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Dream of downsizing in Wicklow with woodland and loch views


Descending into nodding territory in Carmel and Hugh O’Neill’s new bedroom will, according to architect Dermot Bannon, be “like sleeping in the woods.”

But their new A-rated dream bungalow has it all – trees, woods, and of course, lakes.

As newlyweds, the couple moved to the heart of West Wicklow in 1982, to a home that Carmel says he thought would be their “forever home” – overlooking Blessington Lakes.

And so it has been – for nearly four decades.

In 2020, they invited their daughter Hillary, son-in-law Paul Fairbrother, and their children to come and live with them.

“We’re getting old and this place requires a tremendous amount of maintenance,” says Hugh.

The renovation of the former O’Neills’ home, now a ‘permanent home’ for Hillary, Paul and the O’Neills’ grandchildren, was featured in RTÉ One’s Room To Improvement series last year, while Carmel and Hugh plan to move into a new residence, built from scratch, down in the garden.

This chapter unfolds in the third episode of the 2023 series of Room To Improvement.


Carmel and Hugh want a manageable home for them in their later years in life and Dermot Brief is to deliver that.

He designs a “functional, future-proof” A3 rated bungalow with better views.

The architect notes that the most striking design element is the roof.

“Because we were in such a narrow site and because it was such a prominent site, the roof almost works like a canvas,” he says.


“It’s like you throw it over this block of buildings and then it starts contacting again as a slightly oversized tablecloth contacts the floor.

“The surface is almost in contact with the ground.”

Carmel and Hugh are impressed with the whole transformation.

“I didn’t think it would be as big as it is,” Karmel says.

The project has been long and difficult, the couple and the architect agree.

“It’s been a long journey, I guess, like all journeys, with peaks and lows along the way, at least here we are now, and here we are, ready to begin the next chapter of our lives,” Karmel says.


Quantity surveyor Claire Irwin ups the count and is pleased with the result, although there is an overshoot.

She says the budget is 230,000 euros. Adds the quantity surveyor: “It was over €20,000 in value. €20,000 was on things that went into the project, and incorporated a lot of things: a few extra shelves, wardrobes in the bedroom.”

Carmel and Hugh O'Neill with Claire Irwin and Dermot Bannon.  Images: RTE
Carmel and Hugh O’Neill with Claire Irwin and Dermot Bannon. Images: RTE

We have reintroduced Aluclad windows instead of PVC.

“I know €20,000 sounds like a lot but for what they got for €20,000 it was very competitive in this market; they were very wise shopping and there was a lot of business that took place.”