Sunday 16 June 2019

Life piles of the rich and famous: why a celeb's home is their castle

Actor Jeremy Irons hit the news this week when he upset some locals by having his West Cork home, Kilcoe Castle, painted pink. MYLES MCWEENEY reports on how an Irish castle has become the ultimate des res for the stars

When you're rich and famous, there's little that money can't buy except, perhaps, privacy. If you want to keep the vulgar hordes out, what better way to do it than living in a castle?

They have moats, mottes, barbicans, portcullises and drawbridges. If they come with lots of land, they're usually surrounded by high walls broken only by massive wrought iron gates. If they are by the sea, they are usually fitted with walls and doors thick enough to resist cannon balls.

An Irish castle is the ultimate new status symbol for wealthy showbiz stars and businessmen, and the grandest of them all is probably Coolmaine Castle in Co Cork, the Irish home of Roy Disney, nephew of Walt and one of the largest shareholders in The Mouse. The extravagantly-crenellated and turreted castle is in Kilbrittain, a few miles from Bandon, overlooking the charming seaside resort of Courtmacsherry.

Coolmaine was originally built by the de Courcey family in the early 1400s, but they lost it to the MacCarthy Reaghs, the Princes of Desmond, the following century. Over the years it passed through the hands of a number of families, including that of the Earls of Cork. In the middle of the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell conducted what might be termed a leveraged buyout of the property. In the early 1900s it was owned by a popular American novelist of the day, Don Byrne. He was from New York, but his wife, Dolly Cadogan, was from the area.

Roy Disney bought it about 20 years ago from Hollywood photographer Bob Willoughby, who had carried out extensive refurbishments to the property. It's thought Disney paid a lot less than the £500,000 price tag, but since then he has lavished millions of dollars on making it a thoroughly modern and ultra-comfortable home which he visits frequently.


The locals may not think it's exactly pretty in pink, but as castles go, actor Jeremy Irons' Kilcoe Castle is the real thing, built around 1450 by the clan of Dermot MacCarthy on a two-acre island in Roaringwater Bay. These MacCarthys were a sub-tribe of the McCarthy Reaghs of Kilbrittan, who had originated in the Blarney area.

Kilcoe Castle has quite a history. Superbly located, from a defensive point of view, it proved a hard nut to crack in battle and was one of the last castles in Carberry to fall to the English forces after the Battle of Kinsale. After a lengthy siege, Conor O'Driscoll finallysurrended in 1603.

After the 1600s it fell into disrepair and it was only in 1966 that James Caverly, the farmer who owns the surrounding land, registered the castle. In 1972 he sold it to Edward Samuel, who built a bridge connecting the castle to the main land, but baulked at the cost of restoring the building.

In 1998, Irons and his Irish wife, Sinead Cusack, bought the property. Since then Irons has poured well over £1 million into Kilcoe's restoration, regarded as one of the most painstaking undertakings of its kind in Ireland.

The pink colour which upset a few locals, but is more or less a storm in a paintpot is likely to fade to a nice terracotta with time.


This castle got its name from Ayesha, the goddess in H Rider Haggard's fantasy novel She who carried the eternal flame and was forever youthful a bit like its current owner, Eithne Ni Bhranoin, better known as Enya to the record-buying public.

Enya, who has sold 46 million albums and is worth a tidy £37 million, bought Ayesha Castle in September, 1997. it s a splendid, six-bedroomed Victorian castle on Victoria Road in Killiney. From the roof of its crenellated turret, if offers truly spectacular views down the Irish coastline as far as Wales. If Enya gets bored with stunning sunsets, she can also have a peek into next-door-neighbour Bono's spread.

Ayesha was built in 1840 to commemorate Queen Victoria's accession to the throne and is surrounded by three-and-a-half acres of manicured gardens, threaded with sylvan walks. A secret tunnel at the bottom of the garden used to give access to Killiney beach, but it's likely to have been sealed off.

The 39-year-old singer is pathologically reclusive, having been the victim of an Italian stalker. Since she bought the castle she has twice heightened the walls that surround the property, topping them with pointed, 4ft railings.


Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has more houses than most of us have suits, but his Irish fastness in Fethard is one of his favourites. He bought Kiltinan, which dates from the 13th century, in the early 1990s and spent a small fortune doing it up.

His third wife, Madeline, is one of Britain's most successful racehorse breeders, so a second small fortune was spent building a cutting-edge stud operation at Kiltimon when she decided to move much of her stud operation to Co. Tipperary to avail of our generous tax breaks for horse breeding. About 100 horses live lives of pampered luxury on the Lloyd Webbers' rolling acres, only a spit from John Magnier's all-conquering Coolmore Stud.

Lady Madeline's stud operation is not the first famous equine connection with the castle. In 1921, Kiltinan was sold by a Col Cooke to the wonderfully-named Mr FJB de la Sales la Terrier, at one time the Master of the Tipperary Foxhounds.

He was not the greatest judge of horseflesh. He bought a horse called Shaun Goilin for the princely sum of 22 guineas, but sold it on at a loss when it failed to win on the flat. His new owner put Shaun Goilin to fences and the horse won the Grand National in 1930.

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