Friday 19 July 2019

Doneraile: Cork's real-life Downton Abbey re-energises whole community

The re-opening of Doneraile Court after years in limbo is a welcome develompent for the region, says Claire Fox

Doneraile, Co Cork. Photo: MunsterVales.com
Doneraile, Co Cork. Photo: MunsterVales.com

Claire Fox

A town at the heart of the Golden Vale region in Munster is hoping to welcome 900,000 tourists a year as a former country house opens its doors to the public.

Doneraile Park in north Cork is already one of Ireland's most visited wildlife parks, with its lush lawns, rushing river and herd of deer making it an attractive strolling spot for families year-round.

Perched at the top of the estate is the grand Doneraile Court, which for many years has stood silent and closed despite the hive of activity within the estate walls.

Locals and visitors to the area would always comment on what a shame it was that the house remained shut when it could give the likes of the fictional Downton Abbey a run for its money in terms of grace and grandeur.

Now, however, the great house is open once again.

Last week, the 17th-century Doneraile Court opened its doors following a €1.6m restoration by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

As part of the restoration, eleven works from Cork's Crawford Art Gallery collection will go on loan to the house, adding further context and colour to its rooms.

Doneraile is the former residence of Sir William St Leger, Lord Deputy of Munster, and was home to 13 generations of the family up until its closure in 1969.

Speaking at the garden party launch of the house last Saturday, Mayor of County Cork Christopher O' Sullivan said: "The OPW's renovations of the house are very impressive, and the 400-acre estate with its Sika deer and ancient trees is already a popular attraction. It was my first time in Doneraile but it won't be my last."

For now, the carpeted halls and shimmering chandeliers of the ground floor are the only section open to the public, but the OPW hopes to get further funding to welcome sightseers to the rest of the house in the future.

It could become a further catalyst for regeneration in the area.

A number of years ago, the opening of the former kitchen area of the house as a café began breathing life into the hallowed halls.

Doneraile Park, Doneraile, Co. Cork
Doneraile Park, Doneraile, Co. Cork

Like many rural towns, the collection of derelict grocery stores, draperies and hardware shops that line its main street hark back to a time where the phrase 'Doneraile for flour and meal' meant the village was a market hub.

The revamping of one such building a few years ago led to the opening of Cafe Townhouse and Interiors in the town, which is now one of the most popular eateries in the region.

The people of Doneraile's determination to rekindle the town's former glory and drive to reinvent itself is no doubt an encouraging story for other rural regions looking to enhance themselves.

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