Home on The Ranch
19th Century cottage has a fine pedigree, having been built by a founder of Punchestown
'A good groom is as important to the well-being of a stud as a good Chancellor of the Exchequer is to the proper management of the national revenue."
'The Landed Gentry and Aristocracy of County Kildare', written by Turtle Bunbury, quotes this crusty line from 'An Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports' by Delabere P. Blaine, published in 1840. It perfectly encapsulates the critical contribution good grooms made to more privileged Irish country life in bygone times.
The quote also goes a long way to explaining why the new groom's cottage was given such a prominent position and built with such fanfare and great expense when Henry Moore, 3rd Marquess and 8th Earl of Drogheda, oversaw his many upgrades to his Moore Abbey estate in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare.
He inherited his estate when he was aged just 12, and got into the driving seat aged 18, in 1846. Moore went on to invest heavily in the family's ancestral house and gardens, as well as funding a new Protestant school in the town, a bridge on the canal and founded the 'Jockey Hospital', now the Drogheda Memorial Hospital.
According to Kildare historian Barry Walsh, Henry was also a keen sportsman whose greatest legacy was to Irish horse racing.
"He was master of the Emo hunt, a steward at many of the great race courses of Ireland, and, most importantly, one of the founders of Punchestown," he says.
"As the second largest landowner in Ireland after the Duke of Leinster - there were at least 300 acres in the demesne around Moore Abbey House and he owned most of the parish as well - he was also well placed to attract the finest Head Groom for his stables.
"In terms of hierarchy, the Head Groom was at the same senior level as both the Butler and the Land Agent who collected rents and saw to works on the estate. The Head Groom oversaw everything to do with the stables and the welfare and training of the horses, and managed staff including under-grooms, stable boys, a farrier, coachmen and drivers.
"Their day began at the crack of dawn with mucking out. The horses had to be fed, groomed, exercised and prepared for the day ahead, and at night groomed again and got back in the stables. The Head Groom would supervise these duties and is likely to have been hands-on in training the horses as well."
It was a prestigious, well-paid position. In his 1864 book, 'The Illustrated Horse Management', Edward Mayhew put "a genteel groom's wages" as ranging from £1 to £1.10s per week, a handsome sum in itself, but at Moore Abbey in 1882 the job also came with a major perk - a private and ornate Groom's Cottage bearing all the hallmarks of the new Arts and Crafts movement which had begun to flourish.
So not surprisingly, when it came to building a home to house, and help retain, a good groom for his estate, Moore, the equestrian nut, invested heavily.
Designed by architect William Chambers and built by John Harris, the two-storey cottage which was constructed in the 1880s features yellow and red brick, a Dutch gable-fronted end bay, red slate-tiled roofs, an ornamental round window and timber panelled door.
Some decades after Moore's death in 1892, the Groom's Cottage was bought by Samuel Holmes who ran an engineering works in Cassidy's Distillery close by. He extended the house in the 1950s and, given its horsey credentials, renamed it 'The Ranch'. In 1975, Frances Hennessy, a primary school teacher in Killenard National School, and her husband Tom, an agricultural instructor, bought The Ranch from Holmes's daughter Eleanor.
"The minute we walked in, we fell in love with it," says Frances. "You know that friendly feeling you get when a house almost speaks to you? I hope that whoever buys it gets that same feeling. I want them to love it, like we did.
"However, the house had fallen into some disrepair. We saved, took out a bank loan and in 2004 we renovated it at a cost of €350,000.
"As a protected building, all the structural work had to meet exacting standards and regulations, but there's nothing to stop the new owners making their mark on the interior.
"It was a labour of love. We rented it out again, thinking that one of our four sons might one day make it their home, but they're all settled in different parts of the country now, so it's time to let it go," Frances adds.
Set on a half-acre of lawned gardens lined with trees, and approached via a pebbled drive with electric gate entrance, The Ranch has high ceilings and period features such as original cornicing, coving and solid wood floors. Downstairs there's a hallway (18' x 9') with guest WC, a study/library (18' x 9'), drawing room (11' x 13') with dual-aspect views, country-style kitchen/breakfast room (22' x 16') and utility area, and a dining room (11' x 13').
Upstairs are six bedrooms, four of them en suite, and a family bathroom.
Selling agent Cianán Duff of Savills says the six bedrooms would be easily converted into four larger bedrooms.
"It's just a question of moving partition walls and reconfiguring the layout to suit the needs of a modern family. I'd estimate €50,000 - €60,000 tops," he says.
"This is a landmark property in Monasterevin and there's huge interest in it both locally and with families in three-bed semis in Dublin looking for more space and a better quality of life.
"At an hour from the city, it's an easy commute and, with half an acre of sheltered gardens, there's plenty of outdoor space for a growing family."
Asking price: €375,000
Agent: Savills (Country), 01 6634350