Sunday 21 January 2018

Flatley hunts gems by Irish greats

ARCHITECTURAL TREASURES: A mural, left, at Castlehyde, fittings in the en-suite bathroom, above, in the Napoleon-themed bedroom, one of the reception rooms, below.
ARCHITECTURAL TREASURES: A mural, left, at Castlehyde, fittings in the en-suite bathroom, above, in the Napoleon-themed bedroom, one of the reception rooms, below.
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

THE Lord of the Dancemultimillionaire Michael Flatley has ordered his private buyers to scour the world's libraries and art galleries for a priceless collection of works by Irish greats including Yeats, Wilde and Joyce for his lavish new ?30m home.

The revelation came as the Sunday Independent received an exclusive tour of the Irish-American dance superstar's 18th-century Castlehyde Mansion in North Cork which is now being hailed as the most successful restoration project in Irish history.

Costing a staggering ?30m, Castlehyde House now boasts 14 lavish bedrooms, an entire first-floor suite for Flatley and his partner, Lisa Murphy, two climate-controlled wine cellars, a Roman spa, a 20-seat private cinema, an African safari room, a Jameson-designed whiskey room, a three-storey 3,000-volume library, a music room, a gym and various reception rooms, not to mention a reinforced steel, eight-bay garage for the star's collection of Ferraris, BMWs and Rolls-Royce cars.

Incredibly, that ?30m price-tag does not include the collection of artwork, antiques and collectibles that Michael Flatley is now hoarding for his private palace.

On August 9, having performed at the famous Monaco festival, Flatley will fly to Moscow for a private art viewing to collect special works.

As if that isn't enough to impress, consider the fact that Castlehyde's red-wine cellar will, thanks to the star's collection of fine Bordeaux labels, become the most valuable collection in the country.

The three-storey library - topped with a meticulously painted ceiling mural and American walnut shelves - will house 3,000 volumes and, at the dancer's insistence, will boast first editions and signed copies of the most famous works of Irish literature including tomes by James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and SeanO'Casey.

"Michael loves Joyce's Ulysses so we have private buyers now searching out suitable works for the collection," architect Peter Inston explained.

Incredibly, just four years ago this famous mansion - built in 1760 and extended in 1800 - was falling apart with flood damage to its basement and roof. Its foundations were subsiding due to over 100 years of flood damage and its main walls were leaning outwards by over 10 inches at their outer peaks.

"To be honest, it would have been easier to demolish the house," explained David Higgins, co-owner with his wife, Monica, of Cornerstone Construction, the family firm entrusted with turning Flatley's dream into reality.

But, with the Riverdance and Lord of the Dance star determined to retain the mansion's original character, a painful and laborious process of restoring and rebuilding was launched.

"Just to put it in context, every window in this house has been restored from the original. It cost over ?500,000. But if we had torn them out and put in cheaper PVC windows, it would have cost less than ?250,000," he explained.

Hailed by Flatley as "my dream home", the four-storey River Blackwater mansion will now be formally completed in October when the Chicago-born dancer is scheduled to move in.

Flatley's friend and world-renowned architect, Peter Inston, admitted he has never handled a project of such magnificence in 20 years of work for the world's rich and famous.

'I'VE worked for the King of Qatar and other royals but I've never seen anyone take such a hands-on interest in restoring a property as Michael has," Inston told the SundayIndependent. Peter stressed that, in his opinion, Castlehyde Mansion will be regarded as the finest restoration project in Ireland and, quite probably Europe, for decades to come.

"The point is that everything in this house is original. We've saved absolutely everything we could. We've repaired and restored the original floors, windows, ceilings and slates. In the basement, we even stripped out the original bricks, numbered them, repaired the flood damage and then replaced the bricks exactly as they were," he added.

Castlehyde Estate caretaker and local historian Pat Bartley admitted that the house is now back to its 18th-century splendour, when it was one of the most famous features on Ireland's aristocratic 'social circuit'."This house is a treasure and only Michael could have ensured that it was restored the way it is," Bartley explained.

Castlehyde's location is a suitable setting for such a project - the River Blackwater was, for a time, known as "the Irish Rhine" thanks to its plethora of great houses and castles.

Landscaping is now underway on the rolling parkland which sweeps in front of Castlehyde House down to the banks of the river. But if the location of the house is spectacular - with the river providing its frontage and, to the rear, a sheer cliff-face topped by the ruin of a 13th-century Condon Castle - entering the mansion literally takes the breath away.

"This house was restored to bring it back to its former glory," Peter Inston explained. "But we restored it so that it could once again be lived in and enjoyed. This isn't going to be a museum. It's a family home."

