The first real spring day of 2017 found me in County Mayo. As I drove from Castlebar to Pontoon in search of Massbrook House, the home of former president Mary Robinson and her husband Nick, the sun was stretching itself gently across the rust-brown terrain along the shores of Lough Conn.
A dusting of snow sitting on the crown of Nephin Mountain is a reminder that winter is not still behind us. I arrived at the elegant gate and was met by John Reilly, who has worked at Massbrook since his boyhood, my host and guide for the visit.
Our first port of call was the gate lodge located beside the entrance and set among trees. I expected it to be a compact, tightly spaced building but to my surprise it is bright, open and airy with spacious rooms and a lovely feel to it.
Fully renovated in recent years, the accommodation includes two fine-sized bedrooms, one with ensuite facilities, a smaller study, a large hallway, a family bathroom, a utility and an open kitchen-cum-living area.
As we drive up the long avenue, John Reilly explains that the Robinsons have owned the place since 1994 and in the intervening years, Nick Robinson has waged a successful battle against rampant rhododendron.
In its place he has planted a substantial number of broadleaf trees, oak and beech in particular.
The Healy-Raes could take a leaf out of his book in their attempts to control the rhododendron in Killarney.
The land, extending to 113ac, is made up mainly of woodland with about 50ac in grazing ground. While the estate has extensive frontage on to Lough Conn, much of the land is well elevated and has lovely views over the lake.
The drawing room to the left of the reception hall is centred around a marble fireplace set in an arched recess giving the impression of an enormous fireplace, the kind typically found in mediaeval banqueting halls.
This room is large but comfortable and designed to catch the light throughout the day. Off the drawing room is a study with windows looking out on to the gardens.
The dining room is found to the right of the hall. This is a fine room with a marble fireplace and lovely views over the lake.
Adjacent to the dining room is the modest but fully fitted kitchen beside which is a cold room and a scullery. To the rear of the hall is a traditional, classic billiard room with panelled walls and a full-size billiard table.
Upstairs are five bedrooms of which three are ensuite. The main bedrooms are spacious and comfortable and command the best views of the lake. This floor is also home to the library with wall-to-ceiling shelving, a beautiful room. In fact, the entire house has the feel, texture and atmosphere of a library, there are books everywhere and anyone with a love of reading and literature could stay here forever.
Immediately outside and to the rear of the house is a guest apartment with a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom.
Beside this is the boiler house with a state-of-the-art wood pellet boiler providing clean and efficient heating for the house.
Located on the grounds near the house is a set of magnificent garages and storage spaces with roll-up doors.
The previous owner had one of the largest classic car collections in Europe, which he housed here at Massbrook.
He was also a helicopter enthusiast and among an assortment of sheds and buildings throughout the estate is a disused helicopter hangar, while a substantial boathouse is situated on the lakefront.
Massbrook House is a fine residential holding with the makings of a wonderful tourism project given the location and natural amenities.
For sale by private treaty with Sherry FitzGerald, the guide price is €1.95m.