Palladian without peers - the vast Marfield Estate
Tipperary's most corrupt politician built Marlfield
When it came to political favours for sale, few could match the brass necked appetite for cash graft of the aptly named 18th Century Tipperary MP Colonel John Bagwell – better known by his nickname: "Old Bags."
The owner of the then vast 3,500 acre Marlfield Estate outside Clonmel was best known for causing a scandal during the run up to the introduction of the Act of Union in 1799 and 1800 when he very publicly u-turned on his position to support the dissolution of the Irish parliament.
In fact "Old Bags" changed sides twice in the lead up to the 1800 vote, much to the consternation of Lord Lieutenant Cornwallis who was in charge of bribery – handing out dosh, favours and appointments to Irish MPs in order to secure the Union vote for the authorities in London. The problem was that Cornwallis had already paid Bagwell handsomely for his vote.
When this was put to Bagwell he chirruped that he had been offered €9,000 by the opposition to change sides but helpfully suggested that he would change back again for €10,000 – along with an assortment of prestigious appointments for his sons and friends.
Even by the political standards of the day society was shocked. But Bagwell's vote was bought (again), the Act of Union was carried and the Tipperary grafter bagged his £10k – the equivalent of €760,000 today.
Bagwell was a builder, whose family accumulated a fortune constructing flour mills here after his ancestor arrived with Cromwell's New Model Army. Undeniably he was fabulously rich – he had more than 5,000 acres around the country – but he hadn't got what he wanted more than anything else – a title.
To this end Old Bags began to take the usual steps – in 1785 he completed one of the grandest Palladian mansions Ireland had ever seen. Marlfield was constructed on his estate 3km outside Clonmel and has one of the widest frontages of any Irish country seat. He also founded the local loyalist militia of which he made himself colonel and he began lobbying anyone and everyone who would listen to his case for a peerage.
While initially embraced in the British parliament, "Old Bags" soon wore out his welcome at Westminster with his overtly opportunistic switches of loyalty for favours and dosh. The powers-that-be grew wary of his ways and began deliberately blocking him in his quest for a title to such a degree that in 1809 the Viceroy eventually stated overtly that Bagwell was "not quite the most proper person" (to place among the peers). Bagwell's death as a meagre commoner in 1818 saw the chief secretary of the day assert that Old Bags had lost a peerage 'through a nickname'.
But Bagwell did leave Ireland one of is finest Palladian homes.
This week Marlfield has been brought to market with 390 acres of prime land attached, with a guide of €8m.
Having been owned by the Kent family for many years (the last Bagwell packed his bags in the early 1970's) the house and its grounds have been the subject of a hotel and golf plan which never got legs. There is planning permission in place for a 139 bedroom hotel, a conference centre, function rooms and a leisure centre, the conversion of outbuildings into residences and the construction of another 59 homes. Also there is permission for a Padraig Harrington designed 18 hole golf course. Many of the services have already been put in place to facilitate such a plan leading the agents to suggest that this is the "best serviced Palladian mansion in Ireland." While the hotel industry has been recovering steadily, it is still believed that a single wealthy buyer is most likely for Marlfield, which is being offered for sale in an assortment of lots as well as in one package.
Aside from the sheer breadth of its frontage with extended wings and its elegant symmetry the other most striking feature about Marlfield is the Richard Turner designed glass conservatory. Turner also designed the principal glass houses at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin.
Set on the banks of the River Suir, Marlfield underwent a drama in early 1923 when Senator John Bagwell was kidnapped during the Civil War by the IRA and held in the Dublin mountains. The Government threatened reprisals unless he was freed and some say this caused him to be released while Bagwell claimed he escaped. In any case Marlfield was set alight on fire. Senator Bagwell rebuilt the damaged central block at great expense and the work was completed in 1925.
Today the accommodation includes a great hall, a formal dining room, a drawing room, a sitting room, study and the massive Turner glasshouse conservatory. In the basement is a games room, a gym, the kitchens and a range of ancillary rooms. There are 13 bedrooms overhead, many of which have ensuites attached and there is a vaulted wine cellar and basement.
The house has 20 acres of pleasure gardens and these include an ornate duck pond of some size. There's two apartments of two bedrooms each in the right side wing facing and the stables and another one bed are contained in the other.
Through the sale and likely revamp which follows, poor peerless Bagwell's legacy will live on. The strange thing was that despite his cynical political opportunism and corruption on a massive scale, the people of Tipp continued to elect their beloved Old money Bags all the same.
Of course it wouldn't happen today...
Sherry FitzGerald (01-2376300)