Ellen Gowan's country house is nestled on a slope of subtropical gardens, overlooking Bantry Bay. She fills the house with fresh flowers cut from her garden. My travel companion plays the piano by the fireplace in the sitting room. The sounds reverberate through rooms, decorated with ceramic sculptures and her daughter Dervilla's paintings. Inside and out, the environment is a true synthesis of Ellen's two passions: art and the natural world. These elements make it an inviting place to relax and to let go of modern worries.
We sit with Ellen, underneath a wall of wild roses, at a table made of ancient stone with fossilized worms. We sip ginger tea. Ellen tells us about her life. She is a storytelling with a vicious sense of humor; she has a true zest for life.
Ellen left an impression on us from the first moment we first met. It was the West Cork Chamber Music Festival in Bantry. The concert was in the library. My travel companion and I'd secured last minute tickets - two seats, opposite sides of the room, both behind huge pillars. He was seated next to Ellen, and they soon hit it off. At intermission, he and I switched seats, and I got to know Ellen. During a hush in the performance, she whispered to me to switch seats with her, giving me a better view. For the rest of the show, I couldn't take my eyes off the performers, while she sat behind the pillar, eyes closed, enraptured in the music. She is a truly generous woman.
Later, we came to visit her in Castletownbere at Rodeen, her B&B.
Ellen tells us how much she loves music. Five years ago, she decided to learn how to play the clarinet. Her goal is to become good enough to get a spot on a TV program, then to throw the clarinet away and never touch it again. When guests find out about Ellen's clarinet playing, they get into the musical spirit too. "The music played in the house, because they know I play music, is just fantastic," she says.
She has a great time with her guests, too. "You never know who is in the house," Ellen says. "It could be a movie director, an author, a poet, or an ambassador." She's hosted many famous and not-so-famous guests over the years. No matter what the sort, she has a good time with her guests. Showing us photographs of a recent garden BBQ with some of the guests -- they are laughing, drinking, dressing up in costume, and having all kinds of fun.
Driven by her love of nature, Ellen's first business was a backyard nursery. Eventually, she closed the nursery, and her yard grew into a full garden. It was on the Irish Garden Tour. She instilled her appreciation for nature in her children. The garden has been evolving since Dervilla was a little girl, and it has grown from being her playground to becoming her palette. Dervilla is responsible now for its landscape design, and she gives me a tour, pointing out a mind-boggling variety of plants and flowers from Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Tibet, and China.
The guest book inside is filled with sketches, notes, and photographs, documenting the visitors over the ages. Ellen has become good friends with many of the people who have stayed with her.
She has plans for the future, dreams of transforming the country house into an artists' commune or a summer music school. "It's a great achievement when you start over in life," Ellen says. "And it's beautiful to live here, a great place to bring up children." Always in tune with the cycles in life, she is looking forward to the next one and how to evolve her love of the arts in a new way. Until then, enjoy this country house's tranquil setting to get your creative juices flowing and to get in tune with nature.
Ellen's breakfast menu includes
How to get there
Located 2 km east of Castletownbere, off the main Castletownbere-Glengarriff Road.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.
Rodeen Country House
c/o Ellen Gowan
Castletownbere, Co. Cork
Tel: (0)27 70158