Glamorous Galway home once visited by Mick Jagger on the market for €1.25m
Bermingham House, Tuam, Co Galway €1.25m
If the walls of Bermingham House near Tuam could speak, they would have plenty of tales to tell, according to its owner, Oonagh Mary Hyland, who grew up in the house and has lived there almost all her life.
Principal amongst those stories are those of hunt balls and glamorous guests, during the time when the house was owned by Oonagh's mother, Lady Mollie Cusack Smith, the legendary huntswoman and Master of the Galway Blazers, who also lived at Bermingham for most of her life.
"They were wild nights," says Oonagh. "The local guards would come along to inspect what was going on and my mother would invite them in for a drink!" Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were amongst the many to avail of Lady Mollie's hospitality.
Oonagh, an only child, recalls Bermingham being a wonderful house in which to grow up.
"I enjoyed the freedom of it enormously. I would just wander off on my pony and disappear for hours. And, of course, I hunted from an early age, which was great fun."
The Galway Blazers still meet three times a week during the hunting season, with a dedicated cohort that turns out come rain, hail or snow.
Bermingham House was built in 1730 by John de Bermingham, Earl of Louth and 15th Baron of Athenry. In the 19th Century, the estate passed to a member of the Dennis family, who is said to have won it in a bet.
John Dennis founded the County Galway hunt in 1829 and, when he died, the estate passed to the O'Rorke family, and on down to Lady Mollie, who was an O'Rorke until her marriage to Lord Dermot Cusack Smith.
Approached through a fine pair of gate pillars and up a tree-lined drive, Bermingham House stands on 211 acres of mature parkland, which these days is mainly used for grazing sheep and horses.
Known locally as The Pink House - the colour was chosen by Lady Mollie as the closest she could find to hunting pink, and Oonagh rightly says that you can't miss it - Bermingham is a perfectly balanced Georgian mansion that appears to sit in a saucer, located in flat terrain and partly enclosed by tree-covered eskers.
The front elevation has three bays and two storeys, with unusually widely spaced side-lights to the front door; the east elevation has five bays, and the west four. The front hall has splendid marble floors and a magnificent ceiling; an elegant staircase ascends past a huge window to the second floor.
The drawing room has an Adams fireplace and houses a grand piano said to have been played by Mozart, while the dining room, with doors from both the hall and the drawing room, is a room designed for entertaining on a grand scale. Its walls are hung with portraits of Bermingham's former owners, including John Dennis, first master of the Co Galway hunt, and Lady Mollie herself.
To the left of the front door is a cosy smoking room and the adjacent breakfast room is the only room in the house which has yet to be restored. The large, bright kitchen, to the rear of the house, is dominated by a huge Aga, and there is a separate utility room and stairs down to the basement and cellars. A self-contained apartment, suitable for staff accommodation, lies to the rear.
Upstairs, the seven bedrooms are bright and spacious, with elegant proportions and fine views out over the gardens. Some have cast iron fireplaces and others marble, and one bedroom has a small sitting room attached.
Outside, the courtyard and other yards offer stabling for 21 horses plus a full complement of sheds, a cattle crush, and all ancillary facilities.
The original walled garden retains its charm and will reward the green-fingered once it receives the attention that it deserves.
When Oonagh inherited Bermingham House 20 years ago, she undertook a significant restoration, which included installing en suite bathrooms to six of the seven bedrooms. She ran the house as a B&B for a time, and hosted weddings for up to 150 guests, with dancing into the early hours. She suggests that new owners may consider doing the same to defray the costs of running such a grand house, pointing out that the new motorway that is due to open next year will be only three kilometres away from the house, making it more accessible than it has been to date. Bermingham House first came to market last year with an asking price of €1.75m, and is now priced at €1.25m.
"In my mother's time, we had four or five people working on the estate, along with a cook, maid, and butler," she said. "Now it's just me, myself and I, and it's time to scale down."
- Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes (01) 237 6308 /Sherry FitzGerald Mannion (093) 26622
Portrait photograph by Mark Condren