The U2 House
The Sunday Times by Niall Donald (2004-06-06)
A cut-stone hideaway in Co Galway is renowned as the place where the band changed its fortunes, writes Niall Donald
The band had lost its way. After the release of the double album Rattle and Hum in October 1988, the music press — which had fawned over them throughout their career — branded the album “pretentious” and “excessive”. The accompanying film also received scathing reviews.
Licking their wounds that winter, the band stole away to Connemara and the solitude of Gowla Lodge, a cut-stone fishing lodge in 149 acres of barren mountain grazing land near Cashel.
Bono and The Edge cut themselves off for two weeks, accompanied by four staff members. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen joined them at weekends, flying in from New York on the first Saturday for breakfast.
The band cleared out all the furniture and set up equipment in the dining and drawing rooms. Bono and the Edge spent most of the two weeks recording new material for Achtung Baby, the album that would revolutionise the band’s sound.
Although mostly recorded in Berlin, and with a distinctly European feel full of dance beats and industrial guitars, the new direction was born in the wilds of Connemara.
Sixteen miles east of Clifden, in an area of sparse, rugged beauty, it’s easy to see why the paparazzi-shy group chose to hole up in Gowla Lodge. Recess, the nearest village, is five miles away and there isn’t a neighbour within shouting distance.
While working on new material, they blew their cover only once, when they contacted Martin O’Cathain, a journalist then working with Raidio Na Gaeltachta, to do an interview.
Recalling this significant event in his career, the broadcaster says: “Bono had a little Irish, and the Edge had some but not as much. They were very friendly and really made a good effort.” Raidio Na Gaeltachta asked them to record a couple of intros and Bono and the Edge practised repeatedly until they felt their Irish was up to scratch.
O’Cathain says: “Bono was the most culturally tuned in and he talked about Peig Sayers knowledgeably. He seemed really interested in Irish culture.” While both had chosen to do the interview, they insisted it shouldn’t be aired until the day they were leaving Connemara.
O’Cathain says: “They were the biggest band in the world at the time and they didn’t have to bother with us. The interview got picked up nationally and we got great publicity out of it.”
Despite their superstar status, the group didn’t entirely hide their presence in Gowla Lodge during their stay. The barmaid in Bolger’s pub, which serves Cashel as a bar, shop and post office, remembers the band mixing easily with locals. “They came in on a couple of occasions with their wives and children and were very well behaved. It was more a family get-together than a rock star party.” She remembers the band signing autographs for anyone who was interested.
“Overall, nobody got too excited about it. Most of the older generation in the bar didn’t even know who they were.”
Now on the market for €400,000, U2’s one-time hideaway is expected to achieve in excess of its asking price.
Selling agent Rod Spencer says: “The house is of cut stone constructionand is nearly 300 years old. It is set in secluded grounds at the foot of a hill overlooking the Gowla river, which is famous for its trout fishing. King Edward VII visited the house on one of his fishing expeditions.”
Owned by the Guinness family during the 19th century, Gowla Lodge fell derelict during the 1960s but was eventually restored in 1979. It retains many of its original features, such as marble floors, ornate cornicing and brass taps and handles.
The lodge has five bedrooms and a drawing room that opens on to a terrace. Outside there are patios to the west and south, while trees and shrubs surround the house. There is also a fairy rock nearby which, according to local legend, has mystical powers.
The surroundings are ideal for ramblers and the 149 acres are actually a one-fifteenth share in 2,235 acres of undivided commonage.
Such splendid isolation hasn’t gone unnoticed, however. The area is popular with holiday-home hunters and the former fishing lodge has already attracted interest from as far away as France. “The population in Cashel nearly doubles in the summer,” Spencer says.
Members of group have been back to the area quite a few times since then. It must have left an impression.