Lissadell House: quiches at dawn

Lissadell is open to the public again. For the Walsh Cassidy family that means a summer of baking, gardening and building, but they wouldn’t have it any other way, writes Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan visits Lissadell House and speaks with owners Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh who have moved back into the house with their family after their recent court victory. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

Buying Lissadell was Eddie’s idea, not her’s, Constance Cassidy says now. “I said ‘Okay - so we don’t have enough to do, do we not? Okay’”. Back in 2003, after the €3.75 sale to the two lawyers, she seemed up for it, remarking that her father (who was a judge on the Western Circuit) had been in love with Countess Constance Markievicz and that was the first thing that attracted her.

As for Eddie Walsh, he saw the acquisition as a “very, very fine house and [400 acres of] lands, with significant historical interest, which should be minded and protected and preserved. It’s one of the last genuine Irish estates and what shouldn’t happen to it is that it becomes a travesty of a golf course or a B&B”. It could have become all that in the bubble years. Visits from developers like Mick Bailey and an offer to flip it for a million euro failed to move them.

And what about now, 11 years and €9 million later (on top of the purchase price), plus the five-year, €10 million court case that still hangs over this family like a shroud?

The message is can-do. It’s what Constance, barrister, specialist in licensing law and mother of seven, just does.

How do they get the children out of bed at 7 am? Constance: “They don’t have a choice”. Eddie: “ I try to do it by negotiation. Constance does it by direction”.

How did they persuade the children to abandon Morristown Lattin - their rambling fairytale, period house near Naas - their friends and birthdays parties to go to Lissadell every weekend to do stuff like pick stones? Constance: “ I said ‘we’re doing this. We’re going. Move it’.”

Many mothers might sympathise. It was Constance’s task on Friday afternoons to get the seven children into the car and on the road to Sligo, while ahead of them lay this great, 12,000sq foot, money pit of a house. Her sister Pamela - another lawyer, keen photographer, butterfly enthusiast and estate researcher - murmurs that she’s far softer than she pretends.

But why would anyone do it in the first place ? Was it one big vanity project - a modern, fiercely driven Constance putting her stamp on a grand house inextricably linked with that other Constance?

There is a tiny pause. Then she rattles off the detail of her leisure time since Lissadell.

“I’ll tell you what vanity is. I had six kids and a baby. I knew the only way to do this was to get Eddie 100% interested - which he was. And I had to be behind him. I had seven kids at various stages saying we have our birthday parties, we have our friends here, we don’t want to go down there, what are we doing this for ? But I’d pick them up early from school on Fridays - I’m sure the teachers weren’t too happy - to get here early, I had to make sure all the washing and all the towels were done, making everything as comfortable as possible from the family point of view. We have a gorgeous little living room in there. I don’t think we ever put on the telly - did we?”, she pauses briefly to ask Eddie. “I’d have to stop at Lidl on the way to make sure we had dinner organised. Eddie would then arrive and say we need to do this, or do that... and the kids would be out picking stones. I’d be here making sure they were fed. On Saturday, we’d get up at 5 and make lists of every single thing we had to do. The kids would get up at 7. So if you call that being vain - vain maybe to the point that I’d put on foundation to hide the tiredness...

She regrets none of it. “What Eddie did was magnificent. He discovered four or five houses hidden around the estate. I remember freezing cold, wet mornings when I would have made sandwiches and packed them into the car with tea, coffee and soup and driven to where he was working in the alpine garden or the vegetable gardens. Then we would have a big dinner together in the evening and the kids would go off to watch DVDs. And Eddie and I would work out exactly what time we would leave the next day. So we were here all the time. All my weekends for up to five years were gone”.