Reilly wields the axe again -- this time at home
GIVEN how he's been on the road for weeks campaigning hard for a 'Yes' vote on the fiscal treaty, you would think that Health Minister James Reilly would pause for a breather before getting back to his demanding day job at Hawkins House.
Not a bit of it. Yesterday, the minister was 'taking it easy' chopping wood with his son, in the outbuildings of Loughton House, his period pile on the outskirts of Moneygall, Co Offaly, when the Sunday Independent called in for an impromptu tour of the impressive 13-bed property.
While the axe-wielding minister wasn't available to act as our guide, his charming wife, Dorothy, took time out from tending to the flowerbeds in the mansion's walled garden to show us around and to point out her country home's special features.
Among the property's highlights are an ornately carved fireplace in the reception room which dates back to 1562 and the death mask and ceremonial sword of its original owner, Benjamin Bloomfield. A more recent addition to the house's eclectic collection betrays the political allegiance of its current owner. Taking pride of place alongside the portraits of all those who have called Loughton House home through the centuries is a framed photograph of a youthful Michael Collins, which was taken on his release from prison at Christmas in 1916.
Elsewhere inside the house are all the elements one would expect to find in a residence belonging to Ireland's onetime landed gentry. The wooden floor in the living room is specially sprung to facilitate dancing, while bells are to be found placed next to its fireplaces to allow for servants to be summoned discretely from their quarters or the kitchen.
Unlike other period residences open to the public around Ireland, Loughton House manages effortlessly to give the visitor an authentic experience by virtue of the fact that the Health Minister and his wife simply don't have the time or the significant financial resources necessary to bring their country home up to the level of a Farmleigh or Muckross House, both of which are open to the public all year round.
In the case of Loughton House, the property is open for tours on selected dates and public holidays owing to the fact that the Reillys avail of public tax breaks from the Revenue Commissioners available to the owners of approved buildings considered to be of historical or archaeological importance.
The cost of admission to Loughton House ranges between €3 and €5, but comes with the promise of a freshly-made cup of tea and a chat with the owners.
It's a benefit that comes with its own cost to the Reilly family. Indeed, standing in the walled garden which she and her family have restored and maintained lovingly over the 10 years since taking up residence in Loughton House, Mrs Reilly spoke of the numerous unpleasant experiences she has had over the past number of months with unscrupulous reporters posing as tourists in order to take pictures inside her home. Asked politely if she might persuade her husband to put down his axe for a moment to pose for a photograph outside their impressive country retreat, Mrs Reilly politely refused, insisting that he was entitled to a day off from his political and public life.