Another round for Guinness mansion in Kildare
Furness, the rambling home of Patrick and Louise Guinness, is one of the most historic Irish Georgian estates. Located a half-hour from Dublin, it is back on the market seeking offers above €3 million
The story goes that when Bob Dylan viewed Furness, near Naas, Co Kildare, as a potential buy in the early 1990s, the singer looked up at the leaky parapet gushing rainwater down on the doorstep and said: “You mean people actually live here?”
Not long afterwards, Patrick Guinness – a direct seventh-generation descendent of Arthur – and his wife Louise moved into this rambling Georgian house on 34 acres of parkland that once provided the backdrop for the Somerville and Ross Irish RM series.
Guinness, a keen historian and current president of the Irish Georgian Society founded by his parents, Desmond and Mariga, set about restoring the listed 13-bedroom mansion.
Although the restoration project ran out of steam along the way, Furness has been rewired and has a new roof and mains water supply, and most of the main rooms have been redecorated.
The house failed to sell at auction in 2000, and later that year it went on the market with a €4 million asking price. Offers above €3 million are now being accepted through Richard Doyle of DNG Naas.
Built in the Palladian style between 1730 and 1790 – when the wings and diningroom were added – the 1,393sq m (15,000sq ft) house reflects the various building trends of each period. Behind the three-bay centre block of ashlar limestone, and through the imposing doorway flanked by pilasters and lions, is a huge hall that would once have been a single space but was divided in two by an arch in the late 18th century.
Guinness says the entrance hall was designed to make a first and lasting impression. A room in itself, a grand piano is strewn with hats and a giant painting of a swaggering earl – “some relation on my mother’s side” – hangs on the wall, relieved somewhere along the way of a frame deemed more valuable than the picture itself. Under the piano is a life-sized alligator, not real.
The original parquet floor is intact and in a corner stands the original grate with a striking Irish pearwood chimneypiece. To the left, a wide staircase of carved Spanish chestnut leads to the upper floors. Through a doorway, half a metre thick, is the first of three grand reception rooms, the anteroom, so named because a former landlord owner, Richard Nevill MP, would have his constituents wait here before being granted an audience in the drawingroom.
The different phases of building at Furness are reflected in the fine plasterwork, which extends to every floor of the house. Simple architraves and cornicework from the 1730s keep company with lighter, more decorative flourishes from the 1780s. The ceiling plasterwork in the drawingroom was done by Michael Stapleton and at its centre is a motif of Minerva teaching Greeks to plant the olive tree. This, says Guinness, was to reflect Nevills’s reputation as educators or improvers among the local population.
Through the windows in the distance are the ruins of a significant 12th-century church (although it dates from 550), containing a rare calendar stone and a good example of a leper window, used right up to the 18th century. This building is maintained by the OPW. To the left is Bare Hill from which the house takes its original name, Forenaughts, later anglicised to Furness. At the summit, Longstone rath features a granite standing stone more than 5m tall at its centre.
The bright diningroom extension has a huge bay window, and this is mirrored in a bedroom with the same footprint upstairs. One wall is covered in an 4m high Brussels tapestry, dating from 1620 and recently restored in Stockholm. Everywhere the fireplaces are intact – in this room, Kilkenny marble; in the bedroom above, an Adam style.
Beyond the grand setpiece rooms, the ordinary business of living gets done. Since 1994 the Guinnesses have filled this topsy-turvy house with children, their many friends and a range of marauding dogs. Off the diningroom is a big old country kitchen with an enormous Irish-made pine table at its centre. The vast and unfussy TV room is located in what would have been the servants’ hall, with a coal stove at its heart.
The main sleeping accommodation comprises six fine bedrooms – all with fireplaces – and three bathrooms on the first floor, and three further bedrooms and two bathrooms on the top floor. Here there is a tiny room behind paned frosted glass, which may have been the original bathroom or wc.
The two wings, each with two reception rooms and two bedrooms, could function as part of the main house or remain as self-contained units. Draped at every turn with cheerful Indian scarves, they are mainly used by younger family members for entertaining and music sessions.
The courtyard has a separate two-bedroom apple house and outhouses that have been partially restored for use as studios or separate accommodation. Six beautiful cutstone arches are regularly used for pig roasts and dancing. The stables and tackroom, which were close to collapse, have also been restored, with new floors and mezzanines installed.
In the distance is an obelisk with Mercury poised atop. It was introduced to the house in 1962 by previous residents, the Synott family, and came from Dangan, Co Meath, the boyhood home of the Duke of Wellington.