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The Stonemason's Mark

Joe (gabriel) Bergin 1975-2005 An Gobán Saor

Gabriel Joseph Bergin (Joe), my late husband, is the reason Trohanny Cottage is still standing today.

Joe was apart from many other things a gifted stonemason and had a natural flair and creativity.

He had a particular appreciation for old Irish buildings and history, stemming from not only his travels around the world but a big influence from his older brother and sister in law who had bought a thatched cottage in Monasterboice and restored it beautifully on their return to Ireland from abroad.

We had similar ideas after our own travels, but we; as they say 'hadn't a pot to piss in' so would spend our time after work scouring the under 50k property section in 'Done Deals' which was a (yellow?!) newspaper for selling anything in Ireland..the Google Ads of its day!!

One particular day in 2000 there happened to be an ad for a stone cottage in a place called Moynalty near Kells Co.Meath and it was in the correct section.. my heart was racing as we checked our circle..

The 'circle' was what we had drawn to limit ourselves to not considering anything further than one hours drive a

way from where we were renting and from where our jobs were..

And it was lying just on the circle boundary exactly one hour away!

It was worth a look..

It took us 3 goes to finally get there. We tried aimlessly to find the place ourselves first and failed miserably, in fairness it's not the easiest place to find! The second time we rang the owners to get directions but got lost hopelessly (pre google maps days!)

The 3rd time was indeed lucky as the owners brother came to meet us in the beautiful historic little village of Moynalty and we followed him out along the narrow roads with grass growing in the middle.

It was love at first sight for both of us.

It was mid summer, the grass was long and dark green there were buttercups everywhere, the foliage was in full bloom and it was wild unculvivated and overgrown, it was perfection.

My eyes drank in the views of the countryside, with the yellow of the whin bushes on a hilly outcrop and the fairy tree in the middle of an undulating sea of green but It was the moment Joe set eyes on the cottage that he was truly lit up.

It was nestled behind the overgrown garden, a small 3 roomed stone cottage with a red rusted iron roof, little sash windows (or what was left of them)bits of whitewash clinging on to the walls and a lean-to shed on one side.

It looked dishevelled, unkept, decayed and crumbling in parts but i still remember us pulling that makeshift door across and the feeling of excitement as we walked through the rooms.

This place had stolen our hearts but it was not only a tough battle to save what little we had towards a bank loan but a long journey to make it habitable.

In 2001 we signed our names on the deeds and by about 2002 we 'moved in'.

Now to most people when they say they are moving into a home you would expect a certain standard of basic things but not in this case!

Lucky for us we had backpacked around S.East Asia so sleeping in an old cottage with no proper door, broken windows and no heating on a bed made of boards supported by concrete blocks and with a corrugated iron roof half blowing off in the breeze while the local mice had a party was not the end of the world for us.. we had been through worse!

We both worked day jobs then came back and worked on the cottage. I was also studying for exams and Joe was trying to start out on his own business as a freelance stonemason. There were evenings he wouldn't get back till 8 or 9 after working alone all day and he'd have a bit of dinner and then start pointing the walls or making a door or putting a roof beam up on his own and i never ever heard him complain. It was a labour of love. The cottage was ours and though he was broke and exhausted he had purpose and it drove him on.

I have never known a harder worker than he was. He was physically strong but also mentally and he was always in a hurry to get a job done but by God it was always done right. No cut corners and no half measures and he had a thing about cleaning up afterwards. He always said leaving a mess after a job looked sloppy and was a sign of a sloppy worker. That amongst hundreds of other things has stuck with me.

You always hear good things about people after they die but Joe was one of those that people spoke highly of while he lived. He lifted energy in a room the moment he walked in.

He laughed and hugged as hard as he worked and he was loved dearly by so many.

Joe continued working on the cottage for 3 years until his untimely death and turned it into something beyond special.

His spirit lives on through everyone that loved him, but i know a big part of him watches over Trohanny cottage and his legacy is in every nook and cranny of these whitewash walls.

Trohanny cottage has a long history spanning almost 200 years but to me the most important history was made in those few years the stonemason left his mark.

Joe was killed in an road traffic accident on the morning of Wednesday 14th December 2005. He was 30 years old

Joe working on the renovation of Trohanny cottage in 2001

The Stonemasons mark Joe left on the granite fireplace surround he built in 2003/4 and the photo above of him playing his mandolin sitting by the same fireside before renovation in 2001

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