'Life is pretty idyllic - we live like the kings and queens of the past' - Wicklow gem up for sale
Clara Country House Knockrath Little, Laragh, Co Wicklow €695,000
When Colm and Kate O'Brien bought Clara Country House 15 years ago, they were fulfilling a long-held dream to move out of Dublin to the Wicklow countryside, to somewhere where they could keep horses and enjoy a rural lifestyle. The experience, says Colm, has been everything they hoped for and more - they are only selling because the time has come to downsize to something smaller.
"People are sometimes put off moving to the country because they think that they will be isolated," he says. "But there is a great sense of community spirit around here... within 24 hours of the snowfall earlier this year, one of our neighbours had come along - unasked - with his tractor and cleared all the snow from our driveway. There was no fee involved, it was just an example of the good neighbourliness that we have become accustomed to in the area."
Colm also says the couple's social life in Wicklow has been better than it ever was in Dublin.
"People around here are very sociable and everyone gets on well," he says. "Most of the children in the area go to school at either St Gerard's or Wesley, and the parents organise car pools between them.
"The fact that there is an excellent taxi service in the area means that you can go out and have a few jars and not worry about getting home. There are some good restaurants around, such as The Wicklow Heather and Lynhams in Laragh, and Bates in Rathdrum.
"The drag hunt comes through a couple of times a year during the hunting season, and we hold a stirrup cup in the sand arena for them. During the summer, we often have barbecues for 30 or 40 people, and we regularly go trekking with friends to Glenmalure or Aghavannagh. Life is pretty idyllic - I often say that we live like the kings and queens of the past."
Clara Country House is located in the Vale of Clara, 5km outside the village of Laragh. It's on the other side of the road from the Clara Lara fun park, and accessed by an avenue that traverses parkland and goes past the stable yard before arriving at the front of the cut-stone house, which comes with seven and a half acres of land.
The oldest part of the house dates from around 1836 and was a hunting lodge for John Chambre Brabazon, the 10th Earl of Meath, and formed part of his vast 24,000-acre Kilruddery and Ballinacor estate. In 2000, the house was sympathetically extended and upgraded and now has good living space on the ground floor, and five en suite bedrooms upstairs. The older part of the house, which comprises a sitting room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, can be self-contained or integrated into the main house.
Outside there are all the extras that will beguile both equestrians and non-horsey city folk yearning for the good life. There are landscaped gardens with a sunny terrace, well-planted with mature specimen trees. The O'Briens keep showjumpers, and there are seven loose boxes plus a tack and feed room with a large loft, a lunging ring, sand arena and cross country course, as well as four large grass paddocks. There are also a hen run and kennels.
The Avonmore river, which passes 100m below the house, is used for fishing, swimming, canoeing and kayaking and there is hill-walking in every direction.
Colm says that the best shopping in the area is in Arklow, about half an hour's drive away, and that he and Kate can be in Dublin in less than an hour by driving to Sandyford and hopping on the Luas into St Stephen's Green.
The O'Briens paid €750,000 for Clara Country House 15 years ago, and Colm reckons that they have spent another €150,000 to €160,000 upgrading the house and installing equestrian facilities. The previous owners operated the property as a B&B, but the O'Briens have used it purely as a family home.
Given the popularity of the area with tourists, so close to Glendalough, it will be an option for prospective purchasers to consider using the property commercially as a B&B again, or renting it out through AirBnB.
Era: Original part 1836, extended in 2000
Size: 250 sqm
Agent: Wilsons Auctions (01) 4642800
Viewing: By appointment