In the past 20 years, the survival of many great Irish country houses has been due to the willingness of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger millionaires to invest large chunks of their fortunes buying and restoring rundown historic estates previously owned by the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Now, as Ireland’s 10-year property bonanza finally slithers to a halt, it is ironic that one of this year’s property success stories should be the turnaround of the 1,000-acre Castle Leslie estate at Glaslough, Co Monaghan, by one of their own, blue-blooded ‘Celtic tigress’ Samantha Leslie.
Home to the Irish branch of the Clan Leslie since 1665, Castle Leslie is one of only 30 Irish estates still owned by the original family. A family of eccentrics by their own admission, successive generations of Leslies have been bishops, politicians, agricultural and social reformers, painters, collectors, writers, war heroes and bon viveurs. But bean-counters they were not, and Castle Leslie’s fortunes were at a low ebb when the young Samantha Leslie, a trained hotelier, took over the running of the estate in the early 1990s.
Sixteen years on, she has overseen the restoration of the crumbling 1870s Scots- baronial style castle, set up a cookery school in the castle’s Victorian kitchens, bought back and transformed the original hunting lodge into a boutique hotel and equestrian complex, and created Ireland’s answer to Poundbury in nearby Glaslough village.
Much-needed capital for the ongoing regeneration of Castle Leslie has come from the sale of 70 charming, Georgian- style cottages and houses built on estate parkland as a natural extension to pretty Glaslough. The carefully planned and thoughtfully priced development is laid out around a traditional village square and village green, with many of the houses overlooking Castle Leslie’s signature emerald lake. All have been individually designed and exceptionally well finished, with rendered or natural stone walls, slate roofs, hardwood floors, timber-panelled doors, sliding sash windows and kitchens with granite worktops. Only 10 remain for sale, ranging from an 850sq ft, three-bedroom, terraced cottage at ?330,000 at 3,035sq ft detached, stone-fronted, five-bedroom house overlooking the lake at ?875,000. Property sales are being handled by William Montgomery (028 4278 8668) and Gartlan (00 353 47 72277), and ownership includes full membership of the new private members’ club at Castle Leslie, which allows access to the estate’s unique facilities.
William Montgomery and Michael H. Daniels (00 353 22 46996) quote a guide price of ?10 million for another Irish estate with historic equestrian connections. Ballyneale House at Ballingarry, in Co Limerick Hunt country, was previously the home of sporting baronet Sir Thomas Ainsworth, although it has changed a mite since his day. David Pearl, the current owner, has given the property trophy status by completely refurbishing the classic, three-storey, late-Georgian house set in 200 acres of gardens, woods, pasture and parkland.
The main house has three elegant reception rooms, four bedrooms and three bathrooms, with a second kitchen and further family and domestic rooms on the lower-ground floor. The inner stable courtyard has been converted to four luxurious guest suites, a manager’s house and a staff apartment, with the outer stable courtyard providing 10 loose boxes, a cinema and a billiard room. The spectacular gardens and grounds, which are floodlit by night, include an ornamental lake, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a nine-hole golf course and a 3,000ft grass airstrip.
This year has seen a definite slowdown in the market for Irish country houses, agrees Edward Townshend of Dublin-based Colliers Jackson-Stops (00 353 1 633 3700), who says that it took him a year to complete the sale of the 160-acre Glenmore House equestrian and shooting estate at Crossmolina, Co Mayo, for ‘slightly less’ than the guide price of ?2.8m. He quotes a guide price of ?15m for the picturesque Tynte Park estate at Dunlavin, Co Wicklow in the heart of fashionable Kildare Hunt country. The focal point of the 145-acre estate is the skilfully restored, six-bedroom Georgian house built by the Tynte family in 1820, which has extensive modern equestrian facilities set against the backdrop of the glorious Wicklow Mountains.