Lovingly restored 18th century Kilkenny home could be yours for €550k
Mount Ullard has been brought back from the brink
Restoring a period house is a formidable task at any age, but taking on an 18th century wreck when you're in your late 70s requires a singular sort of gumption.
The writer Peter Somerville-Large seems to have gumption in abundance. So when he took a shine to Mount Ullard in Co Kilkenny - which at the time consisted of no more than walls and a roof - he was not in the least bit daunted. This was 2006, when he was 78-years-old.
"I've never really thought of age as a reason to stop you doing anything in life," he remarks breezily.
Certainly he has a distinguished history as a risk-taker. Born in 1928, he took a job in Afghanistan and then began to travel extensively in Asia in the early 1950s. He has written travel books on Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan and Tibet, as well as numerous social histories of Ireland and several novels.
Allied with that spirit of adventure, Peter and his wife, Gillian, also a writer, have moved countless times. Before Mount Ullard, the last home they purchased was a converted mill in Thomastown whose basement was sometimes completely underwater during the spring floods.
So the Somerville-Larges are no strangers to discomfort - a useful quality when doing up an old house. Back in 2006, Mount Ullard had no windows, no staircase and no floors.
"If you went inside the front door you'd fall about 20 feet into the basement, so the house was a nice surprise," says Peter, adding the understatement: "But there was nothing really much wrong with it apart from age and the fact that it had been neglected."
While he might make light of the project now, it took more than two years - and a sum of money he'd rather not think about - to transform Mount Ullard back into what it once was.
It is said to date from the late 18th century, although the history is opaque.
It's marked as a glebe house on the first-edition OS map (surveyed in 1839).
Now it's a handsome, sympathetically restored and listed country house on 2.25 acres, looking south at the sun and with long views of the River Barrow, Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs.
It's in a secluded setting, surrounded by exuberant gardens, at the end of a half-kilometre avenue and about six kilometres north of Graiguenamanagh.
"The situation is lovely," says Peter. "You get the sun the whole day and there's an amazing view. Everywhere you look you've got the mountains, which are always changing colour, and you've got sky and you've got the river; you've got yourselves and the garden. What more do you want?"
It's a sizeable L-shaped house measuring 3,450 sq ft on three floors, and there's also the basement which hasn't been done up. And there's an unusual mix of living areas on the three floors.
The main living room is at ground level, where Peter knocked through one of the original walls to make a huge open-plan kitchen and sitting room with windows on three sides. The ground floor also has a utility room, that the selling agents point out could be converted to a living room as it's roughly 10ft by 15ft.
Up the new handmade curved staircase to the first floor are the two main bedrooms. Although neither is en suite, there are two bathrooms on this floor; there's also a study.
On the second floor are two more bedrooms, a shower room, a library and another office or bedroom. The other leg of the L has a bedroom on the first floor, above the utility room, with a separate staircase leading to a playroom on the top floor.
There are sash windows, pale walls and wooden floors, and the rooms are pleasantly cluttered with objets d'art from Peter's travels.
The house itself may have been derelict but, for a keen gardener such as Peter Somerville-Large, the grounds were an equal challenge.
All but one of the trees had been cut down and the old walled garden was "a complete and utter jungle".
The gardens have now been restocked with young trees, including fruit trees and silver birch. "Actually, I enjoy planting trees. That gave me great pleasure to replant it. In 10 years they've grown to a ferocious height and they look lovely."
He added rockeries, seating areas, and an abundance of native shrubs and flowers. An adjacent stone ruin - probably the old stables - has been beautifully co-opted into the landscape. At the age of 88, Peter does most of the gardening himself. "If you do a thing yourself you get more pleasure from it," he says.
The Somerville-Larges are now set to move again, probably to somewhere smaller - or maybe not. "If it doesn't sell, this house, I don't mind one bit," laughs Peter.
Mount Ullard is for sale for €550,000 with Colliers International, (01) 633 3700.
Ullard, Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny
Asking price: €550,000
Agent: Colliers International, (01) 633 3700