'We stayed up all night with a bottle of brandy trying to calculate if we could afford it' - This country pile was love at first sight for its owners
An eclectic staircase at Griesemount sold it to its owners, writes Gabrielle Monaghan
Carolyn Ashe is sitting in the sunroom of Griesemount House, a 4,526 sq ft Georgian pile in the Co Kildare village of Ballitore, and watching the river Griese below glistening in the sunlight.
From the terrace, she can catch a glimpse of Griesebank House, the 318-year-old property where George Shackleton was born, and the Shackleton Ballitore Mills. Shackleton - a grand-uncle of the Antarctic explorer Ernest - went on to build Griesemount House in 1817 in the village, which was settled by Quakers in the 17th century, and raise 13 children there.
In the Annals of Ballitore, the diary kept between 1766 and 1823 by famous local writer Mary Leadbeater, a member of the Shackleton family who spent her teenage years at Griesebank House, she describes how "on the 22nd day of the sixth month this year, (mid-summer's day) 1817, the first stone of George Shackleton's house at Griesemount was laid by his little niece Hannah White".
By 1972, Griesemount came into the hands of Sara von Stade, the widow of an American army lieutenant killed in Germany during the Second World War and the mother of Frederica von Stade, the world-famous mezzo-soprano. Sara gave it a new lease of life and redesigned the gardens.
Carolyn says: "Sara von Stade was living on Long Island and running short of money. She was friendly with the wealthy McGrath family from the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes. They said 'come live in Ireland - you won't need deep pockets'. Whenever there was racing on at the Curragh, the McGraths would send a Rolls Royce to collect von Stade. Sadly, she only lived here for 10 years - she died while shopping on Madison Avenue."
Carolyn's own life is also the stuff of a Hollywood film. She was born in Hong Kong, where her grandparents, who had lived in Shanghai in the 1920s, were interred by the Japanese during the Second World War. After her own parents split up, she went to England with her mother when she was four. She also lived for a time in Zimbabwe.
Carolyn visited Ireland to sell a family home in Athy, where she met her future husband Robert Ashe. In 1982 they came back to Ireland from Zimbabwe to search for a house.
"I was extremely fussy about where I lived because I had had the extreme good fortune all my life to in live in fabulous houses," Carolyn says.
"I was three weeks away from having a baby when I spotted a sign that said 'Georgian house with mews for sale'. But the auction turned out to be the next day. So we quickly drove to Griesemount House and when we walked into the hall, we fell in love with the staircase. We stayed up all night with a bottle of brandy and calculators, trying to work out how much we could afford to bid. Afterwards, we said 'what have we done? We didn't even get a survey'. But as I told Robert, 'if it's standing since 1817, it's not going to fall down'."
Today, Griesemount remains a model of Georgian splendour, with original features such as refurbished sash windows and shutters, fanlights, cornicing and centre roses. It is these period features that have attracted visitors to Griesemount House, which the Ashes started running as a part-time B&B 15 years ago, as their children began to fly the nest.
The Ashes, who are downsizing, have given Griesemount House a fresh lick of yellow paint and put it on the market. The new owner will gain a period country home - less than an hour's drive from Dublin - with four reception rooms and six bedrooms.
A flight of granite steps leads up to the panelled front door, which is topped by fanlight. Beyond the porch, which retains the original floor tiles, is a decorative panelled door that opens into the hall. Indeed, all the rooms in the two-storey-over-lower garden level home are arranged around the central curved staircase.
Off the hallway is a formal drawing room with a timber floor, a fireplace with a brass inset, and a recessed arch. Beside it is a sitting room with fitted bookcases and a marble fireplace. Double doors from here lead to the sunroom, which has French doors to the terrace and recessed sliding doors to the kitchen. The kitchen is connected to the dining room.
The master bedroom is located on the first-floor return and comes with a fireplace, a dressing room, and an en-suite with a roll-top bath with views over the garden from a bay window. There are three double bedrooms and a family bathroom on the first floor and a bathroom/linen room in the attic room. The lower garden level is home to two more bedrooms, a study and storage space.
Outside, there are 3.5 acres of gardens and grounds, including paddocks, a walled garden currently home to geese and hens, and mature trees that were planted by the Ashes.
Should the prospective buyer want to keep the main house to themselves when guests come, they could put their visitors in the 1,265-sq ft mews house, which has two bedrooms, a reception room and a bathroom.
Griesemount House is for sale with offers in excess of €850,000 being invited by Jordan Town & Country Estate Agents.
Ballitore, Co Kildare
Asking price: €850,000
Agent: Jordan Town & Country Estate Agents, (045) 433550