Friday 17 January 2020

€1.5m girl racer's Georgian home with a restored coachouse and wine cellar

Birthplace of Birr's fascist speedway champ comes to market

Number 11 Oxmantown Mall was refurbished in the 1990s
Number 11 Oxmantown Mall was refurbished in the 1990s
The courtyard
The dining room in cerulean blue
The hallway
One of the double bedrooms with a four-poster bed
Another double bedroom
A reception room
'Flying Fay' Taylour

Eithne Tynan

When cycling around the heritage town of Birr, Co Offaly, you might react one of two ways. You might think, "what a lovely experience this is, cycling past such fine Georgian buildings and chestnut trees". Or you might think, "nothing that couldn't be improved by adding a 500cc flat twin to this bike".

It's most likely that 'Flying Fay' Taylour - Birr native, trail-blazing motor racing champion and sometime fascist - was of the second school of thought.

Fay was born Frances Taylour in 1904 at Number 11 Oxmantown Mall in Birr, the daughter of an RIC inspector, and from childhood, loved anything on wheels. She taught herself to drive a car at 12 and learned to ride a motor bike while at Alexandra College in Dublin. By the mid 1920s she was winning motorbike races all over the world and was known as 'Flying Fay'.

She told one newspaper: "When, three years ago, I got my first motorbike I was told I should break my neck. But I didn't! In fact, I entered for the Southern Scots Scramble at Camberley in that same year.

The courtyard
The courtyard

"Much against his will and after a great deal of persuasion, an uncle had financed me for this event. I had sworn to win it! He didn't believe it possible. But I felt it was, because I wanted it to be the means of making a new career. So I kept on saying to myself: 'Girl, you must win!' And win I did! From that date, my career as a racing motorcyclist began."

After women were banned from speedway racing in England in 1930, she began racing cars, but soon Fay was flirting with even greater danger.

During the 1930s, Taylour became an admirer of the ideas of British fascist Oswald Mosley and joined the British Union of Fascists and the Right Club - an anti Jewish group. In 1940, she was arrested and spent two years interned in Holloway and another year at the women's internment camp on the Isle of Man before being released in 1943 to return to Ireland. Undaunted, she resumed her career in the United States, racing midget cars before retiring in 1956. She died in 1983.

There are no clues around Flying Fay's birthplace as to the daredevil future life of the Queen of the Speedway and fascist sympathiser. Oxmantown Mall, laid out by the 2nd Earl of Rosse in the early 19th century, is as sedate as could be.

Number 11 stands across from Birr Theatre and looks among the neatest and best cared-for houses in the terrace, having been thoroughly but sensitively refurbished in the 1990s.

It has a carriage arch to one side, so you could ride your motorbike straight through there into the back courtyard for safe parking. And there are restored coach houses in the courtyard, so if it's a vintage bike, you can protect it from the treachery of rain.

The dining room in cerulean blue
The dining room in cerulean blue

The 4,500 sq ft house is on two storeys with a raised basement, with limestone steps up to the front door. Beneath a decorous covering of creeper, the door is flanked by Doric columns, with a fanlight above and sidelights either side, giving light to the entrance hall within.

There are reception rooms on each storey and the four bedrooms are divided between the upper two floors. Each floor has its complement of washrooms as well, so a family of four could live almost entirely apart from one another if one of you was a fascist, say, or a motorbike bore, or both.

The heart of the home is in the basement, with the open-plan kitchen and living room measuring 30ft by 16ft.

Separately, there's a family room or study in the basement too, as well as a utility room, pantry, wine cellar and shower.

To the right of the entrance hall on the ground floor is the formal dining room, where there's a high ceiling, Doric columns and a marble fireplace, all rather daringly set off by walls painted in a rich cerulean blue.

11 Oxmantown Mall

The hallway
The hallway

Birr, Co Offaly

Asking price: €1.5m

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes (01) 237 6300 and Sherry FitzGerald Fogarty in Roscrea (0505) 21192

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