Castlehyde's most famous features are its collection of 18th-century fireplaces - regarded as priceless - as well as its stone cantilever staircase which is widely acknowledged as the finest in Ireland.

But guests arriving for one of Flatley's future parties will savour not only an 18th-century mansion but a palace equipped with every conceivable 21st-century mod-con.

The entrance hall is now equipped with an electric, conveyor-belt operated coat rack. All coat-rooms are climate-controlled. The main ground-floor hallways can also have their doors opened so that, in one giant room stretching the entire length of the house, guests can dine at a single long table a la royalty.

All the original plaster cornicings and murals are being restored with specialist gilt-work by British artists including Keith Ferdinand and Tony Raymond, both of whom have worked on numerous Royal palaces.

The music room - fully sound-proofed and with spectacular views over the Blackwater valley - is equipped with a Steinway grand piano, a concert harp and Flatley's valuable collection of flutes.

Every chimney in the house has been relined - and all the marble fireplaces, many of which were in poor repair, have been restored and can be used.

The entire first floor is Flatley's personal suite - complete with a butler's chamber, an Italian-style bedroom with four-poster bed and hand-crafted silk hangings.

Off the bedroom are matching 'his' and 'hers' bathrooms and dressing rooms - with the 18th-century baths raised on a special dais so that bathers can enjoy full views of the river.

A complete wardrobe can be stored in the changing room - and altered, with the season, with clothing in a basement storage room.

Off the first-floor hallway, the dancer can savour direct access to his stunning library.

The books will be stored on hand-carved American walnut shelves with special display cases for the more valuable volumes.

Upstairs lie the guest bedrooms. Each is decorated to a theme reflecting Flatley's interests or the house's own heritage. Themes include the China room, the American Presidents room, the French room, the Napoleon room, the Venetian room and the Beecher-Wrixon room, complete with a nautical theme to reflect the yachting exploits of the family that formerly owned Castlehyde.

Each bedroom has its own specially-designed wallpaper or hangings - each is also complete with its own marble bathroom.

The entire house boasts a centralised, computer-controlled audio-visual system offering satellite TV to all rooms as well as a selection of classic and popular music.

But it's in the basement that Castlehyde's lavish decadence truly comes to the fore.

The African Safari room has canvass-lined walls to given an authentic feel to anyone wishing to feel 'Out of Africa' while playing billiards, drinking whiskey or smoking the stock of fine Cuban cigars.

Down the corridor lies the Jameson-designed whiskey room - complete with four giant casks of Irish whiskey and cabinets lined with rare malts and distillations.

Nearby is the 20-seat private cinema complete with 20-foot screen and bar. There is also American pop-corn and Coca-Cola machines. In minutes, the cinema can also be transformed into a private audition room for rehearsals or dance preparations.

THERE are two wine cellars - one for red and white - with a special climate control system. Red wines will be stored by the case - Michael Flatley's collection, includes fine Chateau Latours and Margauxs.

Those opting for fitness over indulgence will be catered for at Castlehyde's own Roman spa - which includes a massage room with heated-floor, a relaxation room, steam room, sauna, salt-water flotation tank, showers, mechanical massage room, hair-salon and a state-of-the-art gym.

Guests who arrive with children needn't be too concerned - there is a special children's dormitory complete with plasma TV screen and computer games.

Staff are also catered for with a laundry room, fully-fitted kitchens and a butler's room.

Because the basement is located at the foot of the cliffs and was prone to flooding, exacerbated by the nearby river, the entire sub-structure had to be water-proofed. That water-proofing programme alone cost almost 25 per cent of the original purchase price of the house.

"I don't think any private individual has ever undertaken a restoration project of this scale or cost," Peter Inston admitted.

Even the grounds are being restored at lavish expense - Castlehyde's famous stone gateway is being repaired while the caretaker and lodge-keepers homes are also being restored.

As if all that wasn't enough, consider the eight-bay garage.

Because it is located near Castlehyde's cliffs, it was decided to build it of reinforced steel complete with a toughened concrete roof - to protect the priceless vehicles housed inside.

The centrepiece of these will be Michael's new Rolls-Royce Phantom - which, at 20 feet in length, forced the garage to be redesigned.

Also stored will be the dancer's sports cars, a Ferrari and BMW roadster, as well as a pre-1904 vintage car he is currently negotiating to buy.

And the star needn't worry too much about taking them onto North Cork roads because his estate will also boast one-and-a-half miles of resurfaced roadways for private jaunts.

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