A Waterford couple beautifully restore a historic 19th-century church into a luxurious home – and you can stay there
Waterford couple Liam Power and Carmel Malone Power stumbled upon a gem on their doorstep when they found Guilcagh Church just 300 yards from their home near Lahardan in County Crystal.
The forgotten prayer house had been left in ruins, but the couple recovered it, transforming it into an immaculately decorated home with all modern comforts while still cherishing and respecting the history and original features of the building.
The couple bought the dilapidated church in 2000, just after welcoming twins into their family, along with a two-year-old boy.
Originally built in 1847, it required years of restoration work which the couple diligently and painstakingly carried out for a decade. The church had been desecrated in 1962 and had been left to fend for itself ever since.
“I used to walk on the street and noticed that the old church was completely abandoned and it was not accessible, it was very difficult to go up the avenue, but we walked a few times and noticed that the roof had fallen, it was in very bad shape, ”recalls Carmel.
The couple spent a number of years attempting to purchase and restore the building after making inquiries with the Royal Church Body, and after much “back and forth” and explaining that it would be better if the building is used. only to continue to degrade, a sale was finally made.
It took a total of ten years for the building to be fully restored, with the first two years being spent upgrading the historic structure.
Initially, the idea was to use the building as a design exhibition space for Carmel’s interior design work, and as a venue for classes and workshops.
Before that happened, the church had to be hooked up to electricity, sealed and completely redone.
“We had to work because we had the money, when we could afford it,” said Carmel, sharing that the restoration work was done in piecemeal fashion rather than in a rush.
After upgrading the building, using the space as a showroom, and hosting art and bread-making classes, Carmel and Liam moved their business to the city of Waterford and began to think about how they could still use the church and honor it as the unique place it is.
It was then that a friend suggested that they allow people to use it as a getaway destination and put it on AirBnB.
“We wanted people to be able to see it and enjoy it, the last thing we wanted was to shut it down,” Carmel said.
A final renovation effort has been made and some of the building’s most interesting and personal touches have been added.
An old tree had fallen on the couple’s property, and they dried it out and had specialists turn local wood into a balcony and spiral staircase for the building’s new mezzanine.
The structure became more and more like a house, with the addition of the upper floor, the bedrooms and the bathroom. A kitchen with a huge stove has also been added, as well as the luxury of underfloor heating.
Despite the sumptuous modern touches, the history of the church has been completely preserved.
Originally designed by the famous architect William Tinsley, who left Ireland during the famine for Pennsylvania in the United States, the church in the vicinity of Carmel and Liam was one of his first commissions.
“It was used as a church until 1962, then the Protestant population declined and they closed the church,” she said.
Carmel explained that the nearby town of Portlaw had ties to the southern states of America in the last century, as cotton would be transported from the United States to the Malcomson Cotton Mill.
Pine lumber from those ship crates that carried cotton to Waterford was used to build the original roof structure of the church, and the couple salvaged as much as possible for use in the restoration.
“It has all modern comforts, yet we have kept the original character of the church as much as possible,” said Carmel.
“All the old items – the pulpit, the basement – are still there, they’re just all restored.”
The walls are all painted with old natural chalk paint, there are handmade Kilkenny beds in the bedrooms, and the floors are richly decorated with Persian rugs.
The couple have an interior design business, Tinsley Interiors, so it’s no wonder that the renovated church is a haven of taste and comfortable furnishings.
In addition to the pulpit, the cozy house still has the feeling of being a sacred space thanks to the beautiful stained glass windows that dot the property.
The modern kitchen in particular has a wall full of lighted stained glass, and one can only imagine how amazing the rooms look when the sun shines through the pigmented glass.
Another notable feature in the church corbels is the hand-carved family coats of arms of the six families who worked on the construction of the church originally in the 19th century.
Anxious to leave their mark, the workers permanently engraved their family crests in stone, which Carmel and Liam highlighted with spotlights for the guests.
The original church builder, named George Wilson, who began building the church in 1840 and laid the foundation stone himself, is also buried in the small cemetery on the property. The couple are taking care of their gravestone, as he passed away before they saw the church come to an end.
There were times the couple wondered if they were doing the right thing during the many years of the restoration process, but the finished building fills them with pride, especially when they see guests enjoying it.
“A labor of love … and worry! You wonder ‘did we do the right thing? Is this crazy?’ There were times like the 2008 crisis when everyone ran out of money … but we’re delighted, we wouldn’t part with it for the world! ” Carmel burst out laughing.
The couple placed their ad on AirBnb just before Christmas in 2019, and it was immediately booked.
Carmel explained that they mainly had American tenants for the vacation home, but after reopening the building for reservations after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, they see an increase in the number of Irish staying and enjoying the beauty of the region. .
The couple personally welcome all of their guests to Guilcagh Church and are happy to give recommendations on what to see and do in the area. However, they advise visitors to have their own car so that they can make the most of their trip. You can find the amazing Guilcagh Church on AirBnB here.