Stately Kanturk pad with a rich and colourful history on the market for €690k

Assolas house has links to the Knights Templar & the English Civil war and was once home to Princess Diana’s great uncle

A birds eye view of the house and estate.

The reception area of Assolas House

The sumptuous main living room of the house.

thumbnail: A birds eye view of the house and estate.
thumbnail: The reception area of Assolas House
thumbnail: The sumptuous main living room of the house.
Bill BrowneCorkman

NESTLED in the heart of the rolling North Cork countryside at Castlemagner near Kanturk the stately Assolas House, the oldest known and perhaps the most historic residence in Duhallow, has come on the market with a €690,000 price tag.

Although built in the late 17th century and extended around 1720, the lands where Assolas House stands have a history stretching back to the 12th century when it was a base for the Knights Templar.

Assolas House, Castlemagner, Kanturk, Co Cork

Current owner Joe Bourke told that the houses was built directly adjoining the site of an ancient monastery belong to the knights,

“It was a satellite or an out-farm to the main monastery located at Subulter, Church Field about two miles away. The story goes is that the less educated monks were billeted here, and their job was to raise horses for the Crusades,” said Mr Bourke.

Mr Bourke said the Irish Yew trees situated close to the houses, which have been dated back to the 10th century, would have been used to provide bows for the archers.

A tower house subsequently built on the monastic site turned out to be the focal point in infamous 1647 Battle of Knocknanuss, reputed to be one of the bloodiest engagements of the English Civil War.

The three-hour battle saw the Munster- based Royalist supporters of King Charles I, who were headquarted in the tower house, routed by Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Roundheads’ under the command of Murrough O’Brien.

Although there is some debate about casualties, it is believed that up to 4,000 Royalists and 2,000 Roundheads died during the battle.

Little is known about the site until 1714 when Reverend Francis Gore took up residence there. Said to be a man of means and influence, he was the Protestant Rector of Castlemagner for 34-years and is responsible for much of the layout of the present building, its outhouses, manicured laws and walled gardens.

The sumptuous main living room of the house.

The house got it name through an act of civil-minded goodwill by Reverend Gore would hang a lantern on the wall of the house at night to guide travellers across a dangerous ford on the nearby Marybrook River.

At night highwaymen would often wait by the ford to entrap innocent victims and the light became so well known that the house was known as the ‘ford of the light’ or Átha Solas in Irish. This was subsequently Anglicised to Assolas.

Around 1720 the estate was passed on to a Mr Phillip Oliver, JP for County Cork who redeveloped the original tower and subsequently went through a number of owners.

The reception area of Assolas House

Among them were Sir William Beecher Bart, who was the first master of the Duhallow Foxhounds, whose Kennels were based at Assolas House. In a fascinating and little-known piece of racing history the Beecher in Sir Wiliam’s name was adopted from the maiden name of his wife, the same family after which the infamous Beecher’s Brook jump At Aintree is named.

Another tenant the Honourable Alexis Roche, who was the last Beecher tenant prior to the Bourke family taking over Assolas House in 1915, was great uncle of the late Princess of Wales, Lady Diana Spenser.

Joe Bourke told that his grandfather, John Owen Bourke, has bought Assolas for his bride Columbus Hannigan in 1917. They owned at shop and the local mill.

When Joe Bourke’s parents, Hugh and Eleanor, took over in the 1960s they turned it into a guest-house.

“My parents, along with the Allen’s in Ballymaloe, the O’Callaghan’s of Longueville and others, were instrumental in founding the Irish Country House and Restaurants Association. Their brochure became known as ‘The Blue Book’, a remarkable piece of branding,” he said.

Mr Bourke and his wife Hazel, a professional chef, took over in 1984 and ran Assolas as a tourism business until 2005. It earned a place in the Michelin Guide as well as stars from Egon Ronay, Bridgestone and the AA while the grounds and gardens were also recognised nationally and internationally.

He explained why the decision had been taken to put Assolas House on the market.

“Our children are away and living their own lives. This house needs a family, it needs to be lived in,” said Mr Bourke.

Assolas House is described by selling agents Sherry Fitzgerald as being “a classically elegant period country house set in a private haven in Kanturk” and “a divine residence bursting with potential”.

“The six bedrooms and graceful receptions rooms provide ideal and flexible accommodation in a tranquil oasis. With gorgeous proportions, beautiful aspect, generous spaces and marvellous craftsmanship, the house has been exquisitely maintained by the current owners,” say the agents.

“The property is complimented with outbuildings such as a coach house, stone clad storage and an old stable block. All elements of this ravishing property create an unforgettable setting.”