The double-barrelled renovation diary: Esther O'Moore Donohue renovation is a rollercoaster

By Aoife Valentine Secor 26-03-2020

Buying an old house is no joke – thankfully Esther O’Moore Donohue has a serious sense of humour about her tumble-down pile. Welcome to the second installment of her renovation diary...

Illustrations by Karen Harte

RoRo Keating wasn’t wrong. Life is a rollercoaster. One day you could wake up and find a surprise tenner in your pocket or a vending machine gives you two packets of crisps for the price of one.

Then there are the days you type ‘sink caddy’ into Google. Of course, you don’t know that’s what it’s called initially. You just know you need to get something to shove your washing bits in. Entry level search terms include ‘sink holder’ ‘sink tidy’ ‘sink organiser’ and ‘does your sink spark joy?’

The internet knows whassup though and very quickly starts showing you pictures at the top of the page. Before you know it, you’re sitting in bed at midnight with your laptop exclaiming ‘CADDY!’ Yes! A sink CADDY is what I’ve been searching for! But now you are deep in Caddyville so you cast the net wider, ‘cool caddy’ ‘best caddy’ ‘the caddy’s caddy’.

After reading 593 Amazon reviews and talking to your local Peace Commissioner, you select The Ultimate Sink Caddy, made ethically in the Republic of Caddyagua and pop it in your trolley. then calculates it will cost approximately €752.86 to ship to Ireland and will arrive next October.

Renovating a house can escalate just as quickly. Before deciding to dive in and get the damp treated, the most home improvement I’d bothered with was hanging a picture or painting a bedroom. This was the first big bit of work I’d ever undertaken. I did some research, and to naive old Esther Two Names, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

Someone would drill a few lil’ holes in my bockety old walls and pipe soothing anti-damp serum into the bricks to make it all disappear. It’d be like a lovely, relaxing treatment for the house. ‘Let go of all the moisture you’ve been hanging onto, Esther’s House. Unhook your bra and enjoy yourself! I was certain Operation Dampsformation would be a piece of cake.

I returned home from work one evening to find my sitting room looked like a Lockheed Martin F-22 Fighter Jet had flown through it – I thought I might have slightly underestimated the task ahead. In their naked pelt, the walls revealed themselves to be barely hanging together.

From the front room I could see right through to the kitchen. They were so flimsy I had to 999 the plasterer to reinforce them so Damp Man could continue. This is where the fun really started. If Damp Man was from Venus, Plaster Man was from Mars and I was stuck in the middle. Good Jaysus. On top of all that, just as things were reaching peak grimsville, the rain came and water started trickling in from all four corners. It was, as they say, all kicking off.

When I parted ways with my first plasterer, I had to find his replacement ASAP as nothing else could proceed otherwise. Everyone I knew was utterly useless with zero building contacts among them. They were like, “I could do you a podcast and put you in touch with my friend Doonla who makes earrings out of mushrooms?” A shower of useless, creative wallies. I had to take matters into my own hands and inveigled my way deep into several plastering chat rooms online. I bantered back and forth with Liverpool1996 and Pla$T3ringP3T3r to try to figure out what was the best method of fixing my walls.

Like a woman possessed, night after night, a different plastering suitor would call to quote the job. They’d rub their chins sceptically and ask things like, “Who did these walls? It wasn’t Noxer Byrne was it?” I’d trot out a line fed to me by Damp Man: “I want you to build out to the profile of the coving using sand and cement, do warmboard on the two externals and I absolutely do not, under any circumstances, want a gypsum-based compound to be used on these walls.”

Then. to show them I really knew what I was talking about and not to be messed with, I’d throw in, ‘Of course I’d love a breathable system like Ecotherm but I’m not Elon Ruddy Musk am I?” And then I’d laugh and walk backwards out of the room. I was talking complete horse dung and it seemed to be working.

Was Googling, ‘anatomy of a plaster surface’ what I imagined I’d be doing when I bought the house? Readers, it was not. My visions were of mostly of me wearing dungarees, a daub of lilac smeared across one cheek, sitting on the third step of a ladder looking cool.

But, as Ro himself might say, renovating a houssssh isssh a rollercooooastah baybuh, y’jussst gottaaa roide iiiit. And my rollercoaster was picking up speed.


The 80% with Esther O’Moore Donohoe is a podcast where Esther is 80% happy for the success of her guests. Subscribe to her podcast and sign up for her newsletter at


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