Tuesday 20 November 2018

Proper castle with ghosts and dungeons can be yours for €1.9m

Portlick is a castle with original medieval features in Glasson Westmeath.

Portlick Castle which was built in the 12th Century.
Portlick Castle which was built in the 12th Century.
The hall and stairs of Portlick House
Large double bedroom at Portlick Castle in Westmeath
The Edwardian dining room at Portlick Castle.
The Victorian drawing room at the Westmeath castle.
The grand entrance hall at Portlick Castle
The hall at Porlick Castle in Westmeath
The view of Lough Ree from Portlick Castle.

Eithne Tynan

There has been a genre trend on television in recent years for US and UK made "reality" programmes that follow ghost hunters at work.

These productions usually involve a duo or trio of presenters visiting "haunted" properties where they wait until nightfall when (for some reason) they switch out all the lights, turn on their flashlights and huddle together in the dark to peer overhead and into the corners and repeatedly ask one another: "Did you hear that? Did you hear that?" Usually nothing shows up.

To improve their prospects, they could do worse than pay a visit to Portlick Castle, on the shores of Lough Ree in Co Westmeath, which is widely reputed to be haunted by a ghost known as the 'Blue Lady'. She has been seen by the owner floating around the staircase area of the great castle and over the years, she has also been spotted by a great many of the guests who have excitedly recorded their experiences in various online forums.

The Blue Lady gets about it seems, because Kilkenny Castle, Monkstown Castle in Cork, the Sharon Rectory in Co Donegal, and the Workhouse Museum in Derry all have blue lady ghost sightings attached to them.

Portlick is also reputed to have a ghost prisoner, who has been known to appear in the dungeons below.

For many years run as a guest house, and more recently offered for private lettings, the historic Westmeath castle is now on offer (spirit included) for sale for just under €2m.

The hall and stairs of Portlick House
The hall and stairs of Portlick House
Large double bedroom at Portlick Castle in Westmeath
The Edwardian dining room at Portlick Castle.
The Victorian drawing room at the Westmeath castle.
The grand entrance hall at Portlick Castle
The hall at Porlick Castle in Westmeath
The view of Lough Ree from Portlick Castle.

Portlick's history dates back to the Norman invasion and the 12th century, and it would be a shame if it didn't have its share of unquiet spirits. And with authentic dank dungeon, battlements, and an 800-year-old well, and views across a lake, it supplies perfect scenery for medieval-flavoured drama.

For most of its history, Portlick has been inhabited by only two families. The story goes that a castle was built on the site by Sir Henry de Leon in the 12th century under the charter of King John. The four-storey tower house that stands there now is thought to have gone up later, in the 15th century, though incorporating the earlier structure.

De Leons (who later went by the more familiar name of Dillon) lived at Portlick until 1696, when they made the mistake of backing the losing side in the Williamite wars. The property was confiscated from Garrett Dillon, a Jacobite and one of the signatories of the Treaty of Limerick, and he was obliged to flee the country.

In 1703, it was sold to a Reverend Robert Smyth, and that family continued in residence until the mid-20th century. In 1844, Frideswide Maria Smyth of Portlick distinguished herself by marrying Richard Brydges Beechey, one of the most celebrated marine painters in the history of Irish art.

Together the couple went on to distinguish themselves even further by producing a daughter, also named Frideswide, who was a chess champion and author of two well-regarded books on the subject.

There was no one to inherit from the last Smyth, Harriet, as her stepson had been killed in World War II, and so the castle went out of the family in 1955.

In about the year 1800, the Smyths had added a two-storey extension as a more comfortable residence. A fire gutted the building in 1861 and, in the process of refurbishing it, the Smyths threw up another castellated tower to the corner of that Georgian wing, to tie the place together. As the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage remarks, the result "illustrates changing architectural tastes and styles over a 400-year period".

Portlick was bought at auction in 1989 by Luke Whitington, an Australian poet, art collector and businessman, who restored it and added two new wings. So it's medieval, it's Georgian, it's Victorian and it's late-20th century.

Inside, too, the castle is an eclectic mix of styles. There's a minstrels' gallery with what's described as a 13th century floor-to-ceiling fireplace. The drawing room is Victorian and the dining room is Edwardian. And for ghost-lovers, there's a 12th-century stone dungeon with vaulted ceilings.

The upper floors contain 10 bedrooms - four big ones on the first floor, and another six on the upper two floors - and all of them have ensuite bathrooms.

The recently-added wings contain a meeting room and a small concert hall.

Above the concert room is a terrace accessed from the minstrels' gallery, with reproduction battlements, and from there you have a view out over Lough Ree.

As well as the main house, there's also a converted two-storey coach-house with three bedrooms, a living room with a fireplace, and a separate kitchen. A large complex of outbuildings is arranged around a courtyard south of the castle. There was approval to turn these into six dwellings which, though it's now lapsed, might be renewed. In the 2000s, the castle began to be let for weddings, and then ended up at the centre of a court battle.

The Victory Christian Fellowship, claimed it as an asset in the course of acquiring loans from Bank of Scotland, and were reportedly obliged to pay €350,000 in damages to Portlick's owners in 2011.

Once a 12,000-acre estate, Portlick's grounds now amount to a rather more manageable 27 acres running down towards the lake shore. Of those, 19 acres are a mixture of pasture and woodland, with oak and poplar trees, and the other eight acres is marshland.

To the west is an ancient sort of canal that once ran from Portlick harbour to the inner lakes. The selling agents say it was surveyed in 1996 and, if dredged, could make a marina for 400 boats.

Portlick Castle, Glasson Westmeath

Asking price: €1.9m

Agent: Ganly Walters (01) 6633255

See more

See the slideshow of the property, along with a video tour on www.independent.ie/life/home-garden

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