Katarina Runske first arrived in West Cork 30 years ago into what she describes as “black and white picture postcard” Durrus. “There were still donkeys and carts on the street.” The Swedish native and trained classical pianist now calls West Cork home. Owner of Grove House guesthouse and restaurant on Colla Road in Schull, Katarina talks to Mary O’Brien about life as a working single mother in West Cork.
Katarina brought up her two sons singlehandedly in West Cork, supporting her family by giving piano lessons at home (sometimes teaching up to 60 music students a week), while also working part-time in restaurants in nearby Kinsale. She has also co-owned an interiors shop in Kinsale and somehow, somewhere managed to fit in studying law at UCC.
She followed her mother, the late Catherine Noren to Dunworley, where her mother ran a restaurant for a number of years.
“I had no money at all but the local bank manager liked me and gave me a loan to buy a little cottage in Kilbrittain,” she recalls smiling. “That’s what it was like in those days.”
Although she lived in West Cork, Katarina says she always had “a hankering to move back down west west, closer to Durrus.”
So, as you do, Katarina borrowed a million from the bank and bought Grove House in Schull.
Previously hosting such distinguished guests as George Bernard Shaw, Jack B Yeats and Edith Somerville, Grove House is steeped in history and character, and with Katarina at the helm, lots and lots of personality. Each room is filled with wonderful pieces of art and treasures, collected by Katarina over her lifetime. There are books stacked from floor to ceiling all over the house.
“I didn’t have a penny left to spend on the house after buying it, but luckily I had loads of stuff!
“I really must take the time to write down the history of the house soon,” she adds, explaining how a local vicar originally built it for his daughter in the mid-1800s. A Capt. Jagoe built on an extension and the Symes sisters ran it as a hotel for 30-odd years. It was also a home for the elderly at one time.
Now Grove House is a retreat for writers, artists and food lovers and Katarina says that she is genuinely happy with her lot in life…although it hasn’t always been an easy journey!
When the financial crash hit Ireland, Katarina spent two years under severe pressure and six years ago she fell seriously ill. “Luckily my cancer happened in the off season,” she says dryly. “You just get on with it.”
Katarina had two operations and spent much of the next three months in CUH getting treatment. “The entire village drove me up and down daily…it was amazing,” she says. “My son Nico was living here so he was such a help when I was ill. I’m so proud of both my boys. They’re both wonderful and the highlight of my life.”
During that period of her life, Katarina decided perhaps it was time to sell Grove House. “I was recovering from my illness and at the time I felt I needed a change,” she explains.
So Grove House went on the market and Katarina opened a bookshop and cafe, Anna B’s, in Schull; a project on a smaller scale that she hoped would give her time to travel and visit friends.
But now Katarina says, “we are not ready to leave each other”.
She continues, “I think when I had this notion to sell, the ghosts of Grove House got involved!”
And so, in the mornings Katarina is up with the birds, hanging napkins and sheets, loading and unloading machines and meeting and greeting guests, before heading over to Anna Bs. “In the summer I try to get a swim in first.”
She does the ordering for the restaurant at the bookshop, which doubles as a “box office for the restaurant.”
“We have the menu on display at the bookshop so a lot of the time people who come in for a browse, will also book a table at Grove. It works very well.”
In the afternoons, she is back at Grove in the kitchen getting ready for dinner service.
In her fifties, Katarina is full of energy and life – a real force of nature.
“Even when I was sick I felt I had things to do, I’m not finished yet,” she says.
And in years to come, when the going does get too tough, she plans on moving her friends in with her at Grove House. “We’ll be the Golden Girls of Schull,” she says in a fit of laughter.