The owners of Heathfield Castle, Limerick man Liam Sheehy and Dutch partner Marja, had lived in London and Amsterdam for many years and travelled all over the world when they decided to settle in his home county.
Liam had been working for many years as a foreman for the well-known UK architect and broadcaster Maxwell Hutchinson, former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and an outspoken critic of Prince Charles's views on contemporary architecture. As a result, Liam was no stranger to high-end residential builds and had worked at many of London's pricier addresses.
The couple spotted a piece of land with an old lime kiln that had been built into the slope of a mountain in the townland of Ballinruane. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, a lime kiln was constructed nearby when a big house was being built, says Liam, to burn limestone for mortar, whitewash and even the interior walls. This one was built in 1824 when work was being done on Heathfield House, home of the Lloyd family, which still stands.
Today, the old lime kiln sits at the heart of Liam and Marja's property, which is part castle, part stone-built two-storey cottage. There is a tower with battlements but, in its 21st century version, the turret opens onto a rooftop terrace equipped with barbeque, a dumb waiter for hauling food and wine up and empty plates down, and it is also wired for sound.
The idea of a tower, says Liam, was something they picked up on their travels and thought would work well in the woodland setting. "An Irishman's home is his castle," he laughs.
The property runs to 325sqm, and has been kitted out with no expense spared. The ground floor is floored in travertine marble, the 3m-high Gothic style doorways are arched in sandstone and the doors handmade. To the left of the hallway is the old lime kiln, now the music room, housing a grand piano, and in the curved wall of the original kiln, a solid fuel stove.
Much of the ground floor is given over to a huge open-plan kitchen/dining/living room that runs to more than 100sqm. The kitchen area has plenty of room for entertaining with a good run of workspace as well as storage in high-gloss kitchen units. There is also a granite-topped island and breakfast bar. The living area has two sets of French doors out to the decking area and garden, and a raised fireplace with stone surrounds.
To the right of the hallway, a door leads into the tower, which houses a bespoke spiral staircase with a fine chandelier hanging through the centre and Gothic-style arched windows. A ground-floor bedroom with en-suite and Jacuzzi bath leads off the spiral staircase.
On the first floor, the stairs lead to a gallery and utility room, located American-style near the bedrooms rather than the downstairs living area. Four of the five bedrooms are on this floor and all have en-suites, one with a bath and the others with showers.
The spiral staircase leads on to the second floor, where a study has five arched windows, while a glass dome in the ceiling allows for stargazing. The study opens onto the decked rooftop terrace.
The house is well-insulated with 2.5ft thick walls and the underfloor heating is based on charcoal rather than concrete, says Liam, a system he came across in Holland. "The floor heats very quickly and it holds the heat. Unlike concrete, which would discharge in an hour or two, it will hold the heat for up to eight hours."
Liam's attention to detail as a foreman on many a project shows. There are low-maintenance stainless steel skirting boards throughout - "You don't ever have to paint the skirting and when you're mopping the floor, it won't mark if you bang up against it."
Building Heathfield Castle was a big project, says Liam. "The more we got into it, the more we kept doing." One year into the project, the couple had a baby girl, Hazel, and the project took a temporary back seat. In all, it took about five years to complete, partly, says Liam, because he wanted to do most of the work himself.
The property sits on 1.5 acres and backs onto Ballinruane Woods, a 1,000-acre Coillte-owned and run broadleaf forest. "You can walk from the back of our house into the most beautiful woodland the west of Ireland has and its at your back door," says Liam. The landscaped gardens deserve a mention. Not only is there a golf range, lawns, flower beds and decking areas, but the couple diverted a stream which ran around the house to form a series of waterfalls that end in a lily pond. "Every time it rains," says Liam, "it activates the waterfall so instead of having the horror of the rain in Ireland, we put it to our favour and now we have the lovely sound of the water running for days after rain."
There are shops, bars and restaurants in the towns of Adare and Newcastle West, both roughly 20km away, and Limerick city is a 40km drive. Shannon Airport is 63km away.