David's vision for Hazelwood House
Whiskey, waterfalls and watertaxis, it could read straight from a James Bond screenplay. In fact it's the vision of Hazelwood House new owner Dublin entrepreneur David Raethorne which he shared with The Sligo Champion this week.
He was in town to oversee the work which has already begun to make the house and former factory safe. "Initially, our plan is to fix up all the damage which will take six months minimum," he said, during our tour of the nationally important 18th century Palladian mansion. "At the same time we'll plan the entire project and submit planning in the next six months. That could take a year so you're looking at two years before the building could start."
In the meantime, David plans to shore up the house, get it to the point where it's in walk-in condition so that at least he could bring the public in and show the house by this summer.
The 20,000 sq ft house has beautiful cornicing and original timberwork. Many rooms are water damaged but the software millionaire plans to restore them all. It includes a master bedroom, ballroom, servants quarters and central atrium. The top floor could be used as a bridal suite for marquee weddings.
He plans to use vaults underneath the house for a whiskey visitor centre. "Ultra premium single malt top end whiskey" will be distilled by master distillers.
Two ancient mills in the grounds will be also be restored. Looking out from the upstairs windows, the 500,000 sq ft former factory is an eyesore.
"Our biggest challenge will be to disguise that," he admitted. "Maybe we'll use a water feature, a waterfall along the lines of the Water Wall in Houston Texas". Inside, he will build a distillery, art galleries and indoor zip-lining, high end retail and indoor gardens are all being considered. Final year architecture students from Sligo IT are doing a project on the House.
Between the house and the river lies a roadway of derelict cottages which he plans to rebuild. He'd like to build a pontoon and provide a water taxi service between Sligo town and the site. "We don't want to do anything that's going to upset people. We'd rather work with people," he said.
Eddie Walsh from Lissadell has been in touch. "Ultimately we'd like to end up with something that's complimentary to what Lissadell are doing. If we can get more tourists to Sligo it benefits everybody," he added.
He may be up to his knees in mud but there's nothing bog standard about his vision for Hazelwood House.
"We want to turn it into a living building, along the lines of Powerscourt House.We're on the Wild Atlantic Way, the scenery around here is stunning, it has everything going for it. It just needs a bit of oomph!"