June 20, 1999
The Cash of the Irish Is Talking in
New York Times: Your Money
Discussion on Career and Workplace Issues
By ALAN COWELL
ECESS, Ireland -- For Sale: castles in
Ireland and other grand piles from Kildare to Kilkenny. Starting
prices: $2.5 million to $15 million-plus. Possible buyers: any of
a number of Irish millionaires who, in a scant few years of
economic lift-off, have suddenly displaced Americans and other foreigners
as the prime purchasers of high-ticket real estate hereabouts.
"The nouveau riche," said Jack Fagan, property editor of The
Irish Times, "are really coming into their own."
True, many of Ireland's great houses, from Ashford Castle in
County Mayo near here to Adare Manor near Limerick, remain in the
hands of Americans and other outsiders who bought in the years before
the high-technology and financial services industries fired up the
Irish economy and persuaded many Irish emigrants to
reverse their tracks.
Thomas Kane, the former Wall Street broker from Juno Beach, Fla.,
has owned the luxurious Adare Manor since 1987. Kevin Crowe, chairman
of the Essex Corp., a New York investment firm, is chairman of the
board at the high-ticket Ashford Castle, west of here on the shores of
Lough Corrib. (Ashford is used as a hotel, with rates of up to $660 a
night, breakfast not included.)
And Anthony F.J. O'Reilly, the American-based Irish
newspaper owner and the former chief executive of H.J. Heinz, has
stakes in Ashford Castle and another mansion used as a luxury hotel --
Dromoland Castle in County Clare -- plus his own private redoubt,
Castlemartin in County Kildare, 20 miles south of Dublin.
Real estate agents say the market-movers these days are more likely
to be home-grown beneficiaries of this country's boom in software and
information technology. In Dublin, that surge has seen prices for
ordinary houses -- let alone castles, manors and country estates --
triple in three years.
"The economy is doing well and there's a lot of disposable income
out there," said Edward Townsend, a Dublin agent with the realtor
Jackson-Stops McCabe. "Before, you would have had 60 percent of
country houses bought by overseas buyers and 40 percent Irish.
Now it's the other way round."
So what's up for grabs among the castle set? Two of
Ireland's most celebrated mansions are among the current
offerings, with the sellers apparently looking to take advantage of
the hot market.
Renata Coleman, a German businesswoman and polo player, is selling
Humewood Castle, below the Wicklow Hills south of Dublin; the minimum
asking price is $15 million. The castle -- a crenelated, 16-bedroom,
60,000-square-foot chunk of 19th-century gothic -- ranks among the
most expensive country houses on sale in recent years. (Included in
the 480-acre estate are a polo ground and four lakes, two of them
built in the last seven years, for duck-shooting.)
The kind of buyers she has in mind seems apparent from a glossy
brochure laden with sumptuous photographs of four-poster beds and
ambassadorial tables. The castle, the brochure says, would make a
pretty good hotel, corporate entertainment center or private home.
Farmleigh, the 78-acre Dublin home of the Guinness family, is also
on the market, and there is talk in real estate circles of a big
American hotel chain maneuvering to buy. The winner will get 10
bedroom suites, 10 more bedrooms and four more bathrooms, not to
mention sundry lodges, houses, courtyards, garages, coach houses and
stables. There is a pool, of course, and a snooker room, not to
mention a library stacked with leather-bound tomes.
The minimum-bid target for Farmleigh is "substantially in excess"
of $15 million. Considering the huge maintenance and staff bills that
accrue to owners of castles pretty much anywhere -- along with the
price of horses to put in the stables, cars to put in the garages and
grand entertainment to match the palatial salons -- that might seem a
tidy sum, even for Ireland's newly rich.
But, said Fagan at The Irish Times: "We have probably thrown
up more millionaires than any other country. And they are buying up
the best houses."
Hugh Hamilton of the Dublin realtors Hamilton, Osborne King had
pretty much the same story. "The majority of the properties are bought
by either Irish or people with Irish connections," he
said. But Americans, he said, "are certainly part of the market," as
Christine and Walter Griffith of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., can attest.
They are selling their Irish home -- the nine-bedroom
Rossennara House at Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny (asking price: around
$2.25 million), which they bought in 1980 from Richard Condon, the
writer. For people looking for an American connection, this might be
it: Griffith, his wife said, is descended from two American presidents
-- the Adamses -- and Rossennara was designed by James Hoban, whose
other achievements include the White House. Frank Sinatra is said to
have stayed there.
Staff quarters and an indoor swimming pool are included, naturally.
"You do need staff," said Mrs. Griffith, who is Irish.
But why buy in Ireland? "There's a lot of peace and quiet
and security, and it's crime-free," she said by telephone from Fort
Lauderdale. "It's where time stands still. Here, everything is
go-go-go." So far, she said, she is still looking for someone willing
to spend the money on those charms.
The eventual buyers of the current crop of castles and country
homes, however, are certain to discover that running a mansion is not
for the faint-hearted -- as some Americans found after an earlier wave
As head of a largely American syndicate, Minerva Mason, an American
from Jacksonville, Fla., has been closely involved for the last 20
years in the running of Ballynahinch Castle near this town in
Connemara, County Galway.
Ballynahinch, renowned for its fishing, its 350-acre landscaped
estate and 13,000 acres of woodcock shooting, has been run as a hotel
since the 1940s. It came into American hands in 1957 for a fraction of
its present value, which Mrs. Mason put at around $15 million.
Mrs. Mason, who spends three months a year in a separate house on
the castle grounds, reckons she has sunk "millions" into the castle's
28 guest rooms, and is still investing by adding an annex of 12 rooms.
Whatever their cost, mansions mean different things to different
people. For some, like the Griffiths at Rossennara, a castle, or at
least a manor house, can actually be a home. For others, like the
owners of Ashford Castle, they are commercial properties run as luxury
resorts. For yet others, they are symbols of having arrived.
Whatever the reasons for ownership, it's easy to imagine the cachet
that comes with it. "It's a good conversation starter," said Mrs.
Mason at Ballynahinch, "to say 'I'm going to my castle in