History and heart in this one-of-a-kind country home
Highlake House, Ballinaheglish, Co Roscommon: €545,000
Ewoud and Jantje Van Den Berg - known as Ed and Jane to their Irish friends - first came to live in Ireland in the 1970s.
"I remember arriving at Dublin Port off the ferry in the early hours of the morning in 1974," recalls Ed. "We got lost in the city centre and came across a herd of cattle being driven down the street. Those were very different times, and it felt like a very different place."
The couple spent six happy years living near Mullingar with their two daughters, before Ed's parent company called him back to Holland. When it came to the time for him to retire in 2001, though, he and Jane made the decision to return to Ireland.
"The thing about Holland," explains Ed, "is that it's half the size of Ireland and now has a population of 17 million people. It's very crowded. There is nowhere that you can find the complete silence that you have in Ireland. You can always hear roads or radios or people, whereas here there is complete solitude and tranquility."
"'Here' is Highlake House in Ballinaheglish, Co Roscommon, a former Franciscan monastery dating from 1857, which has been home to Ed and Jane since 2001.
It is a fine two-storey, four-bedroom period residence, centrally situated on 20 acres of elevated land. In contrast to other, larger monasteries, Highlake was only ever home to 14 brothers, and its relatively modest scale has adapted well to being used as a private residence.
The foundation stone for Highlake was laid in 1857, when Co Fermanagh man Brother Hugh Farmer was given 40 acres of land by Lord de Freyne. Continuing a monastic tradition that had existed for centuries, the Franciscan monks worked as educators, providing local children with training in farming, horticulture and woodwork, until the last ties with the religious order were severed in the late 1960s when the monastery and nearby school closed, with the monastery being sold to a local farmer keen to acquire the land on which it stood.
In 1996, Highlake was sold to a couple who embarked upon the process of renovation, before coming into the ownership of Ed and Jane in 2001.