Thursday 17 October 2019

'A mansion built on rashers' - Former home of Denny rasher family on the market for €2.2m

Ballybrada House Ballybrado, Cahir, Co Tipperary

Asking price: €2.2m

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes (01) 237 6300 and Colliers (01) 633 3700

Ballybrada - 'an Irish mansion built on rashers'
Ballybrada - 'an Irish mansion built on rashers'
The library with step ladder
Something fishy: The River Suir with its salmon and wild trout borders the grounds with 1.4km of single bank fishing rights included in the sale of the property
The salmon-rich River Suir borders this pocket estate
The traditional and expansive kitchen
An arch leads through to another relaxation area
The formal dining room
The lounge with early arts and crafts era chimneypiece
The lawns surrounding the house
The lawns viewed through an elegant bay window on the stairwell return

Food innovation dominates an online list of '10 Irish Inventions that Changed the World'. This includes the flavoured potato crisp, the cream cracker and the mighty rasher. Ballybrada House in Ballybrado near Cahir in Co Tipperary, which was considered to be one of Ireland's finest residences when completed in 1879, is the Irish mansion built on rashers.

Henry Denny, a shoemaker's son from Waterford, invented the beloved bacon strip in 1820 to become an essential part of the 'Full Irish'. Denny perfected radically new bacon-curing techniques which would eventually see his business expand to the degree that his bacon processing plant in Waterford consumed a 1,000 pigs a week. For a time it was the largest bacon curing plant in Europe and by today's standards, Henry was a billionaire.

But Henry's oldest and by now society-educated son Abraham (never shortened to 'Ham) decided that pigs were definitely not his bag. Instead he trained to become an architect.

Abraham practised for a time in Dublin until Henry died in 1870; his father's passing leaving the family's piggy bank in the lurch so to speak. So Abraham relinquished his practice and came back to take the helm at Henry Denny and Sons, now also making sausages. He also took over the family seat at Ballybrado. And as a company boss, he was even more efficient and industrious than Henry. But Abraham's architecturally trained tastes were not salted by the relatively plain Denny family spread left by Henry.

The library with step ladder
The library with step ladder

So he called in one of Ireland's most renowned architects, Robert Watt, to design him a family home that would let society know that the Ballybrado Dennys were now truly on the pig's back.

Abraham improved the family fortunes still further. The current owners of the house believe that in addition to developing bacon markets in Denmark and Germany, he also had a successful investment foray into the 19th-century tea plantations of Java, although this is not accounted for in the Denny company's history. When he died in 1892 Abraham left the modern equivalent of €22m in cash and a business which would still be reaping success 130 years later.

The National Buildings of Ireland describes Ballybrada (at Ballybrado) today, along with its elaborate gate lodges (some have been sold), its walled garden and its courtyard, as being "of considerable architectural and artistic interest." In 1879 when it first opened its doors it was likely one of Ireland's first substantial arts and crafts homes and must have quite simply blown people away. It is recorded that Ballybrado had 10 gardeners employed to tend its pleasure grounds and 10 maids in residence to cater for the Denny family's domestic needs.

The Dennys resided here until 1937 when the Harold-Barry family took over and the building got sliced somewhat - in the 1940s the Harold-Barrys, who ran it as a salmon fishing hotel (advertised as having both "electric lights" and "billiards") decided it was simply far too large to manage and had a number of its wings pulled down. Even so, it stands just over 9,000 sq ft today - easily accommodating the equivalent of the internal floor space of nine average family three-bed semis.

In 1946 it was acquired by the Craik White family from South Africa who held the fort here for 37 years.

Finally in 1983 it was acquired by its current owners, Josef and Marianne Finke, who came from Germany with the plan of turning Ballybrada into a pioneering centre for organic farming and food production, then almost unheard of in Ireland. They started out with organic oats. Ballybrada eventually became a hub of a wider agricultural movement.

The traditional and expansive kitchen
The traditional and expansive kitchen

More than 25 years after first arriving here, Josef, a former chairman of the Irish Farmers and Growers Association, recalls: "Pioneer years are very special and they cannot be repeated once they are gone. You are out on a mission. You want to change the world. You sow seeds for change. Money was never important. What counted were people who you had made think and change and which you had brought about."

Now the Finkes are selling up and leaving the way open for new owners at Ballybrada to write the next chapter in its illustrious history.

The detached U-plan two-storey country house, is today laid out in two linked blocks, the northern wing being slightly lower than the southern one. The first comprises a three-bay frontage with the entrance and there is a further single-storey bay to the north. The projecting central porch is canted to one side and flanked by slightly projecting bays.

It has pitched slate roofs, spired to canted bays and hipped to corners with the type of terracotta ridge tiles that arts and crafts homes are known for. Particularly attractive are the decorative red brick chimney stacks with ornate panelling at their bases rising to double and triple octagonal stacks. There are decorative bands of fish-scale tiles above and below windows and ornate terracotta bands and plaques and limestone sills. Appraised for the Buildings of Ireland, the inspectors described it as "a complex building" and "presenting an aesthetically pleasing interior".

Enter into the main hall and the drawing room with its bay window is on your right. To the left is the dining room and at its far end, the entrance to the kitchen and breakfastroom. Still here from the Denny glory days is the warren of rooms originally populated by kitchen and service staff including the butler's pantry, various store rooms and larders and the service kitchen.

The building moves around an inner yard to the home's biggest reception room and also a home office. Off this room is the formal sitting room and library.

An arch leads through to another relaxation area
An arch leads through to another relaxation area

Upstairs there's a spacious livingroom with views across the grounds and eight bedrooms, two of which come with dressing rooms and there are four bathrooms on this floor including an ensuite to the master chamber which faces to the front of the house.

One wing of the house is in use as self-contained guest accommodation which accounts for the upper floor living room, a kitchen, stores, three of the bedrooms and a bathroom.

Below decks in the basement are two large storage rooms and two smaller cellars including the wine cellar. The former were likely to have been stuffed with cured meats back in the Denny days and with salmon from the nearby Suir during its fishing hotel days.

Carefully judged design from the arts and crafts age means the rooms are not intimidating, but bright, airy and simply but expertly finished. They were finished using local craftsmen but with materials which were sourced all over the world in days when the sun never set on the British Empire and its colonies. All of the original joinery and chimney pieces are still here.

The house is approached by a long avenue and occupies an elevated position on the site to gain maximum use of the views over the river valley and to the Knockmealdown Mountains beyond.

Terrace lawns are laid out around the house with trees and shrubs including Mammut, Paulownia, Fern Elder and Handkerchief. The grounds include some 50 species of rhododendron, azalea and ferns. The Victorian walled garden is a classic one acre and includes an orchard. There's an informal woodland garden area. One of the gate lodges still remains at the main site entrance and is in need of restoration.

Closer to the house is the cut stone and brick courtyard which includes former staff cottages, five stables, a tack room, grooms quarters and a feed room. There's an elegant coach house with three sets of double doors, gardener's room, tool house, apple house, a farm office, a fuel store and a potting shed. A modern five-bay shed includes a recently installed wood chip heating system.

Ballybrada is located close to the Coolmore Stud and the Ballydoyle Racing Stables. Cahir is 7km away and Limerick is 78km, The River Suir with its salmon and wild trout borders the grounds with 1.4km of single bank fishing rights included in the sale of the property.

From rashers to salmon and organic grain, Ballybrada was offered for €6m at the height of the boom, but is now back on the menu 12 years later for a more palatable €2.2m.

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