Narnia €1.95m mansion has links to 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' author CS Lewis
The house linked to 'Narnia Chronicles' creator CS Lewis
Published 15/05/2015 | 02:30
Richard Attenborough's 1993 big screen smash hit and tear-jerker Shadowlands was focused on the short but intense romance between a middle-aged CS Lewis and the young American poet Joy Gresham.
Starring Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins, the film sees the couple finding love only to discover that Gresham, who has two young children from a broken marriage, is terminally ill with cancer.
In the same year (1993) that thousands of cinema-goers were sobbing in their seats, the most pitied character in the movie - Gresham's orphaned young son Douglas - was in real life purchasing an historic country house in Carlow with the goal of setting up a Christian ministry.
Douglas Gresham was 10, and a huge fan of the Narnia books when his outspoken and controversial mother moved to the UK and married the softly spoken and bookish Irishman in 1956. Many noted the extreme contrasts in their personalities. After their mother died of cancer in 1960, Lewis continued to care for Douglas and his brother, David, who were the natural sons of the US crime writer William Lyndsay Gresham who killed himself two years later in 1962.
Sadly CS Lewis himself passed away from renal failure in 1963 and the Gresham boys inherited his literary estate.
Despite repeated tragedy and perhaps following on to Lewis's strong beliefs - which also infused his Narnia series - Douglas became a committed Christian, like his mother and stepfather.
Joy Gresham, who was from a Jewish background, had previously been a communist atheist in her younger years and converted on the basis of Lewis's writings, while Lewis himself had also been an atheist for many of his earlier years and was heavily influenced into Christianity by fellow author and friend JRR Tolkien.
So it happened that Douglas Gresham, by now an actor and producer, bought Rathvinden House, a Georgian manor in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, and opened it as Rathvinden Ministries, a Christian counselling and retreat centre.
Visitors were obliged to "leave their denomination on the doorstep", though there was apparently no prohibition on searching the wardrobes for other worlds. Previous stewardship of Rathvinden was held for many years in the early 20th century by the McClintock family.
In 1913, Gladys McClintock married Henry Bruen of nearby Oak Park. But after 26 years of marriage she caused scandal when she ran off with the Montenegran prince, Milo Petrovic-Njegos. They got as far as Roundstone, and lived out their days there.
Rathvinden's recent history has been more prosaic. The Greshams moved to Malta in the 2000s, and the house was bought as a development project at the height of the boom, with planning permission granted in 2007 for 65 houses and apartments - a project that hasn't gone ahead.
After that no one lived in it for several years, and it was put on the market again in 2011. The buyers this time were the Graham family, who poured lots of love and money into it and developed it into the first five-star guesthouse in Carlow, including the main house and two refurbished cottages.
Built in 1810, it was extended in 1840 with the addition of two handsome asymmetrical bows front and back. It now stands at 9,417 sq ft, on two storeys with a basement. Thanks to the Greshams and the Grahams it's in good repair, and still has period features including ornate plasterwork and original Georgian fireplaces.
The ground floor has all the reception rooms, reached from the main entrance hall, where there's an original fireplace with a stove in it, a carved staircase and a crystal chandelier (fixtures and fittings are included in the sale).
The main reception room is a triple-aspect drawing room, with bow windows at each end, parquet floors, and twin marble and brass fireplaces.
There's also a study with fitted bookshelves, and a dining room with a marble fireplace with a solid-fuel stove.
Opening from the dining room is the kitchen, which has painted cabinets with marble countertops, an oil-fired four-oven Aga, a centre island with a Belfast sink, and a utility room off it.
Another door in the kitchen leads to the basement, which is in separate accommodation at the moment. It consists of a kitchen with another oil-fired Aga, a sitting room with a bow window and fireplace, a boot room and a laundry room, where there's an industrial washing machine and dryer - helpful for washing guests' bedding.
There are three bedrooms in the basement, two of which are ensuite with fireplaces, and there's a separate bathroom.On the first floor are the six main bedrooms (five ensuite), including the master bedroom with two fireplaces and two bow windows. The master bedroom ensuite has a cast-iron bath and separate shower and dressing room.
Rathvinden is on 14 acres of grounds including a restored stable yard, with 13 stables and a tack room, a coach house cottage and gardener's cottage, and a barn.
At the entrance to the estate is a fetching folly in the form of a polygonal gate lodge.
The two refurbished cottages have one bedroom each. The gardener's cottage has a kitchen and utility, a sitting room with original stone fireplace, a conservatory overlooking a stream, and a bedroom with ensuite bath and walk-in wardrobe. The coach house cottage has a kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and bathroom, and a patio outside.
In 2013 the Grahams secured planning permission to convert the stable yard into a Victorian village tourist attraction consisting of a gallery, bakery, toy shop, candle shop, doctor's surgery, haberdashery, post office, school, curiosity shop, dairy, blacksmith and saddlery.
The grounds consist of mainly pasture and parkland, with some august old trees including cedar, oak, beech and lime. The gardens around the house are interspersed with gravel paths and a rose arch leads to a walled kitchen garden with a greenhouse and orchard.
There's also a refurbished tennis court.Rathvinden is in the village of Leighlinbridge, famous as the birthplace of the 19th-century physicist John Tyndall. It's a little over an hour's drive from Dublin via the M9 motorway, which bypasses the village.
Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow
Asking price: €1.95m
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald McDermott (059) 9140344