Tuesday 29 July 2014

Oliver's Twist

Ireland's most extravagant baronial castle is newly resurrected and can now be bought for €2.95m

Mark Keenan

Published 28/03/2014|02:30

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The front view of Castle Oliver, including the front gardens.
The front view of Castle Oliver, including the front gardens.
The elaborate drawing room.
The elaborate drawing room.
One of the ornate platoon of stone gryphons
One of the ornate platoon of stone gryphons

BACK in the mid noughties Castle Oliver, one of Ireland's most fantastic fantasy castles and country homes had almost been lost forever. Its famous platoons of vigilantly posed and armed stone gryphons stood helplessly guarding over a shameful deterioration on a vast scale.

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Located just outside Ardpatrick in Co Limerick, it's famously beautiful stained glass windows were shredded and coloured petals of glass flapped in the wind through the torn gaps, it's fairytale conical turret tops had been pulled down by its owners to prevent them toppling in the winds, parts of the roof were missing and the rain was streaming in.

When the previous owner of the Castle, Nicholas Browne, first came to Castle Oliver he found a tree growing out of the stairwell and a hole in the roof above right after the grand staircase had been stolen.

The house had previously been owned by the Oliver and related Trench and Gascoigne families.

As far back as 1988 it had been listed hopelessly as "derelict" in Ireland's national roll of conservation shame – the book Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland.

It's magical but decrepid corridors had more recently been captured in the startling photo work of Tarquin Blake's Abandoned Ireland website, which today documents Ireland's critical country homes and historic shells.

Then in mid 2006, the red hued country home in the Scots Baronial style was acquired by a young Antrim based developer Declan Cormack and his wife Emma. Who invested years and more than €3m restoring one of Ireland's most magical big houses.

After a lengthy and sympathetic restoration its halberd and shield wielding gryphons can stand proud once more. Today Castle Oliver is back to it's baronial best and the Cormack family have just placed it on the market fully furnished and ready for sale for €2.95m.

The Cormacks, who dipped a toe in the market early last year but withdrew the property to wait for rising values, are now preparing to move on to another project.

Among the restored aspects of the red sandstone behemoth is the stain glass north facing window of the "welcoming hall," otherwise known as Clondfoy Hall (Clondfoy was the previous name of the house).

The detail depicts the life of St Patrick. It was only preserved thanks to the photos taken by a historican who happened to snap the detail before the elements began to shred it.

The window had originally been made by the two sisters who built the castle, Elizabeth and Mary Oliver-Gascoigne – who were unique in their day as fine craftswomen in fields then dominated by men only. Indeed Mary was a European authority on wood turning and published a definitive guide on the subject under a male pseudonym which was recommended as a standard text in this field for generations after her death.

Construction started in 1845 and ran on until at least 1857, providing lots of famine relief work for the locals.

The extravagant design was provided by architect George Fowler Jones and used a characteristic local red sandstone quarried on the estate.

The house it replaced an original fortified house put there by the original Cromwelian landlord and the estate had been the birthplace of Eliza Oliver, the famous scarlet lady and courtesan of the European royalty who was better known as Lola Montez – lover of King Ludvig of Bavaria.

This is without doubt one of Ireland's most unusual houses. It has many architectural twists and turns including tower like keeps, stepped gables, corbelled oriels and a walkable roof terrace lined with fierce gargoyles straight from fantasy fiction.

There are pierced Jacobethan paraphets and inside the ceiling work and timber carving detail, especially that in the Gothic style, is simply astounding.

Among its features are the aforementioned great welcoming hall with its giant sized fireplace and grand oak staircase, the wood panelled library, a billiard room with a gothic oak carved fireplace, a gothic diningroom with its 22-seater table and with stencilled walls and heraldic corbels.

There's a drawingroom and a magnificent ballroom with an elaborate hand painted ceiling.

All the ground floor reception rooms have 18ft ceiling clearance, while the windows run from ceiling below waist level almost to the floor – a feature well ahead of its time.

The first floor and upper mezzanine floor has twelve bedrooms all with their own bathrooms and each in a different style.

The main bedroom with all its ensuites and dressing room accommodation is itself almost the size of an average Irish family home at 800sq ft.

There are nine more bedrooms in need of refurbishment, and perhaps a hint as to the parties which were once held here – Castle Oliver houses Ireland's largest wine cellar which has a capacity to hold 55,000 bottles of fine plonk.

The house is being sold fully furnished with lands of 15 acres through Ganly Walters (01-6623255).

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