There are a number of tempting country houses on the market in Ireland this year
As the shock waves caused by Britain’s decision to leave the EU continue to reverberate around the world, the consternation felt in Ireland at the likely effects of the Brexit vote on the country’s economy is alleviated among those involved in the Irish country-house market by the sector’s increasingly diverse and international buyer profile.
Historic-house specialist David Ashmore of Sotheby’s Realty’s new Ireland office explains: ‘Although British-based buyers have always exerted a major influence on the luxury-home market in Ireland, in recent years, they have represented only one of many countries whose nationals find Ireland an attractive place in which to own a second home or even a permanent base.
‘In recent decades,’ he continues, ‘overseas buyers have accounted for some 50% of purchases in the country-homes market, but, latterly, this has increased to between 65% and 70%, with the USA and Canada leading the way, followed by Britain and Ireland, and then the rest of Europe.’
Mr Ashmore’s experience is backed up by that of country-house agents Sherry Fitzgerald, who report a 45% increase in web traffic from UK residents looking to buy in Ireland in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. The Irish passport office has been inundated with enquiries from UK applicants considering a change of flag.
‘Many UK buyers look to areas along the Wild Atlantic Way, the spectacular 1,600-mile coastal route that runs from the Inishowen peninsula in the north to the picturesque port of Kinsale in West Cork. These areas are served by Knock and Cork airports, which make them more accessible for London buyers than a holiday home in Cornwall,’ says Roseanne De Vere Hunt, who heads up the firm’s country homes and estates operation.
Tailor-made for international buyers seeking a haven of peace and tranquility is idyllic Massbrook House in Co Mayo, a substantial Victorian pile set in 113 acres of pasture and woodland on the shores of Lough Conn, against the majestic backdrop of Nephin mountain, which dominates the landscape for miles around. Sherry Fitzgerald (00 353 1 639 9300) quote a guide price of €2.75 million for the scenic Massbrook estate, which has been owned since 1994 by Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first lady President, and her husband, Nick, who are now looking to downsize.
Built between 1887 and 1890 to the designs of the eminent Victorian architect Sir Thomas Drew, Massbrook House was subsequently owned by the ‘popular and affable’ Percy Mitchell, High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, who apparently spent vast sums ‘improving the beauty of a place which nature had already dowered with liberal hand’. Following his death in 1902, the estate was sold for £6,575, deemed by the local paper as ‘satisfactory evidence that Irish sporting properties are in good demand’.
In 1913, the estate was bought by Frederick Birch, one of Mitchell’s executors, who was a regular visitor until his death in 1935. In 1929, he lent the house to Lord and Lady Burghley for their honeymoon. Having won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympics, Lord Burghley was something of a celebrity and local folklore has it that, during his stay at Massbrook, he managed to hurdle the main gate, which, if true, was no mean feat. Birch left Massbrook to a friend, who sold it three years later. There followed a succession of owners until, in 1967, it was bought by Denis Ferranti, whose private helicopter was a familiar sight and sound in north Mayo in the 1970s and 1980s. Mr and Mrs Robinson purchased the house from Mr Ferranti’s estate.
The main house stands at the end of a long, tree-lined drive and has 6,800sq ft of accommodation, including four reception rooms and five bedrooms, three with en-suite bathrooms. It is beautifully sited overlooking the 14,000-acre Lough Conn, which boasts some of the best brown-trout and salmon fishing in the west of Ireland.
At the southern end of the Wild Atlantic Way, Sherry Fitzgerald O’Neill (00 353 23 883 39 95) quote a guide price of €4.2m for the exquisite, Georgian Burren House at Kilbrittain, Co Cork, which stands in a glorious position overlooking Courtmacsherry Bay and the Old Head of Kinsale. Impeccably restored and furnished by its Canadian owners, who bought it in 2002 and are now offering it for sale with most of its contents, the house is wonderfully accessible from the UK, being a genuine 35-minute drive from Cork airport. Its beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds, which include an enchanting, Mediterranean-style water garden, have been the setting for open air operas enjoyed by up to 400 people.
Built in 1790 on the site of an old castle designed to keep an eye on the comings and goings in the channel below, Burren House has some 3,552sq ft of living space, with a classic, four-square Georgian layout of a drawing room, dining room, living room and kitchen arranged around a central staircase hall. In addition to the seven bedrooms in the main house and an adjoining building, the converted coach house provides a separate two-bedroom apartment.
Water always goes down a treat with Irish home-buyers and if neither sea nor lake is on the menu, then one of the country’s great rivers will do nicely. Ireland Sothebys International Realty (00 353 87 251 29 09) are asking €925,000 for elegant, late-19th-century Aghade Lodge, on the banks of the river Slaney, near Tullow, Co Carlow.
It comes with 8.8 acres of pleasure grounds with frontage to the Slaney, including a magical river island. The house offers some 5,500sq ft of accommodation, including three main reception rooms, six bedrooms and four bath/shower rooms, with a further 2,460sq ft available in four courtyard apartments. An additional 200 acres, including river frontage, may be available by separate negotiation.
Happily, it’s not all one-way traffic across the Irish Sea in the wake of Brexit. Richard and Liz Collins are selling St John’s House at Lecarrow, Co Roscommon, their much-loved home on the western bank of Lough Ree— a vast, 32km-long lake that offers excellent fly-fishing and claims to be the geographical centre of Ireland— and returning to the UK to be closer to family. Selling agents Ganly Walters (00 353 1 662 3255) quote a guide price of €475,000 for the dreamy lakeside retreat, which has been carefully restored by the present owners.
It has been a long-term labour of love for Mr Collins, who used to spend his school holidays here before the estate was sold off in the 1960s. He and his wife seized the opportunity to buy it back when it came onto the market in 2004. St John’s House stands in a wonderfully private setting with magnificent views over the lough and comes with three reception rooms, a study, four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a range of restored traditional outbuildings.