounding estate to build a scenic lodge. It was a retreat, nothing elaborate, just a small place where local gentlemen and their families could come with picnics and rugs and cast their minds away from the daily pressures of civic disorder and economic decline. At the time a coastal road passed right beneath the house connecting the village of Annagassan to the fishing village of Clogher Head; old men still recall the milkman using this road with horse and trap but the road is now long gone.

Alicia Chawner first saw the house while walking along the strand in the 1970s. The house looked unloved and was in danger of dereliction. Windows were broken, gutters down, doors off their hinges. The grounds to the rear had been overpowered by brambles. Negotiations began with the previous owners and the deal was struck.

The house has since been restored in a manner both intimate to the desires of Alain and Alicia and at one with its original function. "People often say "What a wonderful house! Look what you've done! but the fact is it has always been a wonderful house".

The original architect of the house is unknown but his creation was a small masterpiece. The four room building appears to have been designed almost entirely in tune with the passage of the sun. "In the morning the sunlight explodes into the house through the eastern window and then slowly revolves around the house throughout the day" To reflect sunlight into the bedroom and kitchen, all walls have been painted white and mirrors hung to reflect the light. The four poster bed was elevated to ensure its occupants could gaze from their pillows directly across the changing tides to the mountains beyond. Chairs and tables were selected with equal regard for location, their design simultaneously evoking a hint of the beachcomber.

It is the sound of the sea and the winds upon it that so entranced Alicia when she first found the house. Now she is hooked, as defined by her location as the sea kale on the rocky shores or the winkles on the strand.

This story featured in The Irish Times Magazine, May 2003.