Thursday 16 August 2018

Inside this classical Kildare mansion with two bars and 17 bedrooms

A Kildare mansion that's seen many romantic moments

Classical mansion: Bert House
Classical mansion: Bert House

Eithne Tynan

'I know, let's call it Bert," one of the brothers must have said. "This house…" - sweeping his eyes over the seven-bay, three-storey edifice with its Italian-style first-floor loggia and its magnificent ornamental plasterwork - "…looks like a Bert."

Consider the possible conversation 300 years ago between William Burgh and his brother Thomas when they were deciding what to name William's classical mansion which had finally been completed near Athy, Co Kildare.

The sitting room
The sitting room

Once you've finished building your colossal stately home, all that remains is to choose a name for it.

You might spend months musing on the matter, or else the name might come to you in a single moment of dizzying inspiration.

A cherub gazes down from its vantage point
A cherub gazes down from its vantage point

The year was around 1720 (though some sources say 1709); William was the owner of the house and his brother Thomas was the architect. Thomas was also responsible for various important Dublin buildings such as the Trinity Library, Dr Steevens' Hospital, the Royal Barracks (now Collins Barracks), and the Old Custom House, which was replaced by a Gandon-designed building later in the century. It is perhaps just as well Burgh wasn't given responsibility for naming any of those, or we may have ended up with Trinity Library being called something like Ernie or Cedric.

Bert House has been going by the same unassuming name since then, and in the intervening three centuries has gained even more stature and become even less unassuming itself.

One of the 17 bedrooms
One of the 17 bedrooms

It was extended in the early 19th century to add the two side wings, and, at 24,000 sq ft, it's the largest mansion in south Kildare.

Much of the Bert Demesne has been hived off though. The former coaching yard has been turned into Bert House Stud, also on the market recently, and the Bert House estate itself has been reduced to six acres. Six resplendent acres they are though, hugging the banks of the River Barrow and with a stately, tree-lined avenue a kilometre long.

The dining room
The dining room

It has been bought and sold many times as a family home, and in more recent years has been obliged to pay for itself as a country house hotel specialising in wedding parties.

For that purpose, it has gone by the more grandiose name of De Burgh Manor, Bert sounding perhaps not quite chic enough for a couple bent on spending all their savings on their big day.

Ornate plasterwork adorns the ceiling of a reception room
Ornate plasterwork adorns the ceiling of a reception room

It's now on the market again for €1.5m, and is a lot of house for the money.

The selling agents point out that it would make "an idyllic property for a large country residence", and for a buyer who does intend to convert it back to its intended use as a family home, the biggest difficulty is likely to be shooing away prospective brides from the grounds.

The grounds lead down to the River Barrow
The grounds lead down to the River Barrow

The 24,000 sq ft is spread out over three floors and a basement, and consequently the hoovering will be a Sisyphean job. Like painting the Forth Bridge, you will no sooner be finished than you'll have to start again.

Some reconfiguration of the layout will also be necessary. The basement, for example, has a bar, a sauna, a snooker room and a dance studio, together with various storerooms and ladies' and gents' changing rooms and toilets.

There's another bar on the ground floor, which is probably at least one bar too many for a private house.

The ground floor is also where the best of the reception rooms are, complete with beautiful plasterwork ceilings with overseeing cherubs, original sash windows, and fine old fireplaces. These include a drawing room, a dining room, a breakfast room and kitchen, as well as a TV room and a living room.

Then there are 17 bedrooms, all en suite, and one of them - positioned for marketing purposes as the Bridal Suite - has a bathroom with a free-standing claw-foot bath.

The back of the property faces southwest towards the River Barrow. There's a formal garden out here with a fountain, together with a patio and rose garden. Beyond this, there's a lawn culminating in a flight of steps down to the riverbank. Directly in front of the house and at the end of the avenue is a forecourt for parking.

The nearest village is Kilberry, almost at the end of the old avenue that now leads to the Bert House Stud and hence less than a kilometre away. There's a quaint, early 19th-century church there, in the graveyard of which all the old Burghs (later known as de Burghs and distant ancestors of the singer Chris) of Bert House are buried.

The town of Athy is about six kilometres to the south, along the course of the Barrow. There are nine or ten trains a day from Athy to Dublin, and the journey takes about an hour. Alternatively, you can get to the capital by car by joining the M7 outside Monasterevin, some 17 kilometres away.

Bert House is for sale with Sherry FitzGerald O'Reilly in Naas, (045) 866 466, and has an asking price of €1,500,000.

Bert House

Kilberry, Athy, Co Kildare

Asking price: €1,500,000

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald O'Reilly, Naas, (045) 866 466

Indo Property

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