Thursday 18 July 2019

Star of The Sea: peek inside this elegant former rectory in Wexford which featured in movie of Banville novel

Mark Keenan discovers how seaside Kiltennel House in Wexford became a pivotal character in the filming of Banville's Booker prize-winning tale of young obsession

Kiltennel House in Wexford
Kiltennel House in Wexford
An aerial shot of the grounds with its mature trees that surround the main house, the guest house and the stables
The kitchen comes with pitch pine units, a flagged stone floor and Aga
The entrance hallway and fireplace
A poster for the film based on Banville's book
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

When it came to making the film of John Banville's 2005 Man Booker prize-winning novel, The Sea, director Stephen Brown and his team scoured the Wexford coast in search of a house that could completely personify the story's grand Irish seaside guest house of old and to personify collective idlyllic Irish memories of sunny childhood summers past, spent with sand between the toes.

Banville's story relates the tale of a widower who comes back to the Wexford seaside town of his childhood summer holidays to find peace after the death of his wife.

The book is divided into three interlinking segments, spliced at intervals through its narrative. The foundation seam is that of the childhood seaside summer spent by Max, a boy on holidays in 1950s Ireland and his interactions with the upper crust Grace family, also on holidays. These include their daughter Chloe and her twin brother Myles with whom Max plays. There's also their glamorous mother Connie and her young nursemaid Rose. The holiday ends in tragedy with two of the children perishing unexpectedly and impacting Max's life forever.

The present day guest house Max returns to in his adulthood was also the rented house in which the Grace family holidayed. In the film, as in the novel, the house would play a pivotal role. So it was vital to find a building of real character.

The kitchen comes with pitch pine units, a flagged stone floor and Aga
The kitchen comes with pitch pine units, a flagged stone floor and Aga

While Banville says the book was inspired by his childhood seaside summers spent in Rosslare, Brown and his crew instead turned to Ballymoney and its environs where they discovered Kiltennel House, an elegant former rectory. As it happens, this house also involves three pivotal segments from different points in time, combined seamlessly to present us with one endearing narrative.

The owners handed it over to Brown and his crew for nine weeks. The cracking cast included Ciaran Hynes in lead, along with Charlotte Rampling, Sinead Cusack, Missy Keating (as Chloe) and Natascha McElhone (as the radiant Connie). It came back to them with the interiors painted different colours. The film, released in 2013 received mixed reviews.

Kiltennel is located a spit from the glorious tract of sandy beach that runs all the way to neighbouring Courtown - still a target for July's bucket and spade brigade.

The house on eight acres has been brought to market for the first time since 2002 when the current owners acquired it. It had been used as a popular riding school and the present owners have continued to run the popular Pony Camp here for the nine to 14 year olds who flood to these beaches each year for summer holidays.

It was around about the time that Banville began the initial struggle with his Booker winning novel (he said the narrative voice deserted him for a time) that the current owners began to upgrade Kiltennel. They eventually spent more than €350,000 on improvements, last year investing €20,000 in redoing the roof.

Kiltennel House starts its life in 1830 as a Georgian rectory for the Church of Ireland's nearby Kiltennel parish church. It was built as a replacement for an old rectory which had become run down. The Earl of Courtown invested jointly with the then rector Reverend Owen to replace it. This building now comprises the northern section and the lowest part. The style is handsome and non fussy. The two-storey, oblong portion contains windows with nine glass panels each.

The entrance hallway and fireplace
The entrance hallway and fireplace

As Kiltennel approached its middle age, its mid and tallest segment was built, circa 1900. This was given a somewhat grander stance and given 12 pane windows. Then in 1930, a century after its first bricks were placed, the final section was added.

While not as tall as its predecessor, its Edwardian rump is much showier, with a bow front and a curved conservatory rounding off the entire. The current owners built a guest house nearby, bringing a new 21st century addition. It means this property has rooms from three centuries.

Today it stands at 3,550 sq ft, encompassing the equivalent floor area of more than three average semi detached family homes. The agents describe it as "largely Georgian".

The current owners have used it as a seaside guest house and they've also invested heavily in the equestrian side of the property, which could make it a target for further investment in hospitality going forward.

Accommodation includes a grand tiled hall, a drawing room with an Adams-style marble chimney piece and a bay window. This room leads via double doors to the conservatory which faces south west and has a sliding door out to the garden. There's a formal dining room with a solid timber floor and a period cast-iron chimney piece. There's a morning room with an eye-catching Carrera marble version and a library and study also with a period chimney piece.

Downstairs has a WC, the kitchen with pitch pine units, a flagged stone floor and a Belfast sink, is anchored by a stout Aga. There's a breakfast room located through two archways from the kitchen and a door leads out here to the courtyard.

A poster for the film based on Banville's book
A poster for the film based on Banville's book

There are five bedrooms upstairs including the master chamber which has steps leading up to a smaller dressing room (possibly formerly a nursery) and a bathroom with a large shower.

Two of the remaining four bedrooms have their own ensuite while the main bathroom comes with a free-standing cast iron tub of old. Up here you've also got a linen room and a hot press.

Adjoining but not attached is the modern guest house, The Lodge, which comes with three bedrooms, a reception and a kitchen. Along again from the guest house and you're into the equestrian aspect of the property.

It comes with eight acres and there are 10 box stalls and three pony boxes in sheds. It also has a sand arena, a pond and lots of mature trees.

Down the road you'll find miles of golden beaches. Like Wexford's best known writer, generations of older Dubs are already intimately familiar with these sands from childhood summers of fish and chips, candy floss, penny cascades, sandwiches (with real sand) and lashings of warm red lemonade. But these days it is the wealthier Dubs, returned in their SUVs, BMWs and Audis who come to its swishy mobile parks. Children live here the entire summer as mum and dad take turns to spend the week working in the city and drive down at the weekend.

The price of €1.15m makes this huge house with its beach proximate acres, a straight swap for a period pile in a good Dublin suburb. And like Banville's mature Max character, it might also pluck the heartstrings of someone older seeking a seaside retirement in some style at the star of The Sea.

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