Thursday 19 July 2018

Mansion with Narnian links

Rathvinden was for many years the home of CS Lewis's stepson

Rathvinden House was built in 1810
Rathvinden House was built in 1810
The period wardrobe
The hand-painted kitchen has marble worktops
A quiet corner for tea
The front entrance
Dogs and urns flank the front door
The hall and stairs with reception beyond
Anthony Hopkins and Joseph Mazzello as CS Lewis and Douglas Gresham in Shadowlands
Two sets of chandeliers in the dining room

Gabrielle Monaghan

Fans of The Chronicles of Narnia, the seven-novel CS Lewis saga, might be forgiven for opening the bedroom wardrobes in search of a secret door to a fantasy world when taking a tour of Rathvinden House in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow.

After all, this 9,417 sq ft Georgian pile was for a long time the home of Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, an inheritor of the Lewis estate. Douglas features as a boy in the film Shadowlands - which deals with the relationship between Lewis and his mother Joy Gresham. In 1953, just three years after the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Douglas and his brother David arrived in England with their mother, an American writer, who had left behind a ruined marriage. There, her pen-friendship with Lewis eventually blossomed into romance.

Gresham had converted from atheism to Christianity on the basis of Lewis's writings. The author himself had also been an atheist for many of his earlier years and was himself influenced into Christianity by his friend JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings.

But the couple's all-too-brief love story, depicted in the 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger and Joseph Mazzello as the young Douglas, was cut short after Gresham died from bone cancer in 1960. Lewis continued to look after the two boys until his death in 1963. David and Douglas eventually inherited his estate, including the rights to The Chronicles of Narnia.

The hand-painted kitchen has marble worktops
The hand-painted kitchen has marble worktops

Douglas became a committed Christian, like his mother and stepfather, and moved to Ireland with his wife Merrie in 1993. He turned Rathvinden House into Rathvinden Ministries, a Christian counselling and retreat centre. In 2006 he sold it to a developer and moved to Malta.

There was planning permission for 65 houses and apartments on the grounds of Rathvinden House, but the property crash called a halt to that. The house lay empty until it was bought in 2012 by the Graham family, who refurbished it and developed it into the first five-star guesthouse in Carlow.

Leslie Graham says: "It had been empty in 2009 and 2010, during the real heavy frost and the plumbing went so the house was water damaged. A lot of people looked at buying it and walked away because it was too much work. But we noticed that the structure of the house was good and painted all of it and now it's in turnkey condition."

Leslie and his wife put it on the market in 2015, when they retired from operating their guesthouse, with an asking price of €1.95m. The purchase fell through. Three years on it has been put back on the market.

An arched entrance gate beside the gate lodge - currently rented out as an artist's studio - leads to a curved driveway and the fairytale Georgian house.

Rathvinden House was built in 1810, and, in 1840, two asymmetrical bows were added to the front and back. The two-storey-over-basement property has a three-bay façade, with a projecting Doric porch over a blue front door.

The front entrance
The front entrance

The entrance vestibule leads to the reception hallway. The reception area of this vast space sits behind the turning staircase and features ceiling cornicing, a centre rose with a crystal chandelier, a solid-fuel stove nestled in an original Georgian fireplace, and timber-panelled walls.

To the right of the main hall are two adjoining drawing rooms with a triple aspect through large bowed sash windows. The original parquet flooring and twin marble and brass fireplaces balance the connection between these two reception rooms.

Also on the ground floor is a study with enough space in the fitted bookcase for multiple copies of The Chronicles of Narnia.

To the very left on this level is a kitchen with bespoke hand-painted cabinetry and warm marble worktops on the main counters and large centre island, which is also fitted with a Belfast sink. As well as a traditional Aga cooker, there are integrated Neff electric appliances.

Interconnecting doors lead to the dining room, with its ceiling cornice, centre roses with crystal chandeliers, another Georgian marble fireplace with a solid-fuel stove, and polished timber flooring.

The staircase leads to the first floor and its six bedrooms, five of which have hotel-standard en suites. The master bedroom en suite consists of a walk-in wardrobe, a morning lounge/dressing room, a bathroom with a freestanding cast-iron bath and a walk-in spa shower. Another bedroom includes a very large ornate period style stand alone wardrobe in the corner.

Two sets of chandeliers in the dining room
Two sets of chandeliers in the dining room

The basement level can be accessed via a passageway off the kitchen or from the courtyard. The basement is currently used as separate accommodation, which consists of a large kitchen with an Aga and marble worktops, a reading room, a sitting room with a bowed window and a timber fireplace, a boot room, bathroom, laundry room and three bedrooms - two of which have their own en suites and fireplaces.

The vast home sits on 14 acres of grounds, including a tennis court. The original stable yard and workshops have been restored and now feature eight stables, a coachhouse and a gardener's cottage that could provide rental income. The Grahams even secured planning permission to convert the stable yard into a Victorian-themed village tourist attraction.

The two refurbished cottages have one bedroom each. The gardener's cottage has a kitchen and utility, a sitting room with an original stone fireplace, a conservatory overlooking a stream, and a bedroom with an en suite bath and walk-in wardrobe. The other cottage has a kitchen with an Aga, a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, and an outside patio.

Rathvinden House is a 10-minute walk from Leighlinbridge, home to one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe and famous as the birthplace of the 19th-century physicist John Tyndall.

Rathvinden House is asking €1.85m through Sherry FitzGerald McDermott (059) 9720528. Its outbuildings and several acres of land can be bought in a separate lot.

Rathvinden House,

Leighlinbridge,

Co Carlow

Asking price: €1.85m

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald McDermott,

(059) 9720528

Indo Property

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