Tales that delighted Britain's Queen Elizabeth echo in these Georgian mansion halls in Carlow
Royal associations and Zulu battle tales echo in these Georgian halls
Following the death last year of John Alexander V of Milford House in Carlow, at the age of 89, mourners at his funeral smiled to see a photograph on his coffin of him dancing with Britain's Queen Mother. It was a reminder that the once grand Milford House Estate in Milford was, formerly, quite a bit more 'Monte Carlow' than Dolmen County.
It was an image that stirred memories of a longstanding friendship between the Alexander family and the British royals.
In 1964 Queen Elizabeth II sent a wreath marking the death of his grandmother, Olive, made with 87 roses, one for each year of her life, along with messages of sympathy from herself and the Queen Mother.
John was the last in a long line of landed gentry associated with Milford House in Carlow. Not to be confused with Milford House in Tipperary, Mayo, Armagh, Galway or any other county - wherever there's a mill, it seems there's a corresponding Milford House - the seven-bedroom property was passed down through five generations of the Alexander family, well-known millers and grain merchants, and all of the owners called John.
In his book, The Carlow Gentry, local historian Jimmy O'Toole notes: "What made Olive so beloved of the royal family were the stories she regaled them with during dinner at Windsor and Badminton.
"Her personal maid, Lilly Deane, recalled Queen Elizabeth stating: 'Oh, Mrs Hall, we all love her great stories about the Carlow hunt'."
The family included the Second World War British field marshal Harold Alexander.
The original John Alexander came from Ulster and saw the potential of the mill site by the River Barrow. Milford House nearby was completed just before his wedding in 1799.
In what was then a revolutionary development, Milford Mills began generating hydro-electricity on July 31, 1891, making Carlow one of the first inland towns in Ireland and Britain to light up with this new source of power. It happened 36 years before the foundation of the ESB in 1927, while many parts of Ireland had to wait longer still, until the Rural Electrification Scheme (1949-70).
Charles Greene, whose mother Chloe Verschoyle-Greene married John Alexander V, said: "When my mother came to Milford House in the 1980s, the estate had fallen into disarray, and she consolidated things. She was a very clever woman."
At 10,790 square feet, Milford House is 10 times bigger than your average three-bed semi.
An array of animal heads - buffalo, moose, red deer, wild boar, caribou, ibex, sika deer and a kudu - adorn the walls of the high-ceilinged entrance hall, and a gunroom provides confirmation that this is definitely hunting-fishing-shooting territory.
Also on the ground floor are three reception rooms with period features including original fireplaces and plasterwork; a library, breakfast room, kitchen, TV room, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Upstairs are five bedrooms and four bathrooms.
Originally the servants' quarters, the lower ground floor is home to a tack room, the original kitchen, a wine cellar, pantry, office, garage, boiler room and three further rooms. While this might have been tailor-made for the Downton Abbey society of a bygone era, today the basement is ripe for bringing into the 21st century with a total refit.
Selling agent Paddy Jordan reckons potential buyers will require upwards of €500,000 to convert the basement, upgrade bathrooms and modernise the property.
Set in 50 acres of parkland with stables, a walled garden, and a tree-lined perimeter, Milford is 8km south of Carlow town, a five-minute drive from the M9.
The property comes with a separate two-bedroom gardener's cottage, two-bedroom yard house and a one-bedroom gate lodge.
Jordan says it's likely to appeal to a couple with young children who like ponies and the outdoor life, or an entrepreneur in the hotel/restaurant trade. "There is talk of it being turned into a wedding venue, but I'd like to see a family buy it," says Charles Greene. "It was designed as a family home. Luckily, they didn't make it too big, so it's very manageable."
The house also contains surprising mementoes of the ghosts of its past. In The Carlow Gentry, Jimmy O'Toole describes how John Alexander III sprang to prominence during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 when, as a young British army officer, he captured the last king of the Zulus, Cetshwayo.
Cetshwayo had presided over a crushing Zulu defeat of the British at the Battle of Isandlwana in January 1879 (made famous by the movie Zulu), but then his fortunes turned and he was captured the following August by a native scout troop led by Lieutenant Alexander. Three spears were taken from the defeated king as trophies, one of which was presented to Queen Victoria and another to the British commander-in-chief, Sir Garnet Wolseley, while Alexander brought the third spear back to Milford House where it has remained ever since.
Milford, Co Carlow
Asking price: €1,375,000
Joint Agents: Jordan Town and Country, (045) 433550 and Knight Frank, (01) 6342466