Thursday 13 December 2018

Original home to Ireland's airship pioneer goes up for sale

Kitestown villa in Co Wexford was home to Ireland's airship pioneer, writes Mark Keenan

An aerial view of ArranHouse in Kitestown in Wexford
An aerial view of ArranHouse in Kitestown in Wexford
Kitchen with red Aga
The dining room with its feature fireplace
The hall stairs to the bedroom suite
The Adams fireplace in the drawingroom
The upstairs bedroom suite
The mock Tudor frontage
A photo of the Johnstown blimp nest with an airship in dock

Early powered aviation was a high society craze dominated by the bored (and often not so bright) sons of wealthy aristocrats. They spent Pimms-fuelled Saturday afternoons flying by the bucket seat of their pants, and occasionally pulverising themselves in accidents. Blue-blooded rakes were among the few who could afford an aeronautical contraption of the day - essentially big kites with an engine, joystick, wheels and a seat bolted on somewhere.

So when the Great War broke out, Britain's sparse air forces reached out to the few experienced pilots and the monocled legions piled into the Royal Air Corps with champers in hand and servants in tow.

What initially resulted was a surreal sort of airborne jousting in accordance with a set of chivalric rules. Toffs from both sides circled one another in biplanes at altitude to duel with revolvers, the survivors returning for afternoon tea and crumpets. History tells us that the Corps heroes were the dashing pilots of chipper little biplanes and triplanes, later armed with machine guns and bombs. But it was not exclusively so.

For instance, Squadron Commander Hugh Clarence Fuller of Kitestown in Wexford was a blimp man through and through. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1913 at a time when it was also developing manned and armed hydrogen-filled airships. When squadrons of huge German Zeppelins swooped in by night to bomb British cities, the forces turned to people like Fuller to kick-start their end of the inflatable arms race.

Kitchen with red Aga
Kitchen with red Aga

Fuller, who served in France and later in the Dardanelles, ended up being one of the small number of enrolled active servicemen during WWI to work largely from home, in Wexford. The British installed him at Johnstown Castle (just a few miles from Arran House, his Kitestown villa) where he was charged with assisting in the setting up of an Irish blimp "nest".

This involved cutting out a airship-shaped clearing in the woods (they were 143 feet long). Cosseted by high trees on all sides, the niche provided the equivalent of a marine harbour for the inflatable craft, which could be very difficult to handle on the ground. Fuel and hydrogen gas was provided by climbing the adjoining trees with hoses attached to belts.

Squadron commander Fuller's charges, the SS-class (Submarine Scout) airships saw plenty of action at Johnstown towards the end of the war as German U-boat activity concentrated off the Irish South East coast. Fuller's blimps crossed from Pembroke in Wales and back again from Johnstown, spotting subs, dropping bombs on them and raking them with Lewis Gun fire.

At war's end, airships went into the ascendancy and seemed likely to dominate commercial flight. Fuller's career surged when he was sent to Boston in charge of the ground crew for the US landing of the R34 airship, which made the first powered Atlantic flight from east to west in 1919. Airships became the new highbrow passenger liners of the Atlantic. But in 1937 the Hindenburg disaster burst faith in airship safety and also the careers of the blimp men like Fuller. The commander drifted back to Kitestown where he remained largely grounded until passing away in 1967 aged 89.

His mock Tudor-fronted home, Arran, was constructed in the 1830s and likely altered by the Fullers to give it the characteristic Edwardian front it has today. The property, which includes period features, is being offered for sale by the current owners of 35 years who bought it from the Fullers. The price is €850,000 and it would suit those who fancy the country life but within reach of the capital.

Today it comes with 15 acres of land attached and sits adjacent to Ferrycarrig, five minutes from Wexford Town, twenty from the ferry at Rosslare and just over two hours' drive from Dublin. The accommodation is single storey, apart from the master bedroom suite which is at first floor level. It includes a reception hall with an arch leading to the main staircase. There's an inner hall with a bathroom off it, a TV lounge with a mahogany fireplace and a drawing room with an Adams chimney piece in marble and ornate grid ceiling work, a dining room with a fireplace and a solid oak floor. A garden room overlooks the patio and gardens. A kitchen and breakfast room has a full-height pitched beamed and panelled ceiling along with an oil fired Aga and a built-in AEG electric oven and warming tray, and an integrated dishwasher. An island unit has a built-in 4-ring gas hob and Miele built-in barbecue griddle.

The dining room with its feature fireplace
The dining room with its feature fireplace

A lobby leads to the guest bedroom wing incorporating three bedrooms, a bathroom with a bath tub and rainwater shower, while upstairs is the master chamber with a Jacuzzi bath en suite and built-in wardrobe. Outside is a rear courtyard and upper yard with an range of well-maintained out-offices, a paddock, and formal and informal gardens.

Those who fancy flying down to have a look can contact Kehoe & Associates.

Arran House

Kitestown

Crossabeg

Co Wexford

The Adams fireplace in the drawingroom
The Adams fireplace in the drawingroom

Asking price: €850,000

Agent: Kehoe & Associates, (053) 9144393

Indo Property

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