One of the hidden gems of Ireland's Ancient East tourist trail, Dunlavin in west Wicklow, is surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery the Garden County has to offer.
With pheasants flying, horses grazing on lush pastures and the Wicklow Hills framing the pastoral landscape, it may look like a rural idyll today, but things were not always so peaceful here. In fact, Dunlavin was the scene of one of the most ruthless massacres of the 1798 Rebellion.
On May 24 that year, the day the rebellion began, 36 suspected United Irishmen were taken by crown forces and, without trial, unarmed and defenceless, were summarily executed by firing squad on the village green. According to historian Chris Lawlor, others were flogged and hanged from the pillars of the market house.
In A Military History of Ireland, author Thomas Bartlett refers to the same incident, stating that there was "little criticism" from the authorities in Dublin Castle to execute the disaffected Yeomen without trial.
Happily, the village is a far more tranquil place in our own time, a quiet place, featuring characteristic, unusually wide streets, with a Doric style courthouse at its centre. On the outskirts are small holdings and country homes, which typically come with a good deal of land attached. Close to the border of Kildare, with the racecourses of Naas, Punchestown and the Curragh half an hour's drive away, it's not surprising that the village is a favourite among the horsey set.
One of the horsey homes in the locality, 7km from the village centre, is Freynestown Stud, a two-storey house with a guest wing, stables and outhouses on lush pastures. For the current owners, it was a case of love at first sight when they bought it five years ago after a single viewing.
As well as their day jobs - he's an equestrian journalist, she's a pharmacist - the couple buy and sell horses, so the property ticked all their boxes. The five-bedroom family home came with landscaped gardens, nine stables, a haybarn, tack room and 24 acres of fenced paddocks with sheltered grazing.
With an extensive frontage clad in Virginia creeper, the house has the look of a period pile, but Freynestown Stud is a relatively modern property, having been built in 1975 by a horse breeder. It subsequently became home to a pair of bloodstock agents before the current owners moved in. A big attraction for all three sets of owners to date is that the land here is heavy in limestone. This provides calcium-rich grass, essential for developing strong bones and teeth in young foals.
While the house was structurally sound when the current owners bought it in 2015, they had it insulated, drylined, rewired, replumbed and reroofed, bringing it up to a B3 BER. This year has been so warm, they say they haven't felt the need to turn on a single radiator for months, or light the Aga, a feature of the open-plan kitchen/dining room with its Shaker-style units and centre island. There is a separate utility room, pantry, guest wc, dual-aspect living room and formal dining room with double doors into a drawing room with antique fireplace. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors lead from here out to a south-facing garden with a paved patio and colourful herbaceous borders filled with roses, lavender, and other mature shrubs and trees.
An easy flow from one room to another and to the rear garden creates an inside-out approach, ideal for entertaining. Over 100 people attended the housewarming party and in subsequent years, before this year's lockdown, it wasn't unusual for 60 friends and extended family members to gather here for birthdays, Christmas and summer barbeques.
A long hallway on the ground floor leads to an annex wing, with two double bedrooms, both ensuite, and a study. Upstairs are three double bedrooms, the main one with ensuite bathroom and dressing room, and a family bathroom.
Spanning 3,832 sq ft of living space, there was no feeling of being locked in during lockdown in this house in recent months. The gardens and surrounding countryside also came into their own during the coronavirus pandemic. With racing cancelled from March to June as part of the Covid-19 restrictions, there was little the racing journalist owner could do but enjoy time outdoors with the couple's young son, walking through fields and trekking about on horseback.
Neither he nor his wife could imagine self isolation while cooped up in a dense urban setting with little or no outside space. As for house hunters who found summer in the city a grind during lockdown, many are now seeking to escape to the country should there be a resurgence of Covid-19 or some other pandemic.
Before coronavirus, Freynestown Stud was primarily a horse-lover's haven. But the pandemic experience may have created a whole new market among city dwellers looking for a change in lifestyle.
"It's a versatile property, which could continue to function as a small stud farm, or it may attract a family who simply want to live the good life with space for children, ponies and dogs," says selling agent Roseanne De Vere Hunt of Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes. "While 24 acres may sound a lot to urban dwellers, it's not at all over the top. For somebody setting up a business in the equine industry, or a family who enjoy country pursuits, it's not too big and not too small. For many buyers, this is in the Goldilocks zone - just right."
The annex wing also opens up possibilities for another type of buyer, she says. In particular, she's thinking of home owners who, together with their parents, pool resources in a bid to relocate together from Dublin, Naas or further afield. "They may decide to sell two properties in town and come to live here, with the growing family in the main house and downsizing parents/grandparents in the annex," she says. "This gives both generations the opportunity to have their own space - to be a little apart, yet together."
As the current owners are expanding their business, they need extra land to accommodate more horses, which is why they're leaving Freynestown, if somewhat reluctantly. They say if they could keep turning the key to this house, they'd be happy, but 24 acres is no longer in their Goldilocks zone.
They won't be moving far, probably across the border into Kildare, the 'Thoroughbred County,' where their families are based.
They'll still be close to their favourite restaurant, the Ballymore Inn in Ballymore Eustace, a 15-minute drive from Freynestown Stud.
It's a 10-minute drive to Rathsallagh House and Golf Club, 25 minutes to Naas and Newbridge, and an hour from Dublin. For equestrian fans, the racecourses of Punchestown, Naas and the Curragh are all a short distance away, while for nature lovers, the walking trails around Glendalough and the Blessington lakes are also nearby.
Sherry FitzGerald Country seeks €1.05m for Freynestown Stud.