When Ireland's top chocolatier Mary Ann O'Brien was 17, she was drafted in by her father Phonsie to help with the restoration of their then recently acquired Georgian family home, Landscape House at Kilsheelan in Co Tipperary.
"All of it had to be dry-lined and the shutters had to be stripped back," she says.
The 4,500-sq ft pile, set at the foot of Slievenamon and the northern banks of the River Suir, was to be a new chapter in Phonsie's life after having retired from a successful career in horse training in the 1970s. Phonsie - full name Alphonse Septimus O'Brien - intended to turn the 91 acres that came with Landscape House into a stud farm. A brother of Vincent O'Brien, he had also been a jockey of renown.
Daughter Mary Ann is today best known as the founder of the multi million euro enterprise that is Lily O'Brien's. Earlier this year she sold the famous quality chocolates and dessert company that she started in her kitchen in 1992, to an international food firm for €40m. The enterprise employs 120 in Newbridge.
"He [Phonsie] decided Landscape House was the perfect place to start breeding. On the day he drove through the gates and set eyes on the property, he said 'I'm not leaving here till I leave this life'." Poignantly, Phonsie's wish came to pass: he died peacefully in Kilsheelan in 2016, at the age of 86.
From the 1940s onwards, Phonsie was an amateur rider and a key cog in the stratospheric training career of his late brother Vincent O'Brien, the only trainer to win three consecutive Grand Nationals. Phonsie rode a number of winners for Vincent at Cheltenham, including Royal Tan in 1954. He became a trainer, saddling four consecutive winners of the Galway Plate in the 1960s. He was also credited as the trainer of the 1960 Irish Derby winner Chamour. He dedicated the last 40 years to Landscape Stud, but he was also passionate about fishing; spending hours catching salmon and trout at the riverbank 100 steps below the family home with friends. His circles included Nick Brady, the US Secretary of the Treasury and former US president George H W Bush.
Mary Ann says: "Nick Brady came to stay at Landscape, and I remember my mother shouting at the Secret Service to get out of her kitchen when they wanted to check what was in the food.
"Dad fished with Bush in America, stayed at the White House with him, and even travelled on Air Force One. We met everyone from Neil Diamond to Frank Sinatra to Jackie Kennedy." Jackie also stayed with the O'Briens and Phonsie took her for a pint in a pub in Dunhill.
Now the house is now being placed for auction through Jordan.
Landscape House was built in the 1790s and once belonged to the Mount Congreve Estate. The 70-acre garden at Mount Congreve won Ambrose Congreve 13 gold medals at Chelsea and his gardening achievements earned him a CBE. The Mount Congreve influence is still visible on the grounds at Landscape, where specimen trees and shrubs planted for the Congreves more than 220 years ago still thrive in the valley's microclimate, including sequoia trees from California.
The two-storey-over-basement property, which is accessed through electric gates and a tree-lined avenue, has a stepped walk with water fountains from its hillside perch right down to the River Suir. A flight of granite steps, flanked by railings, leads up to the double-front. The original fanlight tops the white front door, which opens onto an entrance hall with a turning staircase - a Georgian hallmark. To the right of the hallway is a cloakroom and bar, which got plenty of use during parties thrown by Phonsie and his wife Ann. Mary Ann says: "If you were invited for lunch, you'd be lucky to get out of the house at 11.30pm. Robert Sangster and uncle Vincent would come over, as would Lester Piggott."
To the rear is a cosy bow-shaped drawing room with a Georgian fireplace and timber surround, as well as views over the river and gardens below. To the left of the hallway is a dual-aspect family room with a cast-iron fireplace and a study area, as well as what was once Phonsie's office. The dining room and kitchen are located on the lower ground floor, the level where servants worked during the Georgian era. The dining room is also bow-shaped, and there's a wine cellar and a kitchen with an Aga range. A door between the kitchen and pantry leads out to one of the property's two courtyards. There are four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the first floor of the recently redecorated house. In addition, there is a guest suite in a converted outhouse beside the main house, as well as a three-bed staff flat on the grounds that's used by the stud farm's grooms. The farm includes 14 horseboxes, haybarns, and eight paddocks.
Landscape House and Stud is for sale by public auction, which will be held at 12pm on July 25 at the Hotel Minella in Clonmel. It has an advised minimum value of €1.3m.
Landscape House Kilsheelan,
Asking price: €1.3m (AMV)
Agent: Jordan (045) 433 550