Deal for buyer who will rescue Kildare demesne


A house built in the 1760s on 444 acres in Co Kildare needs to be completely restored

THE ELDERLY owner of a historic Co Kildare estate which figured in the 1798 rebellion is offering to make a financial contribution to any purchasers prepared to restore his vast Palladian-style house.

Richard Robinson (90), a former aircraft engineer and the last of his family, is selling Newberry Hall Demesne and its expansive 444-acre farm in Carbury, Co Kildare, exactly 100 years after his father bought it for £8,500.

Even with the recent fall off in property values, Navan estate agency Raymond Potterton expects the demesne to sell for between €7 million and €7.5 million but says that Mr Robinson is willing to make a “generous financial concession” to new owners guaranteeing to return it to its former glory. How much the restoration work will cost has not been established though Mr Potterton acknowledges that it will involve a “serious amount of money”.

The large, rambling two-storey over basement home joined to two pavilion wings dates from the 1760s and has become quite rundown in recent years. Mr Robinson was, like his father, educated at Clongowes Wood College and was only four years married when his wife, Margaret Ryan, was killed in a road accident. He never remarried.

The entrance hall of Newberry Hall and the three main reception rooms on the ground floor still retain a great deal of their period decor even if the place is in some disarray with the wallpaper now faded and falling from the walls. The overall impression is of travelling back in time. New owners will want to completely refurbish and modernise the house without destroying its sense of history.

There is a beautifully proportioned square entrance hall with a large fireplace, high ceiling and five internal doors with handsome shouldered architraves. The diningroom has some of the most sophisticated rococo plasterwork still surviving in a country house, much of it birds and flowers in high relief. The bow-shaped outer wall has three south-facing windows overlooking tennis courts and parkland.

The drawingroom has north, south and east-facing windows, all with deep gilded pelmets and large wooden shutters. A tall marble fireplace is matched on the opposite side of the room by a full height gilded mirror resting on a white marble console table. The centrepiece of the room is a cut glass chandelier that still holds candles rather than electric bulbs.

A library off the entrance hall has highly decorative carved pelmets and a French door leading out to the tennis courts. An unusual feature of the house is a separate stairwell hall with an impressive staircase – still in mint condition – running from the basement up to the two upper floors.

The main kitchen in the basement is in particularly poor condition, much like the nine bedrooms on the upper floors. Some of the structural damage has been caused by a leaking roof which has now been repaired.

New owners will have to dig deep to refurbish the west pavilion which for many years was home to the estate steward. The second pavilion has only ever been used as a coach-house, stables and living quarters for the grooms. The original farmyard with a small clock tower and further coach-houses alongside a three-acre walled garden have lain empty and neglected for many years.

A unique attraction of Newberry Demesne is the almost hidden Trinity Well, a place of pilgrimage from early Christian times. .

Newberry, once the seat of a Viscount Harberton, was attacked by “insurrectionists” in the 1798 Rising after the battle of Clonard on July 11th. They took over Newberry and proceeded to loot the house, made short work of the booze in the cellar and later murdered two sisters, Mary and Esther Grattan, dairymaids who were the only Protestants employed on the estate.

One of the sisters was shot, the other drowned in Newberry pond close to the main entrance. A year later, four men were convicted of the murders and hanged beside the same pond.

Despite this unhappy episode, Viscount Harberton was seen by one historian as “sensible, gentle and good-humoured”. The historian was not, however, enamoured of his wife whom she described as “a dry stick of a thing who never commends anything and shows great conceit of her understanding”.