One afternoon my husband and I had the opportunity to visit an old house called the “Swiss Cottage” in county Tipperary. It is a beautiful white house with a green lattice and straw thatch roof set in a private walled-in garden a short distance away from the Castle Cahir. It was built in the early 1800’s as a summer party house for a wealthy family in Ireland and has survived up until now with the help of various restoration projects. After walking approx 2 km down a lovely tree covered path away from the castle, Noel and I crossed a bridge over a winding river and looked around for the house which was not obvious at first. In front of us were the toilets and then a steep outdoor stairway with a sign beside it that informed us of the admission prices; Adults: 3 euro, Senior: 2 euro, Child/student: 1 euro, which included a guided tour. The stairway led to a small room that we were later informed was the servant’s quarters and the back entrance to the house. After paying the small fee, a sweet tour guide took us to another small room where she began the tour; walking us slowly through each of the four rooms of the house and giving detailed descriptions. Had it not been for the tour guide I’m sure I would have missed the uniqueness of the house entirely.
Upon closer inspection and without knowing the purpose or intent of the house it would seem it was built by an amateur. No two floor boards are alike in shape or size. Doors and windows are unevenly slanted with some opening inwards and others in the same room opening outwards. A few windows that appear as though they should open are built fixed shut. One bay window has a step up and is triangular, while another window in the same small room is off-center with no step; that particular window has an arched frame with rounded window panes. Even the walls have varying angles that are opposed to each other and uneven. To those who know anything about building, this house is extremely impractical and imperfect; seemingly done by someone who doesn’t know anything about proper alignment and design. However, when it is explained that this house was DESIGNED specifically so that no two pieces are alike, designed to point out the common Irish belief of the times that, “no one can make anything perfect but God,” then builders recognize the extreme creativity and skill of the builder. It takes much more work to fit uneven pieces of wood and glass together than those that are perfectly even. It takes far more effort to sheetrock walls that are angled, arched and uneven. It is incredibly more timely to piece together floor boards and door frames in odd patterns and yet have them fit together perfectly without gaps or fillers. By Design, this house is incredibly valuable to those who know its purpose (we were told it cost half a million pounds to restore it).
I have now been to the Swiss cottage three times, and each time have discovered a new surprise as I look around trying to find the hidden character “flaws” built into this unique house.
A few tips if you are going:
- Search the walls, floors, ceilings etc. as if playing the game “I SPY.” There are many hidden treasures that I did not take the time to mention as well as many I’m sure I have yet to discover. Such as, the wood flooring in the entry way built in the shape of a spider web, or the lattice work on the exterior (be sure to closely inspect it for a few surprises).
- The space inside the house is very small and the stairs are windy and uneven- be careful!
- Pictures are forbidden inside all of the rooms of the house except the small entrance near the spiral stairs, don’t bother to ask, it is policy. The garden outside is a lovely place for photographs.
- In my opinion this is not the best place for small children or buggies with its limited space and breakable items placed in various settings. However, if the kids get bored, they can go outside with a parent into the beautiful enclosed garden at the front of the house.
- If you take the walk from Castle Cahir to the Swiss cottage look for a small child size cave to the Left of the path (Heading towards the cottage) and the hidden tire swing in the forest slightly down the hill on the right side of the path…both are easily missed if you are not observing your surroundings closely.
- I recommend starting the day early and visiting the Rock of Cashel, Castle Cahir, and the Swiss cottage in the same day unless you are staying in the area and can spend more time at each. They are all within 20-30 minutes apart. A trip to Cashel may take 1-3 hrs, Castle Cahir can easily be seen in 2-3 hrs and the Swiss cottage in about 1 hr. However, make sure that you check the opening and closing times of each. Depending upon the season, the last entry to the Swiss cottage can be as early as three or four in the afternoon. It would be a shame to miss it.