Ex-president Mary Robinson’s Mayo home for €2.75m

Victorian shooting and fishing estate beside Lough Conn on sale as couple downsizing

Drone footage of Massbrook House, Lough Conn, County Mayo, Ireland. Video: SherryFitzGerald

 

Former president Mary Robinson and husband Nick are selling their Co Mayo home for €2.75 million. Massbrook, a 113 acre estate on the shores of Lough Conn, is located about 20 minutes from Mrs Robinson’s childhood home of Ballina, and has served as the couple’s primary Irish base since they purchased it in 1994.

The Robinsons now plan to buy a property in Dublin to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Prior to taking office in Áras an Uachtaráin from 1990 to 1997, the couple lived in a fine Georgian property on Sandford Terrace in Ranelagh (next door to th home of gardener Helen Dillon which recently sold for €4.5 million).

The former UN High Commissioner for human rights continues to travel extensively, and the couple divide their time between Mayo and Dublin where they currently rent a property in Sandymount.“As with many other couples in their seventies, it is now time to downsize, and this process has begun with the gifting of Mary’s archives to Mayo. We hope that whoever buys Massbrook will find, as we did, a haven of peace and tranquility,” the Robinsons told The Irish Times in a brief statement.

The couple plan to retain a parcel of about 10 acres of land on the Mayo estate for their own use.

A manor house has stood at Massbrook since about 1780, though the original house is now a ruin located off the long tree-lined approach to Massbrook House which was built in 1890.

Church architect

Extending to 630sq m (6,781sq ft) Massbrook House, which is for sale through Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes, was designed by Belfast architect Sir Thomas Drew. A specialist in church architecture – he was consulting architect for Christ Church and St Patrick’s cathedrals in Dublin – he also designed Ulster Bank on Dublin’s Dame Street.

The ecclesiastical influence is apparent in the oakwood panelling, overhead beams and hardwood floors of the three main reception rooms, including a vast billiard room with a secret door to the service area. The atmosphere is informal and very much that of a country shooting lodge.

Feature marble fireplaces have replaced simpler originals in the drawing room and book-lined diningroom. Proportions throughout are generous, although it’s likely the narrow kitchen, scullery and cold room area will get an overhaul.

Upstairs there are five bedrooms, three en suite (without showers), but what they lack in mod cons they make up for in space and aspect. The views from the roomy suites are splendid. Massbrook was originally conceived as a sporting estate for shooting and fishing – it has over a mile of frontage onto Lough Conn, one of the best trout and salmon lakes in Ireland – although Mr Robinson says it has only been used in their time for its “peace and tranquility”.

“It’s lovely to close the gate on the outside world and just walk the grounds, especially for Mary when she’s back here.”

The permanently maintained grounds are set in mature woodland of beech, oak and Scots Pine with walkways past beautiful specimen trees and plants.

Gate lodge

A couple of paddocks and outbuildings would lend themselves to equestrian use or hobby farming. Included in the sale is an adjacent one-bedroom apartment suited for an au pair or guest accommodation, and a nicely renovated two-bedroom gate lodge would more than meet most people’s holiday home requirements. Knock Airport is just over half an hour away. It’s clear the Robinsons have enjoyed sharing this sanctuary with friends and family over the years. Not in a grand fashion, Mr Robinson is quick to add: “Our idea of entertaining is just getting four or five really interesting people around the kitchen table, rather than formally entertaining on a large scale.”

Whether these visitors have included international politicians and heads of state, he won’t say, but they both like to cook, and an Anne B Yeats painting of a frying pan on the kitchen wall completes a homely scene. Artwork and sculpture adorn the rooms, including gifts presented to Mrs Robinson.

Previous owner

Mr Robinson alludes to a brief spell working with this newspaper as a cartoonist, before pursuing his legal career. He resigned he says to avoid any conflict of interest after his wife stood for office, or as he jokes “to take up the full-time role of walking dutifully three paces behind the president”.

The previous owner of Massbrook from the 1970s was a wealthy British industrialist Denis Ferranti. He took a flamboyant approach to entertaining at Massbrook and in its heyday the house had a heliport, indoor swimming pool and garaging for 10 cars. Local rumours say Mr Ferranti flew Abba in to play for his daughter’s birthday party. He also replaced the original sash windows to the front of the house with huge floor-to-ceiling windows which afford expansive views, but aesthetically they have compromised the original grandeur of the façade.

Mrs Robinson’s parents, Drs Aubrey and Tessa Bourke had been family friends of the Ferranti’s, which is how they came upon the property. Looking for a home in the west towards the end of Mrs Robinson’s presidency, Massbrook came on themarket in 1994 but was “well beyond our means” says Mr Robinson. A year later, however, the price dropped and they took the plunge.

There are books everywhere – library shelving has probably been the Robinsons’ biggest structural addition to the house (along with a sophisticated Austrian wood-pellet heating system). The vast documentation from 45 years of public life is currently being archived for donation to Mayo County Council where it will be housed at the Mary Robinson Centre at Victoria House in Ballina. The former president’s birthplace, it has been extensively renovated and is due to open next year.

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