Wednesday 22 November 2017

Castle Ellen becomes a battleground between the hoarder and clean freaks

Compulsive cleaners Richard and Gemma get to grips with the clutter at Castle Ellen, in Co Galway, home to Michael Keaney
Compulsive cleaners Richard and Gemma get to grips with the clutter at Castle Ellen, in Co Galway, home to Michael Keaney
The clutter in Castle Ellen
Michael Keaney

Erin McCafferty

The owner of a run-down Galway mansion let two 'clean freaks' in to de-clutter and disinfect his historic home.

Castle Ellen is an 8,000 sqft, 20-room Georgian mansion on the outskirts of Athenry which was once the home of Isabelle Lambert, mother of barrister and renowned politician Edward Carson.

At the turn of the century it played host to the rich and famous. It's rumoured that even Oscar Wilde was a regular at Castle Ellen.

But the building has fallen into disrepair, filled with a vast amount of assorted debris - with room upon room given over to the storage of antiques, furniture, stuffed animals, and boxes of photographs.

It is now the home of Michael Keaney, a retired civil engineer and father-of-five who has lived there alone since buying the house in 1974 for £6,800.

"If I hadn't bought this house, it would be vanished, gone off the face of the earth," explains the 79-year-old. "But I love it. For me, Castle Ellen is still beautiful. I even love the cobwebs. They are naturally occurring and I believe they give it [the house] character."

Michael spent years working on the mansion - repairing the exterior and making the inside liveable. It was with trepidation, therefore, that he agreed to allow the Betty Production Company into his home last April to make a show for Channel 4.

The programme is a combination of two Channel 4 reality TV shows - 'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners' and 'Country House Rescue' - aimed at showing the reality of two obsessive cleaners unleashed on a country house. Castle Ellen fitted the bill perfectly.

Persuaded by daughter Deirdre to take part, Michael admits he had reservations at first. "I really wasn't sure about it, but Deirdre persuaded me to do it.

"I have 20 grandchildren and I would love them to be able to stay at the house.

"I collect almost everything, except money.And cleaning and tidying are at the bottom of my list ... they are simply not a priority."

The production crew arrived with two cleaners. Gemma is a hairdresser who gets through three hoovers a year and an inordinate amount of baby wipes, while 39-year-old Richard cannot live without order.

They are both from the UK and, although not diagnosed with OCD, are self-confessed cleaning fanatics.

The result is presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner and airs on Channel 4 tonight. It makes for entertaining TV as the cleaners recoil in horror at the dirt and disorder of the house and Michael does his best to stop them from throwing things out.

The pair take on the mammoth task of cleaning and de-cluttering five rooms in five days. These include the guest bedroom, the study, the morning room, the kitchen and the double drawing room (referred to as "the museum" in the programme).

Michael admits that it wasn't an easy experience.

"I have no problem letting people into Castle Ellen," he says. "It's a nourishing space, people often come to visit and they love it here. But it was hard having to see perfectly good things thrown out. I felt sorry for the cleaners, too.

"After all, dust does no harm to anyone."

The show ends with the arrival of Michael's grandchildren, his children and their partners, as well as his wife Margaret, from whom he has been separated for 25 years, but with whom he is on amicable terms.

Deirdre says: "We're very proud of dad. It wasn't easy for him to take part in such a show, but he did very well."

'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners - Country House Rescue' is on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm

Irish Independent

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