Gordon Ryan and Claire McAree



Gordon was living on the land next to this site in a rented cottage. He loved this field and asked the owner if he could buy it. They agreed a price and Gordon bought 3 acres in 1999.  He bought a caravan onto the site and lived here on and off. He just wanted a place to call his own. He had a number of plans that would have a minimum impact on the land. A caravan, because it can be moved off… then he really wanted to put a boat on the land. This was an idea that he was very keen on….he would put the 40’ boat (which was the largest he could get up the road) onto the land, live on it, do it up, then take it back to the sea and sail away!
However, he chose to start with building a small cabin, just enough for his own needs. There was no electricity and the only water was from the river. He built the cabin over a few months and looks back on it as an experience and the hardship that he endured, working in the rain and cold with only hand tools, was something he had chosen to do.

He met Claire; they married and lived together in Dublin for a while. When they came back to Leitrim they designed the extension to the cabin together so that it became ‘their home’. The extension went up and out and provided them with a larger living area an office and another bedroom. They did all the work themselves with a bit of help from friends.
The use of recycled windows, doors and wooden floors give the home a character and sense of lived in history.
The learning process of self- building is valuable...there was a gross underestimation of the time involved ‘didn’t fathom the extent of the job…’


Cabin. Timber frame, well insulated, barn-type roof.


  • Mortgage free build (small credit union loan).
  • Water from river
  • Small wind turbine.
  • All natural materials in the build.
  • Compost toilet.
  • Trees planted.


  • Own design and build.
  • Use of recycled doors and windows.
  • Home perfectly designed to suit their needs at the time: as their family grows, so could their home.


Selves: Gordon Ryan and Claire McAree





Foundations Stilts into concrete.
Walls Post and beam structure.Stud walls.
Roof Tin
Insulation  Untreated sheep wool from McGovern’s of Manorhamilton
Finishings Recycled parts from building sites and salvage yards.

Extension was built using a ‘Shaker’ wooden structure; Gordon wanted to experiment with building with timber, in other ways.

Electricity: Mains and a 1.2kw turbine.


Building: Wood burning range and radiators
Water: Back boiler on range and immersion for the summer


River with a solar powered pump to get the water into the tank. Drinking water from the local well.


Compost toilet with sawdust. Soak away for the grey water.


Fruit trees. Plants one apple tree a year and 50 indigenous trees for future fire wood. Plants 50 and cuts down 6 which should equal 5 cubic metres which is enough for his needs.


Time-scale of build: On-going, a few months for each stage.

Satisfaction: Feels happy and ‘in a nice place’ in his life. Talk and plan about their future with 3 children, will need to extend, move or build. Will always keep this house as their own, as something to come back to or for the children to live in.

Costs: €20,000 plus own labour.

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