International horsey set back in the 'Irish Property Stakes'
With the Irish Derby approaching, foreign buyers are once again eyeing up equestrian turf reports Donal Buckley
THE recent success of Irish horses on the international racing circuit has started to boost demand once again for Irish country houses estates with stud farm potential in the last 18 months.
On June 28 some of the world's leading racehorse owners will converge on the Curragh in Co Kildare and are expected to make discrete enquiries about Irish horses and properties.
In reality the Irish Derby is where much of the real equestrian property wheeling and dealing takes place.
Qatari racing enthusiasts have replaced the Dubai enthusiasts in the rush to acquire Irish equestrian interests. Last October Sheikh Joaan al Thani's Al Shaqab Racing outbid Cork man John Magnier when the Qatari man paid a record five million guineas, or more than €6.2m, for a filly bred by the Burns family of Lodge Park Stud, Co Kilkenny. This is the most expensive yearling filly sold at public auction in the UK.
Unnamed Qatari interests are also understood to have bought three prime Irish properties in order to accommodate their ambitions for Irish racing and breeding facilities.
One of these was the purchase of Rathkenny, a substantial period house with 240 acres on the River Annalee in Co Cavan for about €2m 18 months ago.
Last September Qatar Racing, owned by the Qatari Royal family, bought a 103 acre farm at Manister, Croom in Co Limerick for an Irish equestrian operation which had been auctioned through agent John Flynn.
Qatar Racing was formed in 2011 by Sheikh Hamad, Sheikh Suhaim and Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and has invested millions of euros in the international horse racing and the bloodstock industry.
Harriet Grant of Savills reckons that prime equestrian properties have seen their values increase by between 8pc and 10pc in the last 12 months.
"Really well set-up estates with a stylish country house can now command premiums ranging between 25pc and 40pc compared to an average farm," she says.
An even higher premium to farm land prices was seen with the €3m paid for the 103 acre Grangemore Stud at the Curragh last December. Auctioneer Paddy Jordan said afterwards that the price equates to almost €30,000 per acre. That's double the average price of €14,400 per acre which Ganly Walters estimate was achieved for farmland in counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow in 2013.
Grangemore's sale price was €800,000 over its reserve. The property, which was the breeding ground for some top class horses including St Leger winner Scorpion, was sold on behalf of the estate of the late John Colleran. Celia Lamb of Ganly Walters says that the equestrian country estate/stud farm sector of the market suffered badly from the economic downturn. "To buy country estates, equestrian businessmen had to compete with property developers who were buying places for golf courses and hotels. So at the peak they paid €30,000 to €50,000 per acre. Then, with the crash, values dropped to less than €8,000 per acre," she explains. "Owners also saw the value of their horses fall by similar amounts.
"Some, who may have bought foals for say €400,000, could have seen the value of those animals plummet to €50,000."
Harriet Grant believes that prices have improved most for those properties in the €800,000 to €1.5m bracket. "Those at the upper end of the market are more price sensitive and still have to be priced right. We have a number of requests from London and the Middle East for high quality properties with about 300 to 400 acres," she adds.
One of the most recent properties to go sale agreed is Blackditch in Newcastle, Co Wicklow, for which Ganly Walters had been asking €3.75m. The 250 sq m Georgian farm house comes with a courtyard on almost 205 acres and includes an enclosed stone courtyard which is laid out with numerous stables. It was being sold on the instructions of a receiver, Kieran McCarthy of Hughes Blake, and an Irish ex-pat is believed to have been the highest bidder.
US buyers have also been in the fray. Charlie Noell bought Ardbraccan stud farm on 120 acres in Co Meath last summer after Savills asked €4.9m. The Palladian style mansion near Navan extends to more than 2,100 sq m and has 15 bedrooms. That suggests that the price equates to about €39,000 an acre.
Noell and Texan John Moores operate under the banner of Merriebelle Stable and own stud farms in Ireland, Kentucky and Maryland.
An American is also reported to have purchased the 295-acre Mellon Stud in Kildimo, Co Limerick last autumn while Boystown House, a lakeside Georgian mansion in Blessington, Co Wicklow sold for €4.925m.
The most valuable property with equestrian potential currently on the market at the moment is Tulira Castle, Ardrahan, Co. Galway which stands 250 acres. It was once the home of Edward Martyn, a leading figure in the Irish literary revival, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre and the first president of Sinn Féin.
A great hall with a 40ft high timber ceiling is the centrepiece of the main house and it has several marble columns, varying in style from Irish Black to Connemara Green.
About 160 acres are arable and 90 acres are in mature woodland while a walled garden extends to two acres and it also has an orchard. Additional facilities include a gate lodge, stable house and staff apartments.
Near Roscrea, the 285-acre Milltown Park, Milltown, Shinrone, Co Offaly is for sale with a €4m asking price.
A quadrangle of traditional model farm buildings includes stables, while its 285 acres include 100 acres of prime tillage, 95 acres of pasture and 70 acres of well managed woodland.
Sherry FitzGerald describes the four storey house as being one of the first small Irish Palladian houses with fine interior plasterwork.
Near Innishannon, Co. Cork, Ganly Walters is seeking offers over €2.8m for Garryhankard House, a Georgian residence and stud farm. It has a state-of-the-art stable yard with 26 stables, four foaling boxes, horse walker and 2.5 furlong sand gallop. While the land is a relatively modest 38.85 acres, its free draining limestone quality, stud fencing and water supply in all 10 paddocks are key factors for an equestrian property. Its accommodation includes four reception rooms and eight en suite bedrooms.