Fancy your own castle in Leinster? This one's on the market for €1.25m
Knockabbey castle, Ardee, Co Louth €1.25m
In his days as a publican, Cyril O'Brien was one of Ireland's most imaginative and dynamic - developing The George as Dublin's first destination gay pub, Sides dance club, and the super pubs Zanzibar and The Mercantile. Each brought something different to the capital.
O'Brien bought Knockabbey Castle in 1998 for £475,000 and undertook a substantial and costly restoration and refurbishment project before moving in a couple of years later. With hindsight, he says that the distraction of the project had unforeseen benefits.
"Knockabbey occupied me financially and occupationally and moving to the countryside took me out of the way of things. I stopped developing pubs around 2000. Being here meant that I was out of touch - which turns out to have been a godsend. I had a lucky escape."
O'Brien is no longer in the pub business, but over the years that he has owned Knockabbey, he toyed with the idea of developing it as a wedding and event venue. There's a car park that takes four coaches and plenty of cars - and he says that the property lends itself to be taken further in this direction by new owners. O'Brien, meanwhile, is opting for a quieter life and plans to downsize to a smaller home in the area.
The castle, which comes with 30 acres of land, is an interesting amalgam of different architectural styles, its component parts dating from three distinct periods.
The oldest part of the house is a tower built in 1399 as a '£10 castle' with a grant from Dublin Castle, and intended to defend the northwestern extremity of the Pale. In 1650, the Bellew family extended the castle with the addition of a six-bay, three-storey Queen Anne extension. A Georgian-style extension was added in the mid-18th Century.
Much of the house was destroyed in a fire in 1922 but it was rebuilt in 1925 with the addition of some Gothic-style windows and turrets. The three parts of the house are interlinked and, despite their size - the castle has 585sqm of living space - have the feel of a comfortable family home, albeit one with 11 bedrooms and eight bathrooms.
"Everyone who visits comments on how homely it is, despite its size," says O'Brien.
There is an abundance of period features including ornate cornicing, vaulted ceilings, grand chimney pieces, original panelled doors and wide staircases.
The entrance hall of the Tower House has a high vaulted ceiling, stone-flagged floor and a fireplace with a wood-burning stove. This leads to an inner staircase hall, the Queen Anne hall and the spiral staircase in the tower. There are en suite bedrooms on the first and second floors of the tower house.
The Gothic section lies behind the main hall and features a galleried staircase and an ornate stained-glass roof light. The kitchen is country style, with a French oak floor, Aga and Belfast sink, while the family room has a stone fireplace and double doors to the lawn, as does the dining room. Four en suite bedrooms are in this section.
The Queen Anne section of the house has a fine drawing room with a walnut floor and white marble fireplace. The original 1860s kitchen has been retained and there is also a bar/studio room on the ground floor. Upstairs there is a billiards room and library and an exotic Thai bedroom. There are three further bedrooms and a bathroom on the third floor.
O'Brien secured funding from the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Fund and the gardens contain some important historical water features. The water gardens were originally started in the 11th Century by monks from the local abbey and are surrounded by mature woodland with pathways and foot bridges. O'Brien added a Victorian-style glass house, tea house, fern house and octagonal gazebo.
O'Brien began the process of developing Knockabbey as a wedding venue.
"I put underfloor heating into the stables and you could have a 70-seater wedding there. It works as it is if you were to use an outside caterer with a mobile kitchen."
Currently there are 15 double rooms, between the house and the stables, but if new owners were to erect a semi-permanent marquee - along the lines of the one that Richard Corrigan has at Virginia Park Lodge in Co Cavan - O'Brien reckons there would be room for a total of 25 bedrooms. The grounds are ideal for glamping.
More recently, Knockabbey was used as the location for Wild Goose Lodge, a film set in 1816 and based on a historical story of the Lynch family, the Irish Ribbonmen and the British in occupation, which was co-directed by local businessman Willie Martin.
"It was a fantastic experience," says O'Brien, who attended the film's premiere in the Savoy cinema earlier this month. "The cast was mainly local with a few known actors, including Finbar Furey. The filming happened mainly at weekends because so many of the cast were working during the week, and on some days we had as many as 120 people in period costume on set. I found it very interesting to watch, and there was tremendous community spirit surrounding the whole project."
Knockabbey has been on the market for several years. Back in 2011 it had a price tag of €2.5m - and most recently the price has dropped by a whopping €350,000. A sale was agreed in May of this year but, says O'Brien, "Brexit scuppered it and it fell apart at the last minute."
Back on the market at €1.25m, with far in excess of that sum already spent on the house by O'Brien, Knockabbey is an intriguing prospect for someone with a yen to get into the wedding business, or simply as a very interesting family home.
- Joint agents: Hassett & Fitzsimons (01) 677 3591; Coldwell Banker (01) 455 4752