Wednesday 7 December 2016

A €1.85m Georgian estate fit for a lord

Kilfane House, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny €1.85m

Fran Power

Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30

Kilfane House on 79 acres of parkland
Kilfane House on 79 acres of parkland

Back in the 1960s the large Georgian property of Kilfane House in Co Kilkenny was a forlorn and dilapidated piece of history.

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It was up for auction and looked set to be bought and demolished. Until, that is, Mary Louise Clarke, her husband Hal and their family stopped to refuel at a petrol station in Kilkenny. The family were over from their home in Atlanta, Georgia, for a driving holiday in Ireland.

Kilfane House comes with a three-bed caretaker’s house
Kilfane House comes with a three-bed caretaker’s house

"As it was a hand pump and very slow," recalls Mary Louise now, "my husband and son crossed the street to look in the window of McCreery's Auctioneers and fell to talking with Mr McCreery. While they were chatting about old houses in the vicinity, they saw a picture of Kilfane and he suggested we go out and look at it."

What they found was "a beautiful setting with a beautiful house which badly needed help". When the house came to auction, the Clarkes were the only bidders who wished to restore it rather than pull it down. "Thus," says Mary Louise, "began our family quest to save Kilfane," and their long and careful restoration of the property.

Kilfane House was built in 1798 by the Bushe family, according to the Buildings of Ireland, on the former stronghold of the Lords of Kilfane who had been banished to Connacht. A ruined castle visible from the front of the house is the only reminder of their reign left today.

The house is a fine Georgian residence comprising three storeys over basement with a wing to either side. In the late 18th Century, Sir John Power, known as Captain Power from his service in the yeomanry in 1798, married Harriet Bushe, sister of the owner, and came to live at Kilfane. Captain Power brought with him his pack of foxhounds and established, with his brother Richard, the Kilkenny Hunt Club - for some years the only pack of county foxhounds in the country.

Kilfane House on 79 acres of parkland
Kilfane House on 79 acres of parkland

The house then continued in the ownership of the Powers and was extended and embellished over the 19th Century. The large entrance hall was built to impress and leads on either side to grand reception rooms. To the left, a sunny double-aspect drawing room with fine plasterwork has double sash windows that run to the floor giving access to the garden. Behind it, the light-filled library also has double sash windows. To the right of the entrance hall is the dining room where 20 or more guests could happily be accommodated for dinner. To the rear is the working kitchen and pantry which, no doubt, new owners would prioritise to update.

On the first floor, there are eight bedrooms and four bathrooms, while the second floor has many possibilities in terms of additional bedrooms, games room, office, gym or an apartment.

The basement has a warren of rooms including the original kitchen with vaulted ceiling and the old stove, while there is a wonderful wine cellar.

"In the 1970s," says Mary Louise, "when we were restoring the house, our working on the house as a family became a focal point for vacations. We met and engaged many local craftsmen."

Kilfane House's wood panelled rear hall
Kilfane House's wood panelled rear hall

Today, the house is once more in need of renovation, and such is the scale of the property that the purchaser will need deep pockets to carry out the works. However, the house has "good bones" and the rooms have not been mucked about with. Their lovely proportions and large sash windows make for an elegant, though not overly grand interior.

There is also the lure of a fine piece of parkland. The estate grounds run to 79 acres. A stream runs through the grounds with bridges giving access from the lawns to a well-tended orchard.

The caretaker's house is a large three-bedroom, two-storey building in good order that runs to 180sqm. A charming one-bedroom gate lodge sits at the main entrance, while there are a number of outbuildings and a walled garden.

The entire property would make a grand home for a purchaser who wished to live the life of the country squire but with good access to Dublin. Dublin Airport is just over an hour's drive away at 96km, the pretty village of Thomastown is 4km away and the heritage town of Kilkenny a half-hour's drive. It would also be a good investment property with potential for a tourism entreprise: it sits beside the renowned beauty spot Kilfane Waterfall and Glen, which were once part of its estate.

Kilfane House interior
Kilfane House interior

The Clarkes spent summer months at Kilfane every year. "Each afternoon, the family would gather in the red library to have a drink and compare stories of the day. The summer sun streaming in the tall windows of the library with views of the trees, the lake, the expanse of grass are images that members of our family recall with children and grandchildren. Those experiences are very much a part of our family's story."

Sadly, Hal Clarke passed away last year, aged 99, and Mary Louise is now in her 90s. "This chapter in our family's history is coming to a close," she says.

Fittingly, the sale is being handled jointly by Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes and local agent Peter McCreery, son of the original Mr McCreery who sold the house to the family all those years ago.

Joint agents: Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes (01) 237 6402, Sherry FitzGerald McCreery (056) 772 1904

Kilfane House's impressive pillared hallway
Kilfane House's impressive pillared hallway

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