Turning a house with history into a home

Features

Michael S Togher has revealed his lockdown labour of love


Michael Gallagher

It’s a living, breathing time-machine. Step through the door and one is walking in the footsteps of those who lived, loved, laughed and cried within the famous walls for the past two centuries.  
Terry’s cottage near Binghamstown on The Mullet Peninsula has stood proudly on its foundations since the early part of the 19th century. In recent decades it fell into disrepair and was little more than an animal shelter, but now thanks to a wonderful lockdown project it has been restored to its former glory.
Well-known singer and entertainer, Michael S Togher is the man behind the rejuvenation. The cottage has been in his family since it was built in 1819 and he was filled with pride when telling The Mayo News about the renovation project last week.
“When (the infamous landlord) Bingham moved from Bangor and built Binghamstown he brought three families with him as cattle herds – Michael Conway from Ballycroy, the O’Boyles and the Cuffes. The Conways were my ancestors – Michael was my great, great grandfather.
“Three stone houses were built for those families which was very unusual as the vast majority of people lived in sod houses at the time. The three families settled here and looked after the farm. Many people can trace their heritage back to those families,” Michael S Explained.
The Conway family thrived in their new home but the 1840s brought hunger and devastation to the area. Some of the extended family passed away, others took the boat to America, but all in all the family survived.
As the years passed, Michael Conway’s son Terence inherited the house and his daughter, Mary, Michael S’s grandmother, was born there in 1899.
“She was part of a large family, and the 1911 census tells us that on the night the census was taken there were eleven people and two animals living in the cottage. As time passed many of the family married and moved out but three of the brothers never married and the last of them died in 1987. After that the cottage fell into disrepair and eventually it was made into a cowshed where the cattle took shelter for the winter.”

Lockdown project
In recent years Michael S and his wife Linda built a new home on the site and they always planned to renovate the old cottage, but never got time – until lockdown came.
“I started working on the cottage at the end of March 2020. It was in a bad state, but I was determined to get it back to what it should be and honour the people who came before us. My grandmother was very good to us, and this is where she was born.
“I sourced stuff from near and far. The churn came from Tubbercurry; the radio came from Castlebar and the dresser came from the house of one of my granduncles, so there was a sense it was coming home.
“The wood in the ceiling is from the church built by Dean Lyons in the parish of Kilmore in 1838. He was a young curate who came to the area and was a great believer in education. He tried to build a school but couldn’t get funding for it, so he turned part of the church into a school and it’s the ceiling from that part that’s in the cottage now,” he added proudly.
The renovation took a lot of time and effort, and the well-known entertainer had some generous assistance.
“I did a lot of the work myself because I had the time during lockdown, but my sister Kathleen (Mulroy) was instrumental in the renovation. Her vision made it what it is and I also got great help from my friend Michael Togher.
“We’re very proud of the way it turned out and look forward to seeing where the future takes us. I suppose we might open it as a tourist attraction eventually where people can come and have a cup of tea and remember times past and those who came before us. They made us who we are and we cannot forget that.”