Saturday 21 July 2018

Taste of the good life in a rural paradise for €1.5m

Thornvale House Moneygall, Birr, Co Offaly €1.5m

Thornvale House
Thornvale House
Some of the Bulger children at work in the fine old walled garden

Katy McGuinness

When Kyran and Rose Bulger and their children moved in to Thornvale, located just 4km down the road from Barack Obama's ancestral village of Moneygall in Co Offaly, 15 years ago, they were buying much more than a handsome early 19th-Century country home with over 582 sqm of living space on 21 acres.

As Kyran Bulger explains, it was an opportunity for the family to grow together in a way that had not been possible for them when they lived in the US.

Bulger, an oncologist born in Dublin but who trained in the US, had been offered a position with the HSE overseeing its cancer clinics in the region.

Rose is originally from Kells, Co Meath, and trained as a nurse but had worked in the home since the birth of the couple's triplets.

There are seven children in the family, now aged from 28 down to 18, all of whom were born in the United States, the three youngest having been adopted there.

Modelling their way of life on that of the Hutterites - a branch, along with the Amish and Mennonites, of Anabaptists - the Bulgers committed to home-schooling their children at Thornvale. Part of their reason for coming to Ireland was dissatisfaction with the American education system.

"We decided that we wanted to give the children an authentic Catholic education that we could not get for them in the US," says Kyran.

"I had come across the Hutterites in the course of my work in the US and was impressed by them. I asked them how they did it and they told me that their secret was that they worked together as a family.

"I saw this idea of families facing inwards rather than towards the outside world, and home-schooling, working in practice.

"In this model, the mother is at home in the house teaching the children, who are learning and also participating in meaningful work, keeping animals, growing vegetables and making clothes. We saw the small farm here as something that we could do together.

"The children each had their own thing - one had horses, another ducks, another chickens, and another pedigree dogs. My eldest daughter had a dairy herd and it produced the best butter and cream that I've ever tasted."

Thornvale sits on an elevated site with beautifully maintained grounds that include mature woodland and fishing rights along a stretch of the Ollatrim river. An avenue of mature trees leads up to the house, with a pretty lily pond visible from the front windows.

The house was in a state of disrepair when the Bulgers purchased it and they set about a five-year programme of restoration, with some of the work done by Kyran and his sons.

It is now offered for sale in excellent condition, with many period features including marble fireplaces, window shutters and cornicing intact.

As well as six bedrooms and plenty of reception rooms (including one described as the prayer room), a country kitchen complete with AGA and two Belfast sinks, there is a separate guest cottage accessible from the main house, and a host of outbuildings and not one, but two courtyards.

The house courtyard is surrounded by out buildings and includes a billiards room. The second courtyard contains stables and storerooms and leads to a schoolroom, where the family sometimes accommodated visiting home-schoolers from around Ireland.

The grounds also include a fine old walled garden that is in good working order with neat vegetable beds, a polytunnel and a greenhouse waiting for the next owner's attention.

"It was lovely for us coming home to Ireland with our children," says Kyran. "But for the children, the move came too late; they felt American and never really saw themselves as Irish. The last one left to go back to the States in November."

Now, with seven children and three grandchildren living outside Ireland, and another on the way, Kyran says that he and Rose are lonely.

He is at retirement age and so they are heading back to the US, intending to relocate somewhere in the south-west, probably in California or Phoenix where several of their children are now based.

"We're Catholic," says Kyran, "It's not popular now, but at Thornvale, we were like a Catholic version of an Amish family."

Agent: Savills (01) 663 4350

Viewing: By appointment

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