Eamon Casey’s former Kerry retreat goes on sale for €1.9m
Red Cliff House used as retreat for controversial former bishop of Galway
Red Cliff House has had quite a history. Perched at the the water's edge on the Dingle Peninsula, it offers 180-degree views from Inch Beach round to Dingle Beach. It was built in the late 18th century as a hunting lodge for Lord Ventry. Later, a Protestant rector had it, before the Catholic church took it on as a summer bishops’ residence. It was here that former bishop of Galway Eamon Casey spent time with Annie Murphy, an American woman he later fathered a child with – a 1970s dalliance that later became one of Ireland’s defining scandals. “The locals at Annascaul still talk about stealing the bishop’s apples,” says the Dublin-based owner, although it’s far likelier there was more talk about the former resident than that at one time.
Later, it had been in use as a guest house, which meant that there were an awful lot of en suites to rip out. “We were still living in London, and used it as a base – Kerry Airport is just 30 minutes away,” says the owner who bought it as a holiday home.
“So we spent time getting a feel for the house. It had been one of those Upstairs Downstairs houses. The formal rooms are still fantastic. What is now the kitchen had been a coal and turf cellar, but these days, the kitchen is where you spend 80 per cent of your time, so we moved it to where the views were.”
The house is now much larger, and warmer than it would have been in Casey’s days. Dingle architect Steve White worked on the project, which included dry-lining, reroofing, replumbing, rewiring, and adding underfloor heating, as well as extending a conservatory to create a wrap-around sun room.
“We spent one summer here with no back wall on the house,” says the owner, who is selling to spend more time in Dublin now that the children are getting older. “The kids love it, though, they don’t want it to sell.”
During the extensive renovations and restorations, plasterboard partitions were stripped back to reveal gorgeous cornicing that had been unintentionally protected by a generation who lowered ceilings with temporary partitions to keep in the heat. There’s no need at Red Cliff these days, as it’s tightly glazed and insulated, although the windows are still protected by the original shutters.
“They’re the best insulation you can imagine,” says the owner, “and you don’t hide the shape of those beautiful windows, or any of the views, as you might with curtains.” Another amazing find during the project happened the day they removed the false ceiling in the hallway, to reveal an unexpected domed plasterwork ceiling, hidden from view for years, and now back to its former glory.
“It was a huge surprise. We worked with a plaster restorer from Listowel; it’s wonderful that it now all survives intact.”
A new internal balcony off the kitchen has been designed to show off the plasterwork on the stairs and landing to their best advantage.
Swathes of marble
Celtic Interiors did the kitchen, which included vast swathes of marble: “It’s a huge space, so we needed big pieces to fill it.” Off this is a den, made cosy by a pot-bellied stove. The drawingroom, with French windows to the gardens, flanked by bay windows giving ocean views, is “the premier room in the house. We had to put in a new dark oak floor there, though we were able to save the original floor in the library.”
The family also took great pleasure in filling the house. “My father had loved antiques, so growing up, I went to a lot of fairs. Furnishing this house was a dream come true, having all that space to put things in.”
Overall, the seven bedroom house is approximately 465sq m (5,000sq ft). Three of the bedrooms are in a semi-separate apartment, which has its own external access, and is also ramped, with wide doors, so it’s a flexible option for an extended family. “We tried to marry the needs of a modern family without letting go of the heritage of the house,” says the owner. “We loved it, but also had to make it realistic to live in.”
The gardens were landscaped, and there are sun traps and sheltered spots, as well as viewing points for that wonderful land and seascape. A line of fuchsia borders the sea, while rugged slopes rise behind the lawns.
Upstairs, the master suite has a dressing room off it, with a special view of the bay from the front, as well as to the Red Cliffs from the side. “You can sit there, read, or just look and think and be transported to another era. I know when we do move, I’ll think I didn’t sit there enough while I had it . . .”
In fact, the owners had spent 18 months looking for their perfect house. “We flew in on Friday, and bought it on Saturday, we’d made the decision before we’d even got out of the car.” Now you can do the same if you’re in the market for a dream getaway – for €1.9 million, with Savills.