All the rooms in Charles Lambert's and Ronan Daly's period house in Longford are beautifully furnished with family portraits and elegant antiques; all are also gracefully draped and swagged with curtains. Because of that level of completion, many would think that the bare plaster walls in the various reception rooms are intentional.
After all, it is a bit of a thing with conservationists nowadays to strip back to the original plaster and forget paint or wallpaper.
However, the naked plaster is really because this genial couple ran out of money mid-restoration, and now that they can again afford to complete, they are debating whether or not they prefer the walls unadorned - with Charles more into it than Ronan.
Indeed, it’s a real achievement that they are at this advanced stage of restoration of their house. There was a time, shortly after they bought it in 2014, when water was pouring in and walls were falling down, and they thought it might never be habitable. What they’ve done is remarkable, given that they thought they were buying something in much better condition - they got it checked out three times.
“We got a surveyor and then we got an architect, and then a friend’s brother-in-law came and gave us the worst-case scenario, and we budgeted for that, but it was worse than the worst-case scenario and the budget went 100pc over even that,” says Charles with a grim laugh.
It can’t have been easy for Charles and Ronan to carry out this restoration, as both spent their entire lives in England and knew little about property in Ireland. However, Ronan was determined to keep going as he was really fulfilling a dream his parents had.
His mother was Irish, from Wexford, and his father was Welsh, Irish and English, and though they spent their entire married lives in London - apart from annual family holidays in Ireland - they had always wanted to buy a house at ‘home’.
“They never threw anything out. It was always, ‘That’s for the Irish house’. You’d go to a drawer and there would three sets of forks, and they’d say, ‘They’re for the Irish house’,” Ronan recalls fondly.
“Part of every holiday in Ireland was spent looking at houses and plots. But of course they never had any money to buy that house because they lived on the edge, going off on holidays to Africa when they barely had enough to pay the bills. So when they died and left us some money, I said, ‘I’m going to buy a house in Ireland’.”
“I was rather hoping for an apartment in Ibiza,” Charles deadpans, though he’s clearly delighted with the house.
The two men are from completely different backgrounds, yet they obviously really get each other.
Ronan’s parents are typical Irish emigrants. His dad was a printer, and his mother was a housewife, while Charles’s family on both sides were quite illustrious. His mother was from an upper-class British family; she was presented to the Queen, and was considered the most beautiful debutante of her generation.
Charles’s father was a German psychiatrist who was originally named Winterstein. At the age of 33, in 1938, he left Germany for England, just before war broke out. People were distrustful of his German name, so he changed it to that of his French mother - hence Charles’s surname is Lambert.
Charles’s father came from a long line of doctors. One of them was a baron, so Charles is titled, but he doesn’t use it. “Which is a pity for me because that would make me a baroness,” Ronan jokes.
Both men have had quite varied careers. “I’ve had hundreds of jobs,” says Ronan. “I never wanted a career as such, to the despair of my parents. I did post-production in TV for years. I ran a large garden for the Petersham Hotel in Richmond. I had an antique business. And I manage property. My brother, who’s a Classics master, and I bought our first flat in our 20s with the help of our parents, and we built on that.”
Charles, on the other hand, opted for academia initially, and spent years at university getting various degrees. “Then I decided I wanted to be a writer and got a job as a security guard and wrote scripts,” he says, adding, “My mother was livid at the time - spending all those years at university and then not using them, as she saw it.”
He wrote several important films, including A Slim Peace, which was about seven overweight Israeli women and seven overweight Palestinian women who were united by their desire to lose weight, but when Charles went back a year after filming, the women were back to being suspicious of each other. He now combines his writing with being a producer of educational tv programmes for the BBC and the Open University.
The couple met online 15 years ago, when they were in their mid-30s. Their first date was memorable, but not in a good way.
“We went to dinner to a cheap local Indian,” says Charles. “Ronan said, ‘What does yours taste like?’ And he took my plate and spooned some of my food on to his plate without my permission.” Charles is still indignant as he recalls the incident, saying, “It was shocking.” Ronan adds: “As first dates go, it was a disaster.” “He’s greedy,” Charles says, while Ronan agrees, “I’m greedy.”
However, Ronan did succeed in making Charles laugh, and it turned out they had some things in common, including that they were both devoted to their parents and nursed them through long illnesses.
