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June 23, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2019 issue

Buying wrecks in Ireland

Words Jim Dunn

We once bought a wreck of a cottage in Ireland.

As serial ‘doer-uppers’ it seemed perfectly natural to us… ’we travel anywhere to live’ is our motto… and the wreck… and it was well and truly a wreck, with resident sheep on first and future viewings…..was irresistible and cheap.

The cottage… wreck… was perched high on a hill in County Kerry on the romantic, rugged West coast of Ireland. It had no land of its own to speak of but gorgeous ‘free views’ as I like to call it, across huge fields of grass and grazing sheep, bordered with hedges of wild fuchsia and the whole area splattered with swathes of wild flowers. Who could resist?

And if this view wasn’t enough, in the distance was the Atlantic ocean… next stop America… you could see the weather rolling in. And the weather does roll in, in Ireland. Blue skies can turn to wispy cloud which in turn become great showers of rain and then magnificent thunder storms travelling in from the West.

Well it’s a long story but we didn’t develop that project and never lived there. We left it, temporarily, to the sheep and sold it on to good friends. Fickle us.

However and instead, while driving south from Dublin airport one visit we happened upon another wreck but this time a much more substantial house, less remote and near the buzzy, arty, foodie town of Kilkenny, famous for its annual Comedy Festival and its Medieval Castle among many other attractions.

We had found The Grange Manor, near a village called Ballyragget… the locals called it ‘Ballyregret’, with much conviction and a very dull, grey, Irish village it certainly was.

But the house… some miles outside the village and this time another, much larger wreck… was a beautiful faded Georgian home much in need of tender loving care and we fell in love with it immediately. We lived there very happily off and on for three years and then sold it on.
And as I write Grange Manor is on sale again. Have a look at

Ireland is always a ripe field for finding beautiful homes deep in the countryside which are much in need of refurbishment. A brief look at the Irish property pages will reveal a host of gorgeous buildings just waiting for your money and your tender loving care. The Irish ‘boom’ of the late nineties , artificial as it was followed by the inevitable crash, has come and gone and property prices have settled but may now have come down again a little in recent years. So it’s worth having a look.

Ireland is also a great country in which to holiday. A cheap flight to Dublin a few days there soaking in the gorgeousness of this Georgian beauty with its river setting on the Liffey and its many comfortable hotels and excellent ‘foodie’ scene. Then hire a car and you are as free as you want to be. A night in an Irish Castle, or pamper yourself in a sumptuous Spa or explore Ireland’s coastline on board a luxury yacht. You can even join the Jameson whiskey family for a tipple at their ancestral home. Or you can rent an Irish country cottage and just walk.

Stay at the Duke of Devonshire’s Lismore Castle, explore The Wild Atlantic Way, organise a yoga or surf retreat, explore the numerous local, snug pubs over a glass of the famous Guinness… the list is endless.

Before we settled in that stunning Manor House just outside Kilkenny what I adored most of all was touring by car and settling for the night at one of the many small and usually beautifully decorated Manor houses run very efficiently as B and Bs. Inevitably they would have a character of a proprietor and a good home cook. And plenty of the ‘craic’… talk… of the local history, myths and magic most of which you take with a very large pinch of salt.

There is one small Castle on the banks of the River Shannon which I have always, for some mysterious reason lusted after and over. Glin Castle on the West Coast of Ireland, There’s something about the place, I really don’t know what it is but I have never forgotten my visit there. I would certainly like to take the Castle to my Desert Island as my ‘luxury’. I don’t think that would be allowed. For those who don’t know about BBC Radio 4s’ Desert Island Discs… have a Google.

We stayed at Glin some years ago on one of our many touring holidays when the family first started to rent out rooms as a very smart B and B. And it was there we shared an after Dinner whisky and some ‘craic’ after a marvellous meal with the then utterly charming owner, the last Knight of Glin, Desmond John Villiers Fitzgerald, the 29th and final Knight of Glin.

As these photographs show the Glin Castle, which now has 15 guest rooms, is stuffed with mountains of beautiful things from paintings, to china and furniture mostly originally discovered by Desmond as he toured Irish auction houses after he inherited the Castle. He scoured Ireland and beyond for pictures, drawings and china that had been sold by his ancestors in leaner times.

We can now rest our weary heads in comfortable beds, with great views, crisp sheets and enjoy a good ‘Full Irish’ Breakfast with locally make soda bread, a walk along the banks of the Shannon before lunch in a local pub and look forward to a cosy dinner at the Castle.

Desmond worked tirelessly to save his own inheritance as his family had been linked to the Castle for more than 700 years. In addition as a connoisseur of the decorative arts he also advised the V and A Museum in London and was an enthusiastic member of the Irish Georgian Society… helping to save many gems in the country from ruin.

During his life the Castle played host to rock stars, writers, poets. People like Marianne Faithful, and Mick Jagger were glittering regulars.

Now the mantle of continuing the Glin history as an hotel has fallen to Desmond’s daughter Catherine a talented Garden Designer who has re-created the gardens at Glin and who just happens to be married to leading actor Dominic West star of ‘The Wire’ ‘The Affair’ among other hit series so I suspect further glittering guests will soon appear in the driveway.

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