Belfast Telegraph

Elderly siblings ‘forced into squalor’ as 300-year-old cottage crumbles around them

By Leona O'Neill

A sister and brother in their 70s say they are being forced to watch their historic 300-year-old thatched cottage fall to the ground after failing to find funding to save the building.

Edward and Eileen Quigley have lived in Seacoast Cottage, nestled at the foot of Binevenagh Mountain in Magilligan, all their lives, as did their mother and grandmother before them.

Edward was born there and their mother died there. They have no electricity, no running water, no heating and no indoor toilet.

Seacoast Cottage is a listed building, uniquely thatched with marram grass, which grows locally in the sand dunes at Benone Beach and Magilligan Point.

In 2014 the roof collapsed in a storm. Because it is a listed building and the thatch must be maintained, ordinary repairs are not possible or affordable. The Department for Communities offered the Quigleys £50,000 in January of this year to make emergency repairs to the roof. However, it meant they had to provide £86,000 themselves - money they don't have. Edward says Stormont has "forced them to live in squalor".

"This cottage is 300 years old," he said.

"It has been in family for three generations. I was born here. It is our home but it is in a bad state of repair.

"The roof collapsed in 2014 and it has just been sitting there like that since.

"We have had to block off one of the bedrooms because the roof came in. The windows are rotten and the rain and wind comes through. We have no central heating and no electricity, so the winters are bad.

"The house has gone into such a state that we couldn't spend another winter here. I have now given up all hope that anything will be done to help us."

He added: "The government listed our home against my wishes. A slate roof could be put on the cottage for £10,000, but because of the listing the thatch needs to be maintained. Fixing this will cost over £100,000 alone.

"We can't touch the windows without listed building consent otherwise we could get a heavy fine and even a jail sentence. Our hands are tied. The government are forcing us to live in squalor.

"There was a £50,000 offer made to help, but we had to raise £86,000 ourselves to get it.

"We are both pensioners. I sell a few vegetables to bring in some income. Where would we get £86,000? At this stage I have given up all hope. We are going to have to just move out into a temporary hut we have put next door and watch our family home fall."

Eileen says her dream is to have her family home repaired, have running water and electricity and be able to keep warm in the winter, but for the pensioner, who suffered a stroke a number of years ago, that dream is fading by the day.

Eileen and Edward's nephew Mark Canning has been fighting to save Seacoast Cottage on their behalf. He says his aunt and uncle are weary from the battle.

"They are good people, they are proud," he said. "I have to do their fighting for them. And if the government think I'm going away they are very much mistaken. It's a disgrace how my aunt and uncle have been treated. They've been left to live in squalor - the time to act is now.

"It will be heartbreaking to see this house fall down. But we have to walk away from it. My aunt and uncle have to move out. It's unsafe. After the storm wrecked the roof the back wall leans and the roof timbers have snapped in the middle of the house. A heavy wind this winter could bring it down on top of them."

The Department for Communities said: "The department is conscious of the challenges being faced by the owners of the cottage and departmental officials have recently been discussing this with the family of the owners. A decision has not yet been made whether to reopen the historic environment fund in 2017/18."

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