Tranarossan House Downings Donegal + Sir Edwin Lutyens

The New Ned

Is this Ireland’s greatest chalet bungalow? Who knew the legendary English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens rustled up a design for such an isolated site in Ireland? Certainly, the master’s New Delhi architecture is somewhat better known than his work in Dundooan Lower. Ned’s mother was Irish and he was rather well connected, allowing him to vamp up a country house here, revamp a castle there. His most famous project in Ireland is Dublin’s War Memorial Gardens.

In the 1890s the well heeled Honourable Robert and Mrs Phillimore of London blew £40 on a three hectare site near Downings. They commissioned Ned to design them a holiday home. Irish architect John O’Connell says, “Lutyens was very adept at immediately seeing potential on site. He would rarely deviate from his initial sketches.” After her husband died, Mrs P continued to use the house until 1936 when she handed it over to the An Óige Trust. Tranarossan House, rechristened Trá na Rossan, became the Trust’s most architecturally distinguished youth hostel.

A traveller recalls, “I remember staying at Tranarossan in the 1960s. We hitchhiked to The Atlantic Drive and then had to find our way to the hostel in the dark. We got there about midnight. It was full… there were bunkbeds in every room… but the managers let us sleep on the kitchen floor. It was run by an old couple. I remember thinking the building was quite new, that it was a purpose built hostel.”

Ned swung from Arts + Crafts in his heady youth to neoclassicism coming up to retirement. This building firmly belongs in the first camp. Two gable fronted blocks built of local rubble granite are joined by a single storey link. Each gable is distinctly treated. One is roughcast with sash windows; the other, tile hung with casement windows. This is the freest of free style Arts + Crafts. A deep wraparound verandah – now partially filled in on the entrance front – provides shelter in this exposed setting.

An extravagance of roof celebrates the chalet bungalow form. In place of the customary Gertrude Jekyll (rhymes with treacle) garden forever hand-in-glove with a Lutyens house are rocky outcrops and sandy dunes. Tranarossan House blends into the hillside, an organic recognition of place in shades of grey (there’s a good tradition of loving slate staying by the fireside). This is Ireland’s greatest chalet bungalow. The readership knew.

About Lavender's Blue

Snappy Wordsmith
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