June 20, 1999

The Cash of the Irish Is Talking in Castles

Related Articles
  • The New York Times: Your Money


  • Join a Discussion on Career and Workplace Issues

    RECESS, 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 of purchases.

    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 Ireland."'

  • Home | Site Index | Site Search | Forums | Archives | Marketplace

    Quick News | Page One Plus | International | National/N.Y. | Business | Technology | Science | Sports | Weather | Editorial | Op-Ed | Arts | Automobiles | Books | Diversions | Job Market | Real Estate | Travel

    Help/Feedback | Classifieds | Services | New York Today

    Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company