€7.5 million sought for Haughey mansion
Six years after the former taoiseach’s death, his beloved Abbeville comes on the market at a much-reduced price, writes FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor
WHOEVER BUYS Abbeville will have to live with the ghost of Charles J Haughey. It was here that he held court for decades, having confidential meetings in his book-lined study with the likes of Dermot Desmond, Patrick Gallagher, Larry Goodman and Des Traynor, or entertaining lavishly in its grand ballroom.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage lists it as a nine-bay two-storey over basement country house, dating from 1770 and extended about 20 years later by James Gandon, architect of the Custom House and the Four Courts. The dining room, it notes, is “regarded as Gandon’s finest surviving domestic interior”.
Gandon, whose client and patron was John Beresford, then chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, also designed the stables at the rear, where Haughey kept some of his horses. The perfect picture of him as a country squire was done by Edward McGuire, showing the late taoiseach on horseback in front of Abbeville.
Haughey “adored the place – you could see when he was walking the land that he appreciated the heritage”, Sam Stephenson recalled. Stephenson designed an Irish bar for Haughey, its counter salvaged from a Belfast bank; his architectural partner, Arthur Gibney, did watercolours that were used for Haughey’s Christmas cards.
He always styled it as “Kinsaley”, the more antiquated form of the townland’s name; that’s how it was rendered on the memorial cards sent out by the Haughey family after his death in June 2006. Even laid out in his coffin at Abbeville, former finance minister Ray MacSharry detected a smile of “old devilment” on his face.
El Diablo, as PJ Mara used to call his boss, left his mark on the place. The fountain in front has a mosaic plaque bearing the family crest Marte Nostro (“by our own efforts”), which is repeated in stone at the entrance to the stables. On the west-facing conservatory is a direction sign to his Kerry island: “Inismhicileáin 12000”. As Private Eye would say, “Shurely shome mishtake”. Even the mosaic plaque laid in front of the two-tier fountain is erroneous by including Ex Libris (“from the library”) above its pompous crest, beneath which is inscribed the name Charles James Haughey; it’s as if the artist copied the stamp he used to mark his books.
The grass has all been mown, wrought iron railings painted white and rubble removed from outbuildings. The house itself is also protected from thieves who would covet its 18th-century fireplaces by people staying there under licence from Camelot, a UK-based company that specialises in providing “live-in guardians”.
Abbeville is now being offered for sale by Savills as a “magnificent Gandon Mansion in a parkland setting just 10km from Dublin City Centre”, with a guide price of €7.5 million; that’s around a fifth of what Manor Park Homes paid for the property in 2003, allowing Charlie and Maureen Haughey to continue living in the house.
A plethora of photographs that used to line the main staircase are gone, as is practically all the furniture. Haughey’s study is now bare, though one feels the walls could speak, but the main elements of his Irish bar survive. It was there, in its non-kitsch interior, that he and I had three memorable lunches during his last years.
“I thought you’d never get here till I could open this,” he said the first time, plucking a bottle of Montagny premier cru from the fridge, and pouring two large glasses, to go with Alsatian paté, cheese, bread and salads laid out on a side table as we talked about Dublin and how it had changed, about Ireland and about Paris.
Later, after he bid me open a second bottle and we sat out on the terrace looking out over the lake, I asked CJH if he was concerned that the estate would be radically altered. He said no, that Manor Park Homes were “good people” and they would adopt a sensitive approach, perhaps turning the house into a hotel. Like many other builders, Manor Park is now in receivership and its planning permission to develop the estate as a resort has already expired – although it could be reactivated. Under the plan, conceived in 2005, it was to include a 70-bedroom hotel and spa, with an 18-hole golf course and at least 20 “tourist residential units”.
Even undeveloped, the estate offers a lot – 23 stables, yards and tack room and a dairy (with stained-glass windows) designed by Gandon as well as paddocks, indoor equestrian arena, gate lodge, gardener’s cottage, outdoor swimming pool, formal gardens, private shooting and fishing, a lake and acres of arable land.
But Abbeville could be a much better house than it is. Yes, it has some very grand rooms, all by Gandon. These are the ballroom, with its neo-classical plasterwork, niches and fine fireplace; the diningroom, where an evocative portrait of Seán Lemass once hung, and the curious Gothic drawingroom, where CJH watched television.
The basic problem with Abbeville is that it was turned around from back to front. Its original entrance was from the very expansive but lesser-seen west front, with the main staircase rising from the hall. Switching it round more than 200 years ago had the effect of concealing the staircase, disrupting the natural order of things.
The main bedrooms are generous in scale, on either side of a large antechamber with wonderful views out over the fields, now rented out as horse paddocks. Oddly, the principal bedroom is entered through a large bathroom with a free-standing travertine-encased bath and wardrobes shelved for Haughey’s Charvet shirts.
Other bedrooms on this level are smaller, all opening off a corridor as one might find in a monastery. Rooms on the top floor, with squat ceilings, include a schoolroom complete with blackboard. These are most easily accessible from the ground floor by a very tight secondary staircase that almost seems like an afterthought.
Throughout the house, there are too many changes in levels, with steps up and down like Fawlty Towers. The basement kitchen is surprisingly small, given the scale of Charlie Haughey’s hospitality, although it is supplemented by a large breakfastroom where he deigned to allow family photos on election days. But the chief glory of the house is its high-ceiling ballroom, which Gandon designed as a diningroom for Beresford with bow-fronted windows facing west, double mahogany doors and roundels painted by Angelica Kauffman.
Some potential buyers might be put off by the fact that Dublin Airport’s main flight path lies just south of Abbeville, though Charlie Haughey claimed to be untroubled by the noise of jets coming in to land.
Abbeville, Kinsealy, Co Dublin
Gandon-built home to former taoiseach Charles Haughey