The Irish Rapunzel-style castle selling for less than a million
WHAT would happen if 50pc of Ireland's adult population gave up alcohol tomorrow?
This is exactly what came about in the early 1840s when Father Theobald Mathew, a Tipperary-born Capuchin priest, single-handedly made temperance a national mass movement throughout Ireland. Within six years, three million Irish adults had taken "the pledge".
The effects of a booze-free populace were extraordinary. Comparing crime statistics from 1837 and 1838 with those of 1841 -- we see that murders fell by 57pc, death sentences by 80pc, robberies by 65pc and faction fights -- mass riots which commonly erupted at fairs and other social gatherings -- reduced by 60pc.
Irish society's most upstanding citizens (aside from the brewers and distillers whose businesses were floored) were massively appreciative and there was a clamour to commemorate the canny Capuchin's extraordinary achievements.
Perhaps the most extraordinary commemoration of all was the Fr Mathew Tower extravaganza constructed at Tower Hill in Glounthaune, 10 miles outside Cork city.
The foundation for this castellated Victorian tower house was laid in 1842 during the priest's lifetime, with a life-sized statue located in the gardens. It was later taken over for private residential use.
It was in the 1990s when the whimsical landmark came to the attention of trained carpenter and fitted kitchen businessman Eamonn O'Rourke and his wife Teresa who were on the lookout for a "home with a difference."
"I always admired Fr Mathew Tower," says Teresa. "One day we noticed it was for sale and we went to view it. It had mostly been restored but there was still a lot of work to do. The stairs and the windows in particular were in poor condition.
"Eamonn decided on the spot that he wanted to live there. But when he heard I wasn't in favour, he didn't say any more about it.
"Because he had been so enthusiastic I went back to look at it again with a friend. The house itself was in good enough nick and I began to see the possibilities. So we bought it in 1996 and we started work in 1997."
Carpenter Eamonn got to work building a bespoke timber staircase as well as hand crafting the kitchen fittings -- using the best that their Cash and Carry Kitchen business had to offer.
Teresa involved herself in decorating and furnishing their new home. It took them just nine months to get it sorted.
The result is a warm and magical fantasy home, which unlike so many Irish castle and tower dwellings today, is also completely practical for regular everyday living. The couple, who are now in their 60s, say they've savoured every minute of living here.
"When you're a child, every little girl dreams of living in a castle like a princess. It's a magical thing, but you don't actually expect it to happen," says Teresa.
Soon however the dream will end for the O'Rourkes who have been based in the capital for more than five years.
They have just put Tower Hill Castle on the market through Sherry FitzGerald for €950,000.
Accommodation includes an entrance foyer with exposed masonry walls, neo-Gothic style windows, a flagstone floor and sweeping staircase in timber with ornate spiralled ironmongery.
The foyer gives direct access to the tower itself.
There's a kitchen/dining room with solid wood floor, the aforementioned handmade kitchen and wide windows looking over the property's gardens and Lough Mahon. This room also accesses a long raised viewing balcony which runs the full length of the room and allows al fresco dining with an eagles' nest aspect in good weather.
A spiral staircase leads to a family room upstairs with curved walls mirroring the tower dimensions. This has solid wood floors and also accesses a viewing deck.
The tower itself has three unusual rooms stacked on top of the other and the outdoor viewing area on the roof. The tower dining room comes with neo-Gothic windows, a high ceiling and a period style fireplace containing a gas fire insert.
Overhead there's the tower living room which is perhaps the most impressive room in the house.
It comes with two huge neo-Gothic windows, extra high ceilings and the original elaborate carved stone fireplace which has ornate reliefs depicting Fr Mathew reaching out to Hibernia and Britannia.
For wannabe Rapunzels and princesses there's the tower bedroom -- a real fairy tale affair on the second floor offering extraordinary views from three neo-Gothic windows facing in different directions and a large open fireplace in which to light a roaring log fire. The spiral staircase leads upwards to the viewing balcony.
Attached to the main house is the master bedroom -- there are five in all -- which is a double-sized room lit by bay window French doors leading out to a viewing deck. This has an en suite bathroom with a power shower and a walk-in wardrobe.
There's the very large entertainment room with surround-sound fitted. This room also has double French doors. The fifth bedroom is currently used as a study.
Overall the house and tower has more than 6,500 sq ft -- more than six times the size of the average family home.
Below ground is the tower cellar which has been used as the current owners as -- wait for it -- a wine cellar.
Teresa adds: "We've always admired Fr Mathew's legacy, but when guests arrive sometimes they wonder whether they'll be allowed have a drink. Of course we enjoy a glass in moderation and the cellar is perfect for keeping wine at just the right temperature." Cheers!
Further details from Sherry FitzGerald Country (01-2376339) and Sherry FitzGerald Cork (021-427 3041).
View it yourself: Tower Hill Castle has been designated for private viewings only. But Irish Independent readers can take their own exclusive podcast guided tour of this historic fairytale home at: www.independent.ie/towerhillvideo