On the roadside near Headford Junction in East Kerry, on the Mallow to Tralee railway line, sits a traditional Irish cottage. Dating back to the 1920s, it is faded cream and has a small, and once loved, wall garden looking out onto Token Fire mountain. Its story is one like many in rural Ireland – a house that has become part of the landscape, once full of life but now neglected.

A fresh future is within its sights though as a young couple are set to revive it and make this old house their new home. The potential of the Vacant Property Renovation Grant helped make the pie-in-the-sky idea become a real possibility and Irish Country Living will follow their journey in the coming months, from the application phase through the highs and lows of the build, and beyond.

Meet Niamh O’Mahony and Tony Malone, secondary school teachers who recently made the move from city life in Dundrum, Dublin to Headford in east Kerry. “When we decided to move out of Dublin, the big debate was whether we would move to my homeplace in Kerry or to Clare where Tony grew up,” says Niamh. “When I got a job at Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine in Kenmare, Tony followed soon after, as he also got a job in the school.”

“We both wanted to leave Dublin,” continues Tony. “We didn’t plan on working in the same school, that’s just the way things worked out and now we really like it now. We both went to mixed community schools that had the same ethos. Being a rural school, it’s easier to relate to the students, it’s more laid back than a city school.”

Although Kenmare is over 30km away, and their commute in Dublin was 3km, it takes the same time to get to work. “It’s a lovely journey and you’re not sitting in traffic,” says Tony.

With jobs secured, the next thing was to decide where to call home. “We moved in with my parents,” says Niamh. “It was meant to be a short-term plan to save money but it didn’t work out that way. In order to get our own house, we couldn’t commit to renting again. In Dublin, we spent over seven years paying €1,500/month. The situation in Killarney is nearly as bad – you’re paying a minimum of €1,000/ month for a flat.”

Availability of houses is also a major issue in the county, especially around the tourist spots. Hundreds of short-term lets are available in the vicinity of Killarney. However, it’s a different story for long-term rental options. Recent searches on Daft.ie show just six long-term lets available in Killarney and surrounds. The cheapest at €800/month, is a one bedroom converted garage. Two others are priced at €1,180 and €1,600/month while the other three are priced from €2,000 to €2,500/month. If the couple wanted to move closer to work, there’s one long-term rental available in Kenmare but priced at €3,750/month, it simply wasn’t an option for them.

The cottage was built in the 1920s but has been vacant for many years. \ Claire Nash

Cottage dreams

It wasn’t long before the couple started looking at the old cottage on Niamh’s parents farm with a new set of eyes. This was especially in light of the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant – with €50,000 on the table and potentially an extra €20,000 for derelict properties, it made the option of renovating the cottage (which Niamh now owns) a real option.

Niamh’s parents and her brother are dairy farmers. In 2008, her father purchased the cottage near the farm after it has been sitting idle for many years. Niamh and Tony could see the potential to turn it into a two-bedroom house with a 40sq metre extension.

“Tony and I are very similar in our thinking when it comes to the mortgage,” says Niamh. “We don’t want to be paying €2,500 every month – we want to do more things than pay a bank for 30 years. We’d rather go on a holiday than being totally committed to a house. The grant was a big incentive for us to do up this old cottage, rather than pay big money for a new build.”

However, applying for the grant has not been a straightforward process for the couple. “Initially, we applied in March 2023,” says Tony. “When we didn’t hear anything back, we pulled out of the process in September and began searching for a house in the Killarney area.”

Delving into the housing market brought them back to square one. “A lot of the houses we were looking at were around €300,000 and needed another €100,000 worth of work,” he says. “So we took some time to think about it at Christmas and decided we’d give the grant another go. We began the application process again in February.

Niamh and Tony are hoping to bring this house back to life. \Claire Nash

“We could have taken a chance and tried to build on a greenfield site but there are huge costs involved. We know €70,000 would disappear fast with costs around planning; water connections; electricity and ground work. We made a list of pros and cons and decided we’d take this route instead.” With summer holidays from school on the horizon, Tony and Niamh are chomping at the bit to get work started but the handbrake is up until they get the all clear on the grant from the local authority.

“We understand that they can’t give money for nothing, but the process is frustrating’ says Niamh.

“It took over three months just to get someone to come look at the house. If that had been done sooner, there would have been lot of questions answered and we could have gotten the ball rolling.

“For example, the council came back to us looking for more details. If we had been advised what they needed in advance, we would have had it ready. Also a report is required from a construction engineer to prove the property is derelict in order to qualify for the €20,000 top up. Another item required is a builder’s quote.”

That is holding them up now and it’s a tricky one to get. Because Niamh and Tony want to do a lot of the work themselves, builders are slow to give prices on jobs that they won’t be doing.

Other queries such as proving that the house was built before 2008 are frustrating. Built in the 1920s, a search through the Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) website clearly shows the property in aerial photos in any search before 2008 but that doesn’t seem to suffice, at least in this case.

Looking forward

“We really want to make this work and in theory, the grant is a fantastic scheme that is enabling us to revive this old house and make it our home in rural Ireland. Although it is a derelict property, we can see it has huge potential.

We are really hopeful that we will get approval soon so that we can get going on the work and get as much done as possible during the summer. We’re excited for Irish Country Living to come on the journey with us – and hopefully to see our lovely home when it is finished.”

• Niamh and Tony had an inspection for the grant on 30 May and are awaiting the outcome to see what their next steps will be.


• April 2023: Niamh and Tony apply for the Vacant Property Renovation Grant

• September 23: After five months with no progress, the couple withdraw

• February 2024: After testing the market and considering building a house, they decide to re-apply for the grant

• Early April 24: Request for additional documents

• End of May 24: First visit by inspector, request for more documentation. Awaiting update but no building permitted until approval is given.

Take a tour

To get a full tour of Niamh and Tony’s house, scan the QR code below.

Go behind the scenes with Irish Country Living photographer, Claire Nash to see how the couple envisage the build will unfold, as they hope to revive this old cottage.

In Short

  • The Vacant Property Grant is up to €50,000 while derelict houses are up to €70,000
  • To be eligible, the house must be built before 2008 and vacant for two years or more
  • The scheme was rolled out nationally in November 2022
  • To date, there have been 7,366 applications to the Vacant Property Renovation Grant, 4,278 of which have been approved
  • A total of 250 applicants have drawn down the grant, to an overall value of €12.6m
  • The most recent figures issued by the Department of Housing are to the end of March.