A pastime they share is swimming, though while Charles indulges in the more conventional water polo, Ronan is a champion synchronised swimmer - to look at this tall, burly guy, one wouldn’t realise that he has gold medals for this graceful form of sport.
“What happened was I wanted to do something romantic; I wanted to go on a couples date. I do water polo, so I suggested to Ronan that he come to my swimming club with me, but he refused,” says Charles.
Ronan adds: “Very glibly, I said if they started a synchronised swimming team, I’d go. It was safe as houses that they wouldn’t. Two months later, Charles bounced in and said they’d started a synchronised team.”
Ronan had been joking, but it turned out he liked the sport, and became part of the first all-male synchronised swimming team in England. He says it’s a really good, strong exercise and discipline, but initially, because it had been a women’s sport, they weren’t welcomed.
“When we tried to enter competitions, we were laughed at. They wouldn’t allow us to compete until we passed the exams, so there we would be in the pool - all these little seven-year-old girls, and their parents, and us - grown men, several with tattoos, in their 30s,” Ronan says, adding, “I remember watching it in the Olympics previously and saw these girls, strong and supple athletes. They were slightly laughed at, which was unfair. They fought hard to make it a sport, so I could see why they were annoyed when we came along.”
A feature film was made some years later called Swimming with Men, starring Rob Brydon and Rupert Graves. Ronan and one of his teammates got roles as two of the team. “Ronan really enjoyed being wafted around in limousines with the stars,” Charles says dryly.
The couple married in 2013, and bought the house in 2014. Though Ronan’s family had been from Wexford, they based their search for a house on areas an hour from Dublin Airport, as they knew Charles would have to commute to his job.
“We settled on this house because it’s an hour from Dublin - there are 12 buses a day from Edgeworthstown - yet it’s really lovely countryside,” Charles says.
When they saw the house, they immediately fell in love with it. “Part of it is a tower house dating from the 17th Century, and part of it dates from the 18th Century, when it was a gentleman’s residence. It was a wet, miserable day, and we thought, ‘If we love it on a day like this...’ We couldn’t believe our luck,” says Ronan, while Charles adds: “And on paper, doing it up all worked, until it didn’t.”
The main problem was water. Up to the last century, there was a spring in the grounds and the staff would pump water from the spring up to the attic. Then, in the 1990s, mains water was introduced into the house, but instead of the spring water being dammed, the culverts were just filled with rubble and the water was still getting in. “It was no-one’s fault, the survey showed it was damp, but no one knew about the spring,” says Ronan.
The water problem is fixed, and the spring is now diverted into a pond. It also turned out that two extensions to the house didn’t have any foundations, and they had to be knocked. They also had to put in new windows everywhere. And they restored the front to its 1804 original state.
To the outsider, it was a fascinating restoration, and so the local heritage officer suggested they get in touch with architect Hugh Wallace and his series, The Great House Revival; the programme about the couple was televised some weeks ago.
“Hugh gave us some really good pointers. For example, he suggested that we put infrared heating in some of the rooms, which is good for the damp,” Charles says.
To oversee the work, Ronan moved to Ireland full-time, while Charles comes at weekends. They both love it here - they’ve made lots of friends and Charles is hoping to get a job here. He has also discovered he has Irish connections, and of course, they’re top-notch - he’s related to Charles Stewart Parnell.
Ronan is planning to offer two bedrooms on Airbnb, and it would be a gorgeous place to stay.
It’s full of antiques, some of which Ronan had from his antique business and some which he got at auctions - “I was on my way to Ikea one day to buy a sofa and popped into an auction in Kells. I got an antique sofa for half the price of an Ikea one,” Ronan insists. He also buys on eBay. “Sunday night he goes rogue, and is glued to eBay,” says Charles.
There are many mementos of their two interesting families - including curtains, and, of course, Charles’s many family portraits.
There are still some projects to be finished, including deciding about those plastered walls.
Charles likes them the way they are, but Ronan’s not so sure. “Compromise, compromise,” says Charles.
It’s worked for them so far.
See kilglasshouse.com Instagram @kilglasslongford
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine
Home & Garden
When moving house, people of mature years are strongly advised to take into consideration several issues around the onset of age. One is mobility: potential purchasers are strongly encouraged to avoid too many steps and stairs.