*Stephen and Michelle Mansfield at their Sixmilebridge home. Photograph: Joe Buckley
A Sixmilebridge couple have described their devastation with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the infestation of pyrite into their home.
Michelle and Steve Mansfield have lived on the outskirts of Sixmilebridge on the approach to Broadford for less than seven years but have been left stunned when the property which was constructed in 2006 was deemed to be infected by pyrite and in category three meaning it is damaged from the presence of defective concrete blocks.
Originally from Limerick, Michelle has been a front-line worker since returning to Ireland from the UK in 2004. Her husband Steve a former musician is a native of Bedfordshire and has struggled to find work since being made redundant. The pair met at the Cork Jazz Festival when Steve was one of the headline acts.
After longing for a move to the countryside, the pair were smitten with the Sixmilebridge property. Of the two of them, Steve was more keen to move into more peaceful surroundings and this ticked all the boxes. He admitted to having a longing guilt for choosing the home which has caused so much heartache for them.
On first inspection, they noticed settlement cracks, they were assessed by an engineer prior to making the purchase but no issues were detected. However in the past two years, cracks began to reappear. “There are probably more people who will make the same mistake we did and buy a house thinking it is just a settlement crack,” Michelle reflected.
Costs will prohibit people from knowing whether or not a house is infected by pyrite before they buy it, Steve felt. “The only way you can tell for certain is by having the tests done and that is going to cost €7000 or €8000 and not many people buying a house will have that lying around, if you push that onto the person selling the house they won’t have the extra either before they sell the place, it is an impossible situation”.
One occasion when they realised how big the problem was is vividly recalled by Michelle. “I’ll never forget it, Steve had a handful of this grey bit that just crumbled and he said I think it could be more sinister than plaster. For a while, we hoped it would be a bad plaster job. He brought it in and we were stunned, it was the smaller bits crumbling but it just came away after a tap. Somebody at the time was talking about how their blocks were like Weetabix. That night we contacted Martina Cleary from the Pyrite Action Group. He came in but I just didn’t want to think that the home we love and built around us with things that we love is going to start crumbling as we look at it, that started the ball rolling then”.
She continued, “We sat down a few weeks later and we said whatever happens we have to stay sane, try take care of our physical and mental health because I just felt the rug was pulled from underneath us, where we thought we were going to retire and live happy ever after but it now had the potential to not be there at all or we wouldn’t be able to afford whatever needed to be fixed because we were in the position where one of us was working, I’m in my fifties, Steve is close to retirement, he has been made redundant and hasn’t been successful in trying to find work and it’s not for the lack of trying but at a certain age it is challenging. You become obsessed by it, there was days when I went down and I was nearly seeing a crack before it appeared. You’re looking and waiting for it inside”.
Unable to have children, the bond between the pair has become more important than ever as it faces its biggest test. Michelle added, “It was really important to me to sit down and say if worst things come to worst and the house falls down that we still have each other, we’re not getting any younger and I was worried with the stress because when you get angry you take it on the person closest to you. It’s only the two of us so Steve is my number one punching bag if something goes wrong. I thought if we don’t stay united with this, we will fall apart and not only will we have lost a house but we will have lost each other”.
Whether the property will collapse and when this could occur is unknown. “The unknown certainty is there the whole time but a part of me is saying we get one shot at life and we have to continue living even though this is going on so we have to try and do the normal things together. Everybody has had such a tough year and a half with COVID so getting out and meeting family and friends without this shadow hanging over us the whole time,” Michelle said.
Steve equates the potential to change as like the song ‘life is a rollercoaster’. “I’m down in the garden, I’ve raked, dugged and have beds down there, all put in this year, I’ve broken my back down there and I’m halfway through the day and I’m thinking what the hell am I doing this for, the whole lot could be gone. If the place has to be demolished they have to get lorries in and they are not going to get through those gates so they will have to take those gates off, all that work I’m putting in”.
The couple stress that they would love to have a quick-fix solution such as a piece of paint that would make the cracks and pyrite woes disappear as the prospect of demolishing their forever home is a nightmare for them.