Tuesday 22 May 2018

Couple are kings of their own castle

Justin Cochrane-Townshend is the new owner of Castle Townshend, which he runs with his partner Sharon Poulter

Sharon Poulter and Justin Cochrane-Townshend run Castle Townshend together. Photo: Dave Conachy
Sharon Poulter and Justin Cochrane-Townshend run Castle Townshend together. Photo: Dave Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

In the early years of their relationship,Justin Cochrane-Townshend and Sharon Poulter spent a huge amount of time in each other's company, as they both lived and worked together. Nine years later, they're living in different countries during the week, and only see each other at weekends.

Their family home, Castle Townshend in Cork, has been the seat of the Townshend family in Ireland for 11 generations. Justin's grandmother Rose-Marie ran it as a B&B from 1948 until 1996 and his parents took over in 1996. When they decided to retire, Justin and Sharon took over in 2015. Justin is also CEO of advertising agency Clear Channel and responsible for 700 staff. He flies to London every Monday morning and back again on Friday, while Sharon stays at the castle and runs it.

Now 45, the handsome and very personable Justin studied engineering at Oxford and then became an accountant. His dad Malcolm was a doctor in London, and although his mum Anne grew up in Castle Townshend, she was a radiographer and moved to London at 19. Justin is the second-youngest of their four children, and he has three brothers, Charles, Sean and Andrew. "I would go back to school in Liverpool and say I had spent the summer at my castle in Ireland, and was called a liar," he laughs.

Sharon, now 37, grew up in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, with her older brother Alastair, and her parents Sue and Brian. She studied hotel and restaurant management at Oxford Brookes University, and trained part-time to become an accountant over six years while working by day. She began working at Clear Channel in 2005, where Justin was then finance director.

They got to know each other over several years but didn't get together as a couple until 2009. Justin invited Sharon out to lunch, but it took several months before anything happened between them. They're both "huge introverts", but say that once they established a trusting relationship, it ran very deep.

While Sharon finds it hard to publicly put into words how she feels about Justin, he has no hesitation. "Sharon has really colourful, interesting eyes, and I used to dream about them," he says. "She's very self-assured, and while she's quiet, she won't back down to anybody. She does exactly what she thinks is right, and is quietly single-minded, and I like that. I was her boss's boss, but she would still tell me when she thought I was wrong in business."

Justin put systems in place to ensure that he had no say over Sharon's role or her salary, but once she qualified, she left and went to work for a hospital. Then, when Justin's parents decided to retire, the pair decided to take on the challenge of taking over the castle. When they got together, they bought a flat for £470k, and when they sold it in 2014 for £900k, it gave them an injection of cash to put into the castle business.

While the initial plan was that they would move to Cork and run the castle together, the CEO position at Clear Channel became vacant during Justin's notice period and he accepted the job. Sharon moved over in May 2015 and lived with Justin's parents, and she says they really made her feel part of the family.

"The castle dates from about 1650, and it is the most tranquil and beautiful setting," says Justin. "It's not about five-star luxury, but if you want to stay somewhere that hasn't changed in 350 years, it feels exactly as it would have back then, but with heating, electricity and wi-fi. It provides a real getaway and a break from the world for guests."

Sharon loves her new life in Ireland, and while she has made new friends, she also has a beloved collie dog, Lassie. "I love being a lady of the manor," she laughs. She and Justin have implemented some changes, such as a cafe called Eat@The Castle, and are looking forward to taking part in the Taste of West Cork Food Festival. They'll be holding a Robin Hood-themed medieval feast this Saturday, and an event where 20 people will dine and sleep at the castle on September 16.

"The main thing for us now is to secure the future of the castle," says Justin. "Sharon has done an amazing job and we both think the same way, so I know when I leave for London that she's going to make the best decisions. It's so personal and exciting, because we're building something for ourselves, and it has now gotten to the point of sustainability and is starting to make money for the first time ever.

"Financially, it is the worst decision I have ever made because I would have had quite a comfortable life if I hadn't taken it on, but it isn't about that. Leaving a legacy that you are proud of is extremely invigorating."

Future plans including the addition of a gym, a kitchen garden, and a cider press to start making castle cider or maybe a microbrewery.

On the personal front, while they won't say never, Justin and Sharon say they would be surprised if they ultimately decide to get married. "Commitment is not an issue," says Sharon. "We would only get married if it came to something like children, and we do want a family."


A Taste of West Cork Food Festival has 33 guest chefs, and takes place from September 8 -17, with over 230 culinary and adventure events across 36 towns and villages and eight islands. www.atasteofwestcork.com

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