Why I'm selling historic Lissadell House
Published 23/05/2003 | 00:11
LISSADELL House was built in the 1830s by Sir Robert Gore-Booth in the Greek Revival style. It was the childhood home of Constance Markievicz and of her sister Eva Gore-Booth, who were contemporaries of W. B. Yeats, sharing his interest in the Celtic Revival.
LISSADELL House was built in the 1830s by Sir Robert Gore-Booth in the Greek Revival style. It was the childhood home of Constance Markievicz and of her sister Eva Gore-Booth, who were contemporaries of W. B. Yeats, sharing his interest in the Celtic Revival. It is one of a small number of country houses that is still in the occupation of the family that built it and that retains its historically associated contents.
Lissadell has been my responsibility since the mid 1970s, and while my aunt and my father were still alive and occupying the house, I was preoccupied with the need to keep a roof over their heads. In so far as I gave the matter much thought, I presumed that I would eventually have no alternative but to sell the estate.
In the event, the transformation of the Irish economy in the 1990s enabled me to tackle the most important aspect in the preservation of any old house: the roof. With grant aid from the Heritage Council, and over a period of several years, it was completely releaded, the timbers being repaired where necessary, and the roof lights replaced. More recently we have been stripping out and replacing the plumbing and electrical wiring, and making ourselves a comfortable living area. The house is now, as a result, in a stable state and we have been considering where to go from here.
It is with regret that I have come to the conclusion that Lissadell should be put up for sale during the summer of 2003. There is no single or predominant factor behind this decision; the most important considerations relate to function, the family, the future and finance. Lissadell House was built in the 1830s by my great great grandfather. It replaced a smaller house by the seashore. Since then it has been the family home but one which social changes have made it increasingly difficult to run. In the 1960s my grandmother opened the house to visitors in the summer months and my aunts and I have continued this policy. However, visitor numbers have reached a plateau and this aspect of Lissadell either needs promotion and development or closing altogether. Recent press comment suggests that other private owners of similar properties are facing much the same issues.
My family, for good or ill, has played a part in Irish history for four centuries. I am not sure that we have a role to play in the future. As a consequence of my father's schizophrenia, my parents were divorced and I was brought up largely in England by my mother. I have been happy to assume the responsibility for Lissadell and my own feelings for the house have prompted me to maintain it in so far as was possible but, as time has moved on, I increasingly wish to pursue other interests in life with my family.
Since I have decided to sell Lissadell, it is a matter for others to consider its future. However, bearing in mind its cultural and historical significance, and the importance of tourism to the local economy, I have had discussions with Hubert Kearns, the Sligo County Manager, and I believe that he has raised the matter with the government. Suffice it to say that I would welcome an interest on the part of the State. The alternatives would seem to be an individual with the resources to finish the task that I have started or some sort of commercial development.
It was received wisdom that houses like Lissadell were most economically looked after by the families that built them. While I used to concur with this view, the great success with which other Irish houses have been restored and found new life (by new private owners as well as the State) has changed my mind. I have been happy to pay the running costs on the estate out of income, and to invest substantial capital in the restoration, but I have concluded that, to do the job properly, it will require much greater resources that I can justify in the future.
It has often been remarked that few of the Big Houses of Ireland remain in the hands of their families and I regret that my decision will reduce their number.
But I am now confident that Lissadell will have a brighter and different future in other hands.
Josslyn Gore-Booth is grand nephew of Constance Markievicz and is the current owner of Lissadell House.