WHEN Marion and Declan Gavin met in a hostel on Achill Island twenty years ago, they never envisaged that Donegal would be the county they would come to call home.
Marion had come from her native East Germany, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Declan hailed from the suburbs of Dublin. Now, way off the beaten track in the hills above Fintown, they live in Meadowsweet Herb Garden and Lodge, a rambling rural idyll where guests come to stay in their gypsy caravan. They have two children Fiona (10) and Fergus (3).
This week the Donegal News met with Marion and Declan to hear how life brought them to live in Fintown.
“After we met in 1995, we moved back to Germany and we lived there for six years. Every time we would come back to Ireland, we weren’t long off the plane until we were back in Donegal.”
Twelve years ago the couple made the decision to move to Fintown where they rented a house, but shortly after they spotted a small cottage for sale. They made several visits to what was then well known as Charlie Brown’s cottage but were not sure how to go about buying it.
“It wasn’t until one day we went to visit and there was another couple there in a large car. They obviously wanted to buy it as a holiday home. We panicked because to us, this was our house, so we contacted the estate agent and put in an offer which was accepted the next day.”
“We fell in love with the place the first time we saw it, but there was a lot of work to be done. I didn’t have a clue about building but it’s amazing what you learn once you start. I added a porch to the front of the house first and then gradually added on to the back of the house. We had to clear a lot of trees and now I have a herb garden where they once stood,” said Declan.
With assistance from visitors on the Work Away International Volunteer Programme, the Gavins are now completing work on additional accommodation for an on-site hostel with two bedrooms and a common room.
“A volunteer from South Africa has just left us, he was helping to build the new accommodation and before that we had a Spanish couple helping us,” explained Marion.
“We want other people to see the side of Donegal that we love. Last year we opened up our house to guests and it has been amazing, we have had people from all over the world staying with us.”
The story took another twist last year.
“Last year we saw the gypsy wagon advertised in Monaghan and decided it would be a nice feature to have. It needed a lot of restoration but now it sleeps four people in a very cosy environment and is a really unique place for people to stay.”
Declan added: “We have seen an old fishing boat advertised recently. We think it might be our next purchase and would be another great place for people to stay once we’ve done a bit of work to it.”
The family are also keen traditional music enthusiasts and both Marion and Fiona play the fiddle, often participating in sessions in their “local”, the famed Glen Tavern in the nearby Glen of Glenties.
“Fiona has been playing the fiddle since she was four, Fergus is beginning to take an interest and has Fiona’s old small fiddle which he’s learning on. Our house is a very musical one and a lot of our friends are musicians. Recently, we’ve been trying to get some local musicians together to come to our home and play in front of the gypsy caravan. It would be a bit like the Dublin based Internet channel ‘Balcony TV’, except in this case it would be ‘Gypsy Caravan TV’. Our only problem at the moment is that traditional musicians are very hard to pin down.”
Marion continued: “There are so many amazing local musicians and we would love to start Gypsy Caravan TV with the likes of the Campbells from Glenties, so hopefully we will be able to get them over soon.”
In recent months, Marion has been working on a new business idea, selling herbal teas, prepared with her own home grown Donegal herbs.
“I have been going to courses in Letterkenny and my idea is to set up the herbal tea business. We have tested loads of teas and we currently have three mixes that are proving very popular with friends. The most popular is chocolate mint and white nettle tea.”
“We never thought that Donegal would be where we would end up, but now we have a home here and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It is a fantastic place to bring up children and we are so lucky that we are able to share it with other people.”
For further information and bookings, see Meadowsweet Herb Garden and Lodge on Facebook and on ww.airbnb.com