Saturday 18 August 2018

Holy soldier's HQ for €1.65m

Pope's army officer and UCD founder was born at Knocknagin

An aerial view of Knocknagin House in Balbriggan
An aerial view of Knocknagin House in Balbriggan
The sunny orangery
One of the five reception rooms
The kitchen
The courtyard at the back of the house
The dining room
Myles O'Reilly

Eithne Tynan

Famously conservative and anti-Jewish, Pope Pius IX was also the man responsible for establishing the enduringly troublesome dogma of papal infallibility.

Pius was sympathetic to the Irish during the Famine, though. In 1847 he released an encyclical calling for three days of public prayer on our behalf, and as an inducement, offered seven years' indulgence (time off your expected term in purgatory) to anyone who attended. More practically, he also urged the giving of alms.

So when, a decade or so later, Pius ran into a spot of bother of his own, he found no shortage of Irish citizens willing to rush to his aid. In 1860, as Giuseppe Garibaldi was marching his men across Italy, bent on unification, Pius - hoping to defend the Papal States - appealed to international Catholics to support him.

It's estimated that 1,400 Irishmen answered the call to arms and the so-called Papal Battalion of St Patrick arrived in Rome that summer, ill-equipped and more or less untrained. By all accounts they fought valiantly though before eventually being forced to surrender.

One of the five reception rooms
One of the five reception rooms
2018-01-26_lif_37942710_I7.JPG
Myles O'Reilly

The battalion leader was Major Myles O'Reilly (above), perhaps the most illustrious member of the illustrious O'Reilly family of Knock Abbey in Co Louth. He was MP for Longford for 17 years, urged the Home Rule cause, was instrumental in founding UCD, and published several books on Catholicism.

Myles was born at Knocknagin House near Balbriggan in Co Dublin, another of the family's seats. It's described as one of the oldest houses in north county Dublin, having been built in 1680. The place was substantially altered when the O'Reillys owned it. The single-storey outhouses flanking the central portion were converted; one side became living rooms and servants' quarters and the other side became a ballroom. It's now a drawing room, although at over 33ft by 16ft you could easily have the neighbours round to do the paso doble in there.

The current owners bought the place in the mid-1990s when it almost completely derelict, and began restoring it. It's been opened to the public periodically. They also restored the grounds which come to 4.27 acres including mature trees, lawns, a secret garden, fruit and vegetable plots and, in the centre of the house, a beautiful private courtyard.

The house itself is 6,884 sq ft but surprisingly there are only four bedrooms - two are on the first floor, and two on the second. That leaves the entire ground floor for reception rooms. The drawing room is one of five reception rooms on this level, and is arguably - despite its marble fireplace, its double aspect and its three French windows - not even the best of them. That honour might fall to the double orangery which has a wall of windows and French doors opening on one side into the garden and on the other into the central courtyard.

Next to the drawing room is a library with a fireplace, and on the opposite side is a sitting room. Off this is the formal dining room with a sun porch giving on to the courtyard, and from here you can reach the kitchen. The kitchen is pleasantly country-style with a Rayburn, a Belfast sink and a terracotta-tile floor.

Past the kitchen is a scullery and laundry room, and then at the back of the house are offices and stores as well as a lofted workshop which could be turned into extra accommodation.

The courtyard at the back of the house
The courtyard at the back of the house

The townland of Knocknagin takes its name from the Anglicisation of Cnoc na gCeann, or hill of the heads, reportedly after some grisly battle. There's a passage tomb in the townland which when excavated in the 19th century was found to contain an abundance of cremated human bones.

There's no reason to worry about anything macabre there today though. It's a perfectly peaceable rural neighbourhood a little over three kilometres north of Balbriggan, where there's a train station. Dublin is about half an hour's drive away via the M1 motorway.

Knocknagin House is priced at €1.65m with Colliers International (01) 633 3700.

Knocknagin House

Knocknagin, Balbriggan Co Dublin

Asking price: €1.65m

The dining room
The dining room

Agent: Colliers International (01) 6333700

Indo Property

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life