SAVING and restoring Wells House and Gardens at Ballyedmond has become a collaborative public effort. 'After we pay wages and overheads, what we've left, we reinvest,' said Sabine Rosler, who, with husband Uli, reopened the gates of Wells House in July 2012.
'We opened to save the house and to restore the grounds, and there was no other way of doing it,' she said. 'When we opened the gates in July 2012, we would never have expected it to be so good, and it went way beyond our expectations.'
Self catering chalets and holiday homes, and an indoor sports hall, were open to the public until the mid 2000's, but the house itself was never open. In early 2011, Uli inherited the historic property, which dates back to the 1600s, and he and Sabine enlisted the support of WLD and Tony Ennis for a feasibility study.
This led to an investment of €150,000 by WLD, and matching private funding, to get the house open, and the terrace garden to the rear of the house restored. 'We were very fortunate to have the original drawings of Daniel Robertson, who was also the architect of Johnstown Castle and Powerscourt House,' said Sabine. A member of the Doyne family who lived in the house until the 1960s provided the drawings and other memorabilia from family history, which now feature on the house tour.
They also opened one of the original woodland walks, a playground, a coffee shop and visitors' centre. Private operators also offered falconry, archery, and clay pigeon shooting on site.
The team welcomed 900 cars on the opening day, and greeted 36,000 visitors in the first six months; and 68,000 in their first full year. The business grew even further in 2014, with 98,500 visitors calling to Wells.
In the past two-and-a-half years the developments and new attractions continued apace, and Wells House and Gardens was recently was voted the fourth best family attraction in Ireland by customers of ALDI. The craft courtyard opened, as did the Irish Wildlife Sanctuary, and a new kitchen and outdoor seating terrace allowed for the establishment of a restaurant.
This year, the par terre garden behind the house has just been restored, and a second 1.5km walk has opened. By Easter, there will be a garden centre on site, featuring plants similar to those in the gardens, and they will also have garden tours. They're also opening a gift shop selling coffees and ice cream, and are looking for a business to set up an indoor children's activity centre.
They have also built up a busy year-round programme including the popular Halloween and Christmas themed tours which attract visitors from across the country. They're also welcoming their first international tour groups this year.
'We employ 28 people in the summer and 13 businesses operate under our umbrella,' said Sabine. 'This year the staff will go up to 36.' They also open year round, and this January was even better than the previous January.
The long term plans include restoring the gardens at the front and either side of the house; reinstating an oak-lined avenue; and reviving the lake on the grounds.
'I try to make Wells House and Gardens feel as if it belongs to the people,' said Sabine. 'Most of our events are incorporated into the gate price, so you choose spend after that if you wish.' She paid tribute to all their customers for their support.