County Westmeath may not be the first place that springs to mind when you're thinking of a place to hide away from the world, but if it was good enough for Michael Jackson, who are we to argue?
Back in the summer of 2006, Paddy and Claire Dunning, owners of Grouse Lodge Recording Studios in Moate, had a visit from Grace Rwaramba to check out the studios and lodgings for an unnamed A-list pop star. The Dunnings didn't think too much of it because they were used to entertaining the likes of R.E.M., Sinead O'Connor and Snow Patrol. But nothing could have prepared them for the shock arrival of the King of Pop, his three children, their nanny Grace, and a tutor.
For the first time in his life, Jackson had found a sanctuary, away from screaming fans and paparazzi. Grouse Lodge, its studios and outbuildings aren't visible from the road, so nobody had any idea what lay behind those walls that summer. While there, he began work on new material with will.i.am and American producer Rodney Jerkins.
The pop star ended up moving into Coolatore House, next door to Grouse Lodge, and stayed there for several months with his children. Local taxi driver Ray O'Hara was employed to drive Jackson around in his blacked-out people carrier. At the time, there were rumoured sightings of Michael Jackson, Prince Michael Junior, Paris and Blanket around Kilbeggan and Moate, but Paddy Dunning was always quick to deny all knowledge when quizzed by the locals.
"If someone said to me 'I've heard Michael Jackson is there'," said Dunning. "I would tell them, 'Yeah, so is Elvis Presley'."
Just down the road from Grouse Lodge is 7 Acres at the Back of the Hill. This too would be the kind of house that would allow you to truly escape from the madness of city living. Michael Jackson may no longer live in the neighbourhood, but the recording studios are still in business, so you never know who might knock on your door looking for a cup of sugar?
This five-bed family home is a detached property that is sitting on seven acres of land. At 2,110 sq ft, the accommodation is mostly on one level. The entrance hall is impressive with its varnished timber floor and feature staircase. There are many doors leading off the hallway, with four bedrooms to the left, and the master bedroom and living rooms to the right.
The kitchen has wooden wall and floor units, a Rayburn stove with back boiler and a half-and-half door leading to the garden. The living room has a wood-burning stove with brick surround and double doors leading out to the rear garden. The dining room also has garden views and a varnished floor.
The master bedroom is at the front of the house with dual aspect windows, a fireplace with electric inset and an en-suite bathroom. There is another large double bedroom, also with an en-suite, at the back of the house. Three more bedrooms and a family bathroom complete the accommodation on the ground level. One of the bedrooms is currently being used as a study and would make a good home office for remote workers.
Upstairs is a games room with a bathroom and separate storage room. This loft space could be converted, subject to planning, into extra bedrooms or living space.
This property would make a perfect second residence for anyone interested in horses, with two stables, a workshop and a tack room on the grounds. The gardens are mature and well-kept, with mature trees and an orchard beside the house. There is parking for several cars and a detached garage.
The house is about 10 minutes off the M6, so would not be a stressful commute into the capital. The tiny town of Rosemount is a few minutes from the house and has a local shop, pub, school and church. Moate is about 5km away and has a lot more facilities, as well as a SuperValu supermarket. A drive to Athlone would take just under half an hour if you're after all the big brand shops. Dublin is about an hour and a half away on the motorway.
Things To Do
The house may be suited to horse lovers but the area is perfect for keen anglers. Some of the best fly fishing and coarse fishing in the country can be found in this region. A few of the top fishing lakes on your doorstep are Lough Owel, Ennell, Glore and Derravaragh while Lough Sheelin is also within driving distance. Owel, Ennell and Sheelin are in particular known for their wild brown trout. The nearby River Brosna is also fished for its wild brown trout, while the Royal Canal at Mullingar is known for its bream and carp. There is good public access to the waters in the area and plenty of options for boat hire and tackle shops.
The Hill of Uisneach, a meeting place since prehistoric times, is just 15 minutes north of the property. Traditionally it was the epicentre of Ireland, where the five provinces met at Aill na Mireann, the Stone of Divisions. It's also known as the Cat Stone because is resembles a cat crouching over a mouse. It is said that Uisneach was the home of the sovereignty goddess Ériu, after whom Ireland is named. On a clear day it is said that 20 counties are visible from the summit.
Around the hill are the remains of stone monuments, circular enclosures, barrows, a holy well and two ancient roads dating back to the Iron Age. In more recent years, it was the site of policital rallies, where Eamon de Valera, Daniel O'Connell and Padraig Pearse all addressed the public. Guided tours of this historical and mythical place run from April to October and are well worth the money.
Eating and Drinking
Down the road from the house in Mount Temple is Motte & Bailey restaurant. The menu is very traditional but this isn't a bad thing as they make the most of local ingredients to create good dishes. After dinner you can pop in next door to Egan's Bar for a drink.
The coffee shop at Tuar Ard Arts Centre is a good option for lunch or coffee and cake. If you're lucky you might catch an exhibition or play while you're there.
Tourism isn't big business in Westmeath, which means that local shops and pubs don't shut down during the winter. Angling is the main attraction to the area and the completion of the Royal Canal Greenway next year is expected to draw in more tourists. Most sales in the area are to locals or ex-pats, who are ready to return home after making a bit of money abroad. With Grouse Lodge Studios just down the road, life is never dull.
What's Not To Like
Moate and its neighbouring towns cannot really compete with the likes of Clonakilty, Dingle or Connemara, but if you really want a home far from the madding crowd, this part of the country will definitely allow you to escape in peace, just like the King of Pop himself.
7 Acres at the Back of the Hill
Ballintubber, Moate, Co Westmeath
Asking price: €349,000
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Lewis Hamill, Tullamore (057) 9320862