In the dining room of Glendalough House, one of the windows overlooking the Great Lawn has an elevated window sill so high that's impossible to see out without standing on a ladder.
It's at the end of the room nearest the door, where Thomas Hugo, one of the house's former owners, used to sit for meals. A draconian landlord, magistrate and lieutenant of the Wicklow Yeomanry Cavalry with a reputation for trigger-happiness when it came to Catholics, this unusual architectural feature was designed to protect him from angry locals who might have been tempted to take a potshot while he was eating.
In 1838, Thomas Johnston Barton, of the Irish Wine Geese family, which still owns Chateaux Leoville-Barton and Langoa-Barton in Bordeaux, bought the two-storey Georgian house Hugo had built in the mid-18th century. He set about roofing over the earlier house and farm buildings, running each side of an east-west carriageway, to make a single, larger house.
A Gothic east wing, designed by either John B. Keane or Daniel Robertson (the latter responsible for Lisnavagh), with castellations and portico, was later added, although this has since been largely destroyed. The house is also said to have been the first in Wicklow to install central heating and a flushable lavatory. In the 1870s, brother and sister Anna and Charles Barton married the siblings Robert and Agnes Childers. Both families lived at Glendalough, and between 1890 and 1910 the house was home to 23 people, plus staff. In this period, the house was enlarged to 52 rooms by joining the west wing to the stable block.
Robert Erskine Childers, author of The Riddle of the Sands, regarded as the first spy thriller, spent much of his youth at Glan (as the family called the house). In 1914, he and his wife, Mary Alden Osgood, were involved in gun-running and brought in a consignment of rifles from Germany for Sinn Fein aboard their yacht, The Asgard. In 1922, he was arrested at Glendalough House by Free State troops for being in possession of a Spanish automatic pistol given to him by Michael Collins, and was executed at Beggar's Bush barracks 10 days later. There is a rumour that Collins was in the house at the time, and escaped via a priest-hole and through a tunnel into the Water Gardens. Childers' son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, who grew up at Glan, went on to succeed Eamon de Valera as the fourth President of Ireland in 1973.
The main wing of Glendalough now has approximately 650 sq/m of living space, with receptions rooms on the ground floor, and eight bedrooms with dressing rooms and bathrooms on the first and second floors. Although the house is lived in, it is in need of refurbishment under the direction of a good architect to make sense of the hotchpotch of rooms and configure them for modern living.
Additional accommodation includes the south wing, currently used for weddings and functions, with 450 sq/m of space, and the west wing, intended as additional bedroom space and currently under construction, with about 400 sq/m. On top of that, there are also a number of cottages, farm buildings and stables.
The house and its associated buildings are really only part of the story, though. What makes Glendalough special is the land - all 1400 acres of it. Situated beneath Djouce Mountain and close to Lough Dan, with the Avonmore River running through it, the estate is made up of mountain pasture and woodland, and it is extraordinarily private. The land includes Scarr Mountain, and a section of the Wicklow Way walking route traverses the estate. The view from the front of the property is glorious, without another house to be seen in the entire vista.
Unsurprisingly, the estate is in demand as a film location, and productions that have filmed here include Vikings, Ella Enchanted, Kidnapped and Excalibur, which was directed by Annamoe resident and neighbour John Boorman.
In recent years, the owners have developed Glendalough as a venue for weddings and corporate events, and there are equestrian and other leisure facilities. The estate has hundreds of deer, and has obvious potential as a shooting estate, and the water gardens are enchanting, with waterfalls, bridges and a mini-lake. The woods feature exceptional giant redwoods.
The Glendalough Estate is brought to market on behalf of a family trust associated with members of the Balinski family. For an oligarch in search of a trophy country estate within easy reach of an international airport, Glendalough may be just the ticket, although he or she will need deep pockets to restore the house and realise its full potential.
The property could also perhaps be operated on a commercial basis, as a hotel, or used by an educational institution.