£1.7m for mansion with potential as hotel
It was the staircase that sold Midleton Park to Jeremy and Sharon Kenny. Within weeks of viewing the Georgian mansion on the Internet, they had bought the 28-bedroom house for something under £500,000, and uprooted business and home from Dublin to Castletown Geoghegan outside Mullingar.
The plan was to restore this historic and colourful house as a home and office for their marketing business and then develop it as a venue for conferences and parties to help pay for the upkeep.
Beautiful country homes like this one - which has an original Turner conservatory and 12 acres of grounds - may be an intricate part of our cultural heritage but they scream "money pit". And it eats time, too: it takes Sharon Kenny one full day to clean the brass rods on the staircase and over an hour and a half to vacuum just one section of carpet in the main hall. There is over 34,000 sq ft of space to housekeep, though one wing is closed off, awaiting further renovations.
However, those renovations will have to wait for a new owner. The Kennys have decided to put Midleton Park back on the market. For sale by private treaty through Gunne Residential, the asking price is £1.7 million.
The Kennys have poured money - their own and a grant - into restoring Midleton Park since they bought it in January 1999. They also admit that overseeing the renovations took up most of their working day. However, they were lucky in that the structure was basically sound, which allowed them to concentrate the majority of their efforts on cosmetic enhancements.
Midleton Park was originally the seat of the Rochfort Boyd family in the 19th century. It has a colourful history and gained notoriety in the 1980s when professional gambler Barney Curley raffled the house at £20 per ticket, netting close on £2 million.
Many of Ireland's country estates face an uncertain future, being simply too expensive to run. Many are in varying stages of decrepitude, with decades of neglect appearing irreversible. With price tags that may seem like a bargain - compared to Dublin houses - people dream about buying an old country estate and restoring it to its former glory.
Realistically, unless you have masses of cash and the patience of a saint, this plan of action should be left unhatched. In many cases, a cunning business plan that involves the house paying its own way and funding restoration work has been successful, but this involves commitment and is a lifetime's work.
"From the first day, we viewed this as a restoration project," says Jeremy Kenny. "We had renovated a much smaller Georgian property in Dublin, so we had some experience. We budgeted out what we could do and decided to go for it. So far we've hosted a few weddings and special events in the basement."
Midleton Park has primarily been a family home to the Kennys, who have two small sons, Charles and Sam; they always knew their budget and time were limited. Apart from personal considerations, the Kennys' decision to sell at this stage is tied in with the November deadline date for BES schemes, as new owners would need business plans outlined by that date in order to avail of the scheme.
An initial application to use the house as a hotel has been made, to build on the existing function business.
Essentially, the Kennys are looking for a surrogate family for Midleton to continue restoration work. The Irish Georgian Society says the future prospects for country mansions are much healthier now that there is more money in the economy. But Mary Bryan, conservationist with the society, says that for restoration projects to be successful, there must be a viable end use.
"People have to be prepared to make the restoration their life's project, and so the intended use of the building is an important factor. We provide an advisory service to people, and we have seen calls increase tenfold in the last five years. Many country estates have been restored and the outbuildings used to provide holiday accommodation."
Jeremy Kenny says that this is the most viable option for Midleton Park, which could have 28 bedrooms when the main wing is opened.
Selling the 12-acre property, which includes gardens, woodland and a three-quarter mile long front avenue, to a private individual with a healthy bank account and a desire to continue the restoration is also an option.
The 6,000 sq ft of basement space may be the key to the successful future of Midleton Park. The barrel-vaulted ceilings are the most striking feature of this space, which has been renovated to provide a 175-seat restaurant, with a bar and kitchen. Two top chefs have sought the franchise for a basement restaurant. The house may also appeal to a company.