It’s January 2022. I’m pacing back and forth inside my rented house in a small seaside village in north Kerry. Hands trembling, my mouth dry, I practice my speech again. I focus on the tiny buds furled into themselves on the tips of the branches that tap at the windowpane to ground myself. A sign of future hope? After years of searching, it is finally time. I heave in a deep breath and call the auctioneer to make my offer on what I hoped would be my first home. “I’d like to place a bid on the house near Kilflynn please, the one in the forest...” He cuts me short.

This story starts back in March 2017, when I originally set a goal to buy my own house in three years. After a fancy-career redundancy in Dublin and a lure back home to Kerry I barely understood but could no longer ignore, it was with the quiet intention of becoming a self-employed yoga teacher that I drove a rental van packed with my clothes, books and my dog Molly down the M7 to Tralee. I squashed myself into my granny’s old cottage with its half door, brown beauty board clad, thick stone walls and a toilet seat so cold that the back of my thighs froze to it every night. Aged 36 and living a wee bit too close to the family homestead, I made an appointment with my bank’s mortgage advisor. I was told to come back in three years with my business’ financial accounts.

So it began. I created Ebb & Flow Yoga and taught classes at 7am in a bare, ice-cold studio down a quiet lane. In the evenings I rolled out mats on the sticky carpet of a hotel conference room floor. I taught beginners in a vast community centre in the village, beneath swaying volleyball nets. I espoused the benefits of relaxation and deep breathing above a gym alongside barbells and free weights. From GAA Clubs to park runs, towns to parishes, I was there, spreading the good word of yoga.

When I’d saved enough, I moved out from Granny’s nest to the local village, where I paid my rent and bills on time to prove my trustworthiness to the bank. I indulged just a tiny limit on my credit card, kept my taxes in order. I worked five nights a week, mid-mornings teaching one-to-ones, ran yoga events on weekends. Holidays were camping, my furniture and clothes second-hand. I sacrificed and saved.

Staying focused

I still had lots of fun during this time, but I worked harder to rebalance the ‘flaithiúlach’ times. I was tired, stressed and close to burn out on numerous occasions. To stay focused, I gazed daily at my colourful vision board hung above my desk, an ever-present reminder of why I was working so hard. I stared at the little white house with its winding path at the centre of the board. And every now and then, I’d take up the time of patient auctioneers or drive winding bothereens around the area I hoped to live in, in the hope of making my dream a reality. I eventually came to understand the value of land, location, road frontage - even the price of septic tanks!

When COVID-19 hit, I switched to working online and worried what would become of my business, and of me. During the pandemic years, I had fewer classes to teach and more lockdown hours to fret, but I also gained time to dream.

I traipsed around looking at houses advertised for sale on I peered into dank sheds masquerading as houses, derelict cottages hidden under ivy blankets not listed online. Lone, crumbling, lichen-covered stone wall gables for €90,000. The local estate agents knew my voice I called so often. “Hi, yes it’s Maeve again…” smiling widely to hide the embarrassment in my tone.

In January 2021 after an awkward meeting with a bank, I elicited help from a mortgage broker. I gathered reams of bank statements, accounts, documents, rent receipts and invoices to lay at his feet. It was a long 10-month labyrinthine process to prove my trustworthiness to faceless brokers, underwriters, banks and insurance companies. Doing this alone and as a self-employed person, made it even more challenging. I learned you don’t tell the bank how much you need or would like - they tell you how much they might give you. And there is always a canyon of difference.

By now I was serious - a list of areas, houses, budget, prices of materials and work gathered in my little beige notebook labelled “house stuff.”

There were the houses everyone else said were too remote, too shadowy, too dilapidated, full of midges, too something, always something. Gradually, I realised I had to stop listening to the opinions of those around me. Though well-intentioned, they didn’t know what I needed or wanted. I finally began listening to my heart to figure out what was best for me.

The small white house

With my new clarity, the small white house in the woods came on my radar in late October 2021. I booked several viewings, explored around it in all weathers and hours from the bird chirping sunrise to the silhouetted trees of night. I chatted to neighbours, investigated everything I was unsure of. I took my time. Then I called the auctioneer to place my bid. He interrupted my words with a cold, firm, “the sale closed a few days ago, you’re too late”.

It took longer than she anticipated, but Maeve Ferris finally found her path to her little house in the woods. \ Karen Lunnon

My heart plummeted. I hung up and drowned my sorrows in gin that night and retreated like a wounded animal, nursing myself with the clichéd balm of what’s for me won’t pass me by.

In the days that followed my disappointment, I dragged myself to view another farmhouse so damp, the walls wept in despair. I revisited a sloping two-storey, tipping forward on its limestone base at the edge of a local village, with its original dark brown chipped staircase, a red sacred heart over the front door and a price at the top of my budget. It needed major renovations on the inside and had a garden of Japanese knotweed. I shook my head, ready to give up.

And I did give up - sort of. I convinced myself to look beyond my love of old houses and viewed a cavernous new build with triple glazing, a gym under the eaves and a hefty price tag. There was the red brick holiday home in the sand dunes that on paper was made for me but was so white and minimalist it felt soulless.

My mind kept travelling back to the house in the trees near Kilflynn, and I felt only weariness and sadness for the loss of the sale. So, I decided to say goodbye.

Once more I drove the winding, pine tree lined road back to the land I had lost, the woods I had lost. I followed the path worn by my boots over the previous months. I was here to make peace with my loss, yet as I gazed through the branches back at the gleaming alabaster gable wall, a quiet voice inside whispered, ‘Don’t give up, this is meant for you’.

Putting my trust in that, I began to visualise myself walking through the front door, the keys in my hand. I imagined it so often I could feel the imprint of the cool jagged key in my palm.

Twist of fate

In the strangest, destined twist of fate, the little white house in the woods came back on the market a few weeks later. Without hesitation, I called, placed my bid and waited.

On day three, my phone screen lit up. My solicitor’s measured, smiling voice told me my bid was accepted. I cried tears of overwhelming relief. Later, with a clammy hand I signed the contract under her watchful, kind gaze. I became a homeowner not long before my 41st birthday in May 2022. It was two years later than planned, but at exactly the right time, when I was ready to listen to my heart and had a clearer vision for my life ahead.

The small white house in the woods came on Maeve's radar in late October 2021. \ Karen Lunnon

It’s been several months now since I unpacked the last box in my new home and, still, I can hardly breathe the words, ‘My home’. I whisper it so softly to myself, as if the phrase is a butterfly and saying it too loudly might make it flutter away.

It isn’t the old rambling, stone farmhouse by the sea that I had pinned to my vision boards. It doesn’t have a cobbled stone yard or drafty sash windows. It’s so compact and small I had to rehome many of my possessions. And yet it’s everything I want and need right now. These are all compromises I was willing to make, because I found a place of respite and safety that is manageable for me. What was sacrificed, was balanced by the unique beauty of this place. My little white house is like heartwood, nestled in the centre of the trees, solid and central to my life now. Protected by pines, larch, ash, sycamore and hawthorns, the wild, tranquil land wraps itself and me in a leafy green hug.

I share this story in the hope that it may give you some comfort if you are on the journey to finding your own home too. It may not unfurl as you expect but the next step will reveal itself when it is meant to. Wishing you luck with your own story.

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