Each summer the Bandon-born TV presenter and comedian spends more than two months at his home in Ahakista, close to Bantry in West Cork
From helping as compere on a charity fashion show, to judging a competition for the Ahakista Community Association, to mingling in local bars, restaurants and cafes, Graham Norton gets pretty stuck in locally when he holidays in west Cork each year.
Of course, it helps that Norton grew up in Bandon, which is within an hour’s drive. After he left Ireland, Norton used to visit Cork city, where he had a two-bedroomed penthouse apartment which he reportedly sold in 2004 for €350,000, netting €100,000 profit in the process. Shortly afterwards he bought Ahakista House, a fine period home with a view over Dunmanus Bay, close to Bantry, for somewhere in the region of €1.6 million, hiring Stephen Smith of Edge Architecture to help with renovations.
In Cork recently to collect an honorary doctorate from University College Cork, Norton spoke about finding his dream holiday home, or more accurately, how his sister found the house for him. “It’s just outside Bantry on the Sheep’s Head peninsula which is a beautiful bit of coast. I grew up in Bandon, so that whole bit of west Cork I knew very well. I had a place in the city and I was looking for a seaside place and my sister found this house. It is a paradise. I love it.”
Is there a particular clique of like-minded media or arty types he hangs around with in west Cork, I ask? “I don’t think we’re an arty set. We’re just dossers who get time off and come to a very beautiful place. I do think it is an artistic place in that there are a lot of artists down there, and potters, and people like that. If you are attracted by things that are visual, there is no denying it is a gorgeous part of the world. It is far less exploited than Cornwall or Devon, which are similarly beautiful, but it is so much more remote and unexplored.”
Norton has been holidaying in the area since the early 2000s, and would have witnessed the last excesses of the Celtic Tiger years, followed by the subsequent downturn. Is it fair to say that areas in west Cork came through those years better than most?
“The area was not really unscathed. What happened was some people came there on a sunny weekend, bought a house and they are kind of stuck now. You put your retirement money into a house,” he said. “I do feel sorry for those people who weren’t to know it was all built on a house of cards or whatever. The country will come through all of this. It is like anything that happens to you in life that’s terrible, you can’t just go oh actually, let’s call it quits, I’m out of here.”