May 14 2012

THIS is the house that Gerry built: his four-bedroom getaway deep in the Donegal Gaeltacht. [no photo]

Off the road, hidden away up a laneway, the stone-fronted home was a nerve centre for Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams during the Northern Ireland peace process.

But the fact that Mr Adams even had a holiday home on this side of the border was relatively unknown to the general public — until then Justice Minister Michael McDowell pithily highlighted his properties in a TV debate before the 2007 general election.

After being elected as a TD for Louth last year, Mr Adams declared the property on his Register of Interests.

A handwritten ‘Private Road’ notice, in Irish, warns off anyone from going any further towards the secluded building, hidden away behind a 6ft-high wall and security gate.

Trees in spring bloom surround the small site, which overlooks the cottage of a neighbour in the townland of Cashel, Gortahork.

It wasn’t always like this though — for a decade Mr Adams was happy to make do with a caravan on the site.

But in the early 1990s, as republicans edged towards peace, Mr Adams began to make his holiday getaway more permanent as he slowly oversaw the building of his new home.

Builders from Gaoth Dobhair, 25km away along the coast road, were called in as he turned his caravan in the country into a tidy holiday home.

“It’s actually very modest,” says one republican who has been inside.

“The stone finish on the outside is very traditional in that area and Gerry likes tradition.

“It’s quite sparse, like a lot of holiday homes, I suspect.”

It was here in Co Donegal where Adams would often meet the republican leadership during the early days of the peace process — though one meeting which led to a split in the IRA took place in an old boarding school in the townland of Ballyconnell, in nearby Falcarragh, in October 1997.

IRA quartermaster Michael McKevitt and his partner Bernadette Sands, sister of hunger striker Bobby, walked out of that meeting and went on to found the Real IRA.

Throughout his time in Donegal, Adams’ movements were monitored by gardai, keen to gather intelligence on the direction of the peace process.

“All the republican leadership would go to Gortahork,” said one former special branch garda.

“It was like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the IRA at the time and our bosses in Dublin wanted to know everything.”

These days garda cars that pass close to his home do so to protect him.

This is a wild and remote and very beautiful part of north Donegal.

Offshore you can see ‘Elvis’ — the island of Tory, said jokingly to resemble Elvis Presley lying on his back, the rocks at one end forming the King’s quiff.

Mr Adams is said to love it here because he gets a chance to practise his cupla focal with native speakers.

You’re more likely to hear Irish spoken here than you are in the better-known Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht up the road.

Unsurprisingly, getting the locals to talk about their most famous holiday-homer isn’t that easy.

“He pops into the shop and chats away as Gaeilge,” said one. “He keeps himself to himself most of the time and I’ve never heard him talk about politics here except on the election campaign for Pearse Doherty.”

During the building boom, Mr Adams’s home in the hills was once valued at €250,000. It actually cost about IR£55,000 to complete.

“In the current climate, and with inflation taken in, he’d struggle to get his money back,” one estate agent said.