The relics of auld decency in Laois
This 19th century property comes with 60ac and could make a top class residential farming holding for a buyer with deep pockets
In the days before the motorways those of us who regularly drove from the midwest or from Cork to Dublin were familiar with every inch of the N7 between Portlaoise and Newlands Cross. Motorists with a heavy foot developed an intimate knowledge of the places where members of the Garda Siochána were wont to lurk with radar guns at the ready.
One of those spots is a straight stretch of road between the Montague Hotel and the village of Ballybrittas between Portlaoise and Monasterevin. Many a speeding fine and endorsement was dished out on that long lean stretch of tarmac.
People who spent years traversing this route probably took no notice of a neat gate lodge at the entrance to Ashfield Court, an old estate on the edge of Ballybrittas.
The house, gate lodge and 60ac is for sale by private treaty with Conway Auctioneers in Kildare who are guiding €1m.
Last Friday the familiar N7 brought me to the gates of Ashfield Court and I drove up along a shady avenue to the door of the 200-year-old residence.
To say the place will take refurbishment is probably an understatement.
The place has all the relics of auld decency but while the pessimist will bemoan the scale of the task, anyone with a tinge of optimism will see the possibilities.
The sooner those possibilities are realised the better as the undergrowth and overgrowth around the house are beginning to impinge on the building and Mother Nature has some serious plans for the place.
There is a lovely feel to Ashfield - the 200-year-old house is an unimposing structure with a strange elegance to it. Approached by a short series of stone steps the door leads to a spacious entrance hall.
There is a series of reception rooms on both sides of the hall and a short stairway leads down to the kitchen and upstairs to the bedrooms.
A reception room to the left was obviously a modest ballroom in its day stretching from the front to the back of the main house with open fires at either end with floor to ceiling windows and French windows leading to the garden.
Another large reception room is located to the right of the hall leading on to a library and a study.
The kitchen is at the lower end of a split level to the back, while the rear of the house, probably the original servants' quarters, is divided into two small apartments each with sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms.
There are five bedrooms with the main house proper, four of which are spacious and grand. These are reached by an elegant staircase with a semi-circular balcony at the top, part of a large landing.
The place needs serious attention, and soon, but it has some lovely features and while it is a big house it does not have that 'big house' feel to it and instead retains a certain intimacy.
The gardens outside, including the remnants of a walled garden, are wild but in their day they must have been something to behold with nooks and corners and raised beds and shrubbery of all kinds.
Today they are in a feral state and positively Amazonian in places.
To the back of the house are the remnants of an outer and an inner courtyard with some lovely cut stone buildings that are with and without roofs. Under a cover of moss and grass lies the original cobble yard.
Other accommodation includes the gate lodge which is boarded up at present and also in need of attention.
The 60ac of land is laid out around the house with 45ac in a crop of winter cereal that is just showing the first of its green shoots.
The ground is the best of arable land that is firm under foot and laid out in a mix of larger and smaller fields.
There are lovely stands of trees around the farm but there is a considerable portion of avoidable waste that includes about 5ac of ground covered by old concrete bases once used for poultry houses and now overgrown.
There is no doubt but the land has possibilities - one has only to look at the fields and the crops to get a sense of the fertility of the ground.
In terms of price some of the highest prices paid for land in recent times have been paid for parcels of ground east of Portlaoise and near Ballybrittas and so around €12,000 to €14,000/ac would not be out of order for land in this locality.
However, the house - if it is to be recovered from hazards and vicissitudes of time - needs to be taken on as a project that will involve love, dedication and not a little investment.
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