Tuesday 15 October 2019

Former convent - and home of singer/songwriter Roger Whittaker - is going for €495,000

Former convent and school house at Eyrecourt bought from singer Roger Whittaker gets a lofty upgrade, writes Mark Keenan

The kitchen at the converted convent. Photo: Tony Healy
The kitchen at the converted convent. Photo: Tony Healy
Whittaker award discs
Singer songwriter Roger Whittaker
One of the luxury bathrooms
A four poster in a bedroom
A well lit corridor
The lit corridor to the conservatory
The study and library at the Old Convent and School House at Eyrecourt, which cost €150,000 in hardwood bespoke joinery
The old clock tower
The 1700 built exterior
The hall

To those who regard him as the folksy baritone granddaddy troubadour with a penchant for whistling, the backstory of the singer/songwriter Roger Whittaker might surprise. Peaking in his career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Whittaker sold fifty-five million records worldwide and achieved 250 gold, platinum and silver discs with hits like 'Durham Town' and 'New World in the Morning'. He also stirred a fair bit of ribbing for his impressively artful whistling-only tune, 'The Mexican Whistler', which comedian Julian Clary used as the basis for Desperately Seeking Roger, a 1991 Whittaker-based mockumentary starring among others, Eartha Kitt, Quentin Crisp, Brooke Shields and LL Cool J.

Born in Nairobi in Kenya to English parents, Roger went to school there before joining the army at 18 to fight in one of the most brutal colonial wars that erupted in Africa. As a member of the Kenya Regiment, which comprised local colonists and pro-British tribe members, he was pitched against the feared Mau Mau deep in the Aberdare Forest during the 1952-1960 Kenyan war. Whittaker claimed that he was a "selfish boy" and that the army put him right.

Years later he studied at the University of Bangor in Wales, emerging with a science degree and that's when he signed up to Fontana and released his first single - 1962's 'The Charge of The Light Brigade'. A professor at Bangor offered him a teaching position which Whittaker turned down to go on the road with his music. His father in Kenya was not happy. In an interview with this newspaper, he said: "My father never forgave me. He never, ever settled his mind to it. He went to his death hating what I was doing."

Tragically his dad was murdered in 1989 in Kenya, in an attack which saw his mother tortured for eight hours before the gang finally left. The perpetrators were never brought to trial. Whittaker took his mother back to live with him in England and when she died in 1996 he started to look around for new things.

The 1700 built exterior
The 1700 built exterior

He told the Irish Independent: "I had started off by saying I wanted to live in a small house in Ireland. So we sold off all our paintings, furniture and everything in England, saying: 'We'll start again in Ireland in a simple manner.' We saw this wonderful place near Banagher with 55 acres and wonderful mature trees and the remains of an old house. I looked at it and said we've got to have this." He and his wife Natalie (née O'Brien) to whom he is now married for 56 years, bought Lairakeen House n Banagher for €762,000 and set about restoring it. They moved here in 2000.

They sold it privately in 2006 after asking €5.5m and then invested the money into buying the historic Galway home of his American promo manager, Skip Heinecke. This was the historic former St Brendan's Convent House and former primary school in the village of Eyrecourt, Co Galway.

At 70, Roger once again got stuck in again with the renovations. He and Natalie lived here for seven happy years before placing it on the market in 2011 at the worst point in the property downturn. The entertainer said the house would be an ideal home for a recording artist or someone interested in music. "We loved living there and we'll really miss it, as it was such a friendly place," said Whittaker. "However, my wife's arthritis means the French climate is far more suitable to her health needs. I know whoever does buy this house will enjoy it as much as we have and get to know the lovely people here."

Initially it was placed on the market at €1.15m, but the couple fell foul of the property crash. And by 2013 it had been placed on the market at auction with a reserve of just €275,000.

The beneficiary was UK businessman Mike Simcock. At the time the eclectic home in Eyrecourt, Co Galway, came equipped with its own recording studio, gym and outhouses as well as a two bedroom guest apartment. Now after tinkering with it himself, Simcock has brought the Old Convent and Schoolhouse to market with Savills seeking offers in the region of €495,000.

The village was the seat of the Eyre family, founded by Crowellian colonel John Eyre who was rewarded with lands by Cromwell for assisting him in his brutal Irish campaign. Here he built Eyre's Castle, one of Ireland's most fantastic 17th-century build country houses in a traditional English style. The Eyres (after whom Eyre Square is named) went bankrupt in the 1890s.

A four poster in a bedroom
A four poster in a bedroom

The house's most eyecatching feature, a fabulous baroque carved staircase, was sold to William Randolph Hearst in the 1950s and today sits in pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts. And today, Eyre Castle is a roofless ruin.

The old Convent House is believed to have been constructed by the Eyre estate somewhere around 1700, possibly as a dower house. It was acquired by the parish in the 19th century and in 1900, the nuns arrived to live there and started St Brendan's School. At some point the school consolidated and the convent building was sold on privately to fund school improvements. The modern school is still here today, 120 years on.

The two-storey-over-lower ground floor regency residence, which has been carefully restored and renovated by the Simcocks and previously through work by the Whittakers, is today furnished in the country house style.

Approached by steps with wrought-iron gate, you enter into an elegant entrance hall. A study and library lead off this. A bright and spacious conservatory is entered via the sitting room, which is a standout feature of the property. This is a most impressive conservatory where one can enjoy a summer's evening basking in this light-filled space. The gardens are accessed through French windows in the conservatory.

Stairs off the entrance hall lead to a lower ground floor, which has a dining room, kitchen, pantry, bathroom and boiler/laundry room. A back-entry hall also gives access via the rear of the house to the courtyard. Off the return on the top floor, there are three large en-suite bedrooms. The en-suite master bedroom features a walk-in wardrobe and fireplace.

Perhaps one of the standout features here is the study, which has been lined with bespoke hand-crafted bookshelves. Around €150,000 is believed to have been spent on this room alone.

The study and library at the Old Convent and School House at Eyrecourt, which cost €150,000 in hardwood bespoke joinery
The study and library at the Old Convent and School House at Eyrecourt, which cost €150,000 in hardwood bespoke joinery

Interestingly, the Whittakers left much of their furniture and possessions behind which are still part of this house. Notably we see a selection of the singer's gold, platinum and silver disks in frames in one corridor, apparently awarded from the German market where Whittaker made the No 1 slot for his song 'Albany' in 1982.

One of the great conversions carried out here by the Simcocks is that of the adjoining former schoolhouse building. Leaving its magnificent herringbone polished timber floor, they have converted it into a self-contained modernist apartment in the loft style.

It now provides additional accommodation to the main house which includes three en-suite bedrooms, a stylish kitchen, living room and bathroom. The property was previously used by Roger Whittaker as his recording studio before the present owner refurbished the building in 2013.

Set on 1.46 acres, there are lawns to the rear of the main house that lead up to the mews at the rear of the site. Outbuildings on the grounds include an air-conditioned four-port garage and numerous multi-function rooms. There is also a tennis court and children's play area on the grounds.

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