Video: Ireland’s finest private castle for €6.5m
Outside Galway, on 265 acres, is Tulira Castle. Meticulously restored by its Dutch owners, it comprises a 16th-century tower and a Victorian main house, built by Edward Martyn, cofounder of the Abbey Theatre
Eighteen years ago Ruud and Femmy Bolmeijer, the Dutch owners of Tulira Castle, were looking for a retirement project at the end of Ruud’s career as a senior executive with the Mars corporation in the US. When they found the Victorian castle, outside Ardrahan in Galway, they felt they had come home.
At the time, they paid about £2 million for the property on 265 acres – mostly leased, with 95 acres of woodland – and they set about a meticulous restoration project that has transformed it into Ireland’s finest private castle. The seven-bedroom home with its original 16th-century tower and Georgian courtyard buildings comes to the market this week through Ganly Walters for €6.5 million.
From the beginning the Bolmeijers have treated the project as a labour of love, considering themselves custodians of this historic home. The east wing dates from 1843 and an enormous oak door in the Great Hall leads to the adjoining medieval tower.
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The Victorian Gothic main house was commissioned in the 1880s by the then owners, Edward Martyn and his mother. Martyn was a contemporary and friend of WB Yeats and Lady Gregory and he was one of the key founders, and funders, of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. A lover of liturgical music, he also founded the Palestrina Choir at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral. In 2004 the Bolmeijers hosted an event to mark the choir’s centenary when the choirboys performed a recital on the stairs and gallery of Tulira.
The renowned architect George Ashlin designed the main extension to the castle, and his ecclesiastical influences are everywhere, particularly in the Great Hall, which has a 40ft high vaulted timber ceiling, a chimneypiece by Augustus Pugin and elaborate Irish marble columns with carved stone capitals. The house is something of a paean to the Martyn family name, and their motto, Sic Idor Ad Astra (Reach for the stars), is repeated on the patterned marble floor in the hall, while the family crest and Edward Martyn’s likeness are immortalised in stained glass around the house.
The dramatic polished granite staircase with its marble-topped banister has a recurring religious motif carved from thick stone sweeping up to an open gallery where the five main bedrooms are located. Two further luxurious bedrooms, one with a dressing room, are in the refurbished east wing.
The Bolmeijers replaced the huge staircase window with a specially commissioned stained glass one to replicate a Pugin design from original archive plans that they discovered in London. Where possible, local suppliers and craftspeople were employed to carry out improvements on the house. Galway-based stained glass expert Richard Kimball did all the restoration and replica work on the stained glass in the upper panes in the “withdrawing room”.
Warm pitch-pine floors imported from the US in the 1880s run through the main reception rooms and wood-framed ceiling quadrants are individually designed. An elaborate gold-framed mirror crowns an imposing Irish marble mantelpiece in the withdrawing room. The dining room features original wallpaper, while the library and morning room have oversized mantelpieces taken from elsewhere when the castle was built.
The kitchen in the refurbished east wing is newly built, but it looks like it has been there forever. Here Femmy drew heavily on Dutch design for inspiration, importing handmade wall tiles, while handpainted tiles above the Aga depict the Port of Amsterdam in the early 17th century.
The floor tiles are Galway marble while the ceiling quadrant was hand-stencilled by the Bolmeijers’ daughter. A Bell & Son clock bought in London and transported to the US on Ruud’s lap on a Concorde flight, stands above the doorway. It’s one of 30 antique clocks around the house. “Sunday is winding day, and it’s quite time consuming,” says Ruud.
Period piles like this often have spectacular reception rooms and then a couple of everyday livingrooms, but in Tulira the entire house is inviting. There is also great humour and design flair that you don’t often find in stately homes as their occupants buckle under the pressure of architectural grandeur.
The Bolmeijers like to collect objects: there are dozens of antique leather tankards dotted about; a large pack of porcelain dogs circle a candle on a round coffee table; and in the tower, porcelain replicas of narrow Dutch houses cram a high timber ledge in what was Edward Martyn’s study. (Martyn made the tower habitable when the castle extension was built.) Farther up the tower’s steep stone staircase is a small chapel with original pews and a servants’ gallery, and at the very top is a banqueting hall. Because the castle was never ransacked or pillaged it is a pristine example of its type.
Two live-in gardeners have overseen the restoration of the beautiful two-acre walled garden. To the front are kitchen and herb gardens while an orchard to the rear is dominated by the old wall of the greenhouse, which was originally heated by a fireplace. The driveway has been planted with 93 lime trees on one side, and a large ornamental lake was installed in 1990 to create a focal point. In the courtyard, restored stables sport original gleaming octagonal wall tiles, a stone parquet-style floor and brass tethering rings.
The Bolmeijers say they don’t know where they are going next, but it’s possible they’ll remain in Ireland because they have loved it here.
So who will buy Tulira Castle? According to the selling agent, Charles Erwin, the expat market is “flying” and he expects a lot of US interest. Similarly it might have commercial appeal as a boutique wedding or event venue with on-site accommodation. Though it’s unlikely the State coffers would extend to such a purchase, the landmark estate would make a great heritage buy as a public amenity.
Meanwhile, Ruud and Femmy have only the interests of Tulira at heart. “I hope very sincerely we find buyers who identify with the history of the house,” says Ruud. “If the right buyers came along I would bend over backwards for them. We want Tulira to be taken care of in the same way that we cherish this place.”