Huge national honour for acclaimed Donegal architect

20 Jan , 2020  

In June, celebrated Donegal Town headquartered McCabe Architects hit the headlines by beating off strong competition to scoop gold in the ‘Tourism & Hospitality Project of the Year’ category at the 2019 Irish Construction Industry Awards in the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Building Ireland had a chat with founder / managing director Declan McCabe to find out more about this outstanding, industry-leading, multi-award-winning practice.

The prize for ‘Tourism & Hospitality Project of the Year’ at this year’s Irish Construction Industry Awards was awarded to McCabe Architects for Cé Rath Maoláin – a striking public convenience building on scenic Rathmullan Pier.

One of the stand-out features of the design, which was highlighted by the judges, is the manner in which the building integrates so majestically into its historic setting as well as the use of materials and the elegant form of the eye-catching structure.

Though McCabe Architects is a frequent winner of both local and national awards, this latest success nevertheless represents a notable victory for the underdog as Cé Rath Maoláin saw off stiff competition from major, headline-capturing developments such as Center Parcs, Longford and Café en Seine, Dublin.

Notable for his innate ability to create designs that allow buildings to blend in seamlessly and delightfully with their landscape, generating an awe-inspiring natural flow, Declan McCabe and his talented, experienced eight-strong team are the minds behind some of the most stunning designs on the picturesque north west of the island. The natural beauty and workability of his area of genesis has been instrumental in getting Declan’s creative juices flowing and it’s no surprise given the popularity of his designs that McCabe Architects’ services are now in huge demand nationwide.

“It’s great to have won the award and we are absolutely delighted, but we’re back in the thick of things now,” notes MD Declan McCabe, a modest individual who would just as soon talk about the prospects of the Donegal gaelic football team as his own achievements! “It’s nice to get the bit of publicity and I suppose there’s always the opportunity to use that to your advantage. Certainly, it’s no harm to have yourself projected into the shop window every now and again and when you collect an award like this and word spreads, it might trigger something in somebody’s memory somewhere down the line and hopefully lead to more business.”

It must have been incredibly reassuring and vindicating to come out on top against a landmark development such as Center Parcs? “It was nice – and also to beat Café en Seine. Ours was commissioned by Donegal County Council and was a small public convenience building on the pier of Rathmullen. The brief was to design a building that would have changing rooms for the beach as well as toilets and showers and an information kiosk.

“It’s a real tourist hub there, with a ferry and boats coming in, but the building is located on what is an old pier, where the Flight of the Earls happened. It’s a protected structure so the challenge for us was to put in something that was sensitive and to ensure that the design and scale of the building were cognisant of its historic location.”

In addition to imagination and creativity, which must strike exactly the right balance between flamboyance and restraint, attention to detail is everything when it comes to a task such as this… “A lot of thought and dialogue went into it involving the various stakeholders and users,” Declan continues. “The end result is a very nice building that’s getting great use and feedback. One thing about any public building is to design them so that they can be used properly. If they function well, that’s a great bonus.”

McCabe Architects was founded twelve years ago and is an RIAI-registered practice based in Donegal town, with a second office in Sligo town. The practice has delivered a number of award-winning projects nationally and internationally and has gained national acclaim in recent years for the architectural and cultural success of its ecclesiastical projects. The uniqueness of many of its residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects has been met with excellent levels of client satisfaction, commercial success and media praise.

The progressive practice aims to produce contemporary design, responding to and respecting the history of the contextual architecture whilst delivering practical and sustainable solutions. McCabe Architects is one of only a few practices accredited in conservation, and specifically qualified to provide expert advice on conservation and adaptation of historic buildings and protected structures. 

Located in Brooks’ Business Centre, Finisklin Road, the Sligo office officially opened in April, 2016, further enhancing the services provided to the existing Sligo client base and allowing McCabe Architects to expand their services to Leitrim, Roscommon and Mayo.

Exceeding clients’ expectations, taking concepts where they’ve never gone before, and discovering singular design solutions for discerning clients all put high demand on the practice. To this end, Declan and his team have carved a niche for approaching ideas from new perspectives, with a serious respect for emerging technologies. The ongoing success of this approach is best demonstrated by the large number of clients who re-engage the firm time after time, and those who are referred to them by happy past customers.

Further teasing out the specific design characteristics that embody McCabe Architects, Declan states: “Ultimately, the main thing is that it has to work for the end user, so we put a lot of time and thought into looking at trends and doing forecasts. Also critical are the setting of the building and the siting of it. And the budget. For Cé Rath Maoláin, we had a fair budget and this always helps as financial restrictions are lessened.

“At the end of the day, your brief, budget and site are what will define your building. But you also have to give it an element of uniqueness, so I strive to give every building a certain drama or characteristics that help it stand out.

“Every public building should also have a distinguishable feature, be that a clock, a bell or steps or whatever. There should be something there to stand out, be that even in the subtlest way. For this one, we achieved that through the form of the building, whose seaward angles are a nod to the Flight of the Earls. There’s an old historic battlement nearby, which is a stone building as well with angular walls. Our building is reflective of it, respectful to it and blends in with it.”

As the leading architects in the north west, McCabe Architects provide a variety of services including architecture planning, interior design, building survey reports, energy consultation and more. Planning and managing entire projects from start to finish, they can handle a broad range of large and small projects including domestic, commercial and industrial builds – from high-end, one-off houses to schools, factories, conservation projects, hotels and local authority work.

The main counties covered are Donegal, Sligo, Derry and Leitrim, but McCabe Architects also work with clients throughout Ireland and the UK including Dublin, Galway, Cork, Belfast and London.

Stressing the importance of having detailed planning completed before any project goes to site, Declan concludes: “We’re located on the Wild Atlantic Way, where tourism is massively important, so to receive a national award in the Tourism and Hospitality category is particularly poignant. I always endeavour to come up with designs that suit the landscape here and tourism is a major part of that.”

McCabe Architects,


Old Laghey Road,

Donegal Town,

County Donegal.

Tel: 074 9743012.

Web: mccabearchitects.ie

Taken from Building Ireland Magazine, September, Vol 5 No 9