In Tipperary, a castle that earns its keep


It was the perfect fixer-upper – a 16th century castle near Thurles where a cow lived on the top floor. Now it’s a seven-bedroom holiday home for sale at €1 million. MICHAEL PARSONSreports

WEALTHY MEMBERS of the international Tipperary diaspora (of whom there are reputedly many) tend, like all Irish emigrants, to retain a deep affection for the old country and dream of one day returning home in style.

It’s all very well being cock-of-the-walk in Chicago, a big-shot in Brooklyn or a powerbroker in Piccadilly – but it’s your status back in the old sod that really counts. So, if your heart really does lie there, then here’s an exceptional opportunity to acquire the ultimate trophy home in the heart of the Premier County.

Killahara Castle on seven acres in the townland of Dovea, three miles outside Thurles, is for sale by private treaty asking €1 million through Galway auctioneer Helen Cassidy, who specialises in the sale of castles. This is no ruin but a lovingly-conserved, fully-restored, seven-bedroom house with over 279sq m (3,000sq ft) of accommodation, that has been available for rent.

It’s the kind of home which every Playboy of the Western World would secretly love to own. Killahara Castle was originally built in 1550 by the Gaelic chieftain, Donagh O’Fogartie. It fell to Cromwell a century later and eventually passed into the ownership of the Anglo-Irish Trant family. After independence, their estate was bought by a farmer’s co-op and, eventually, the castle was sold to the current owners by the South East Cattle Breeders Association.

Incidentally, the last “resident” of the castle was a cow which, in 1981, somehow negotiated its way up the spiral staircase and took a fancy to rooftop living. A kind-hearted lady took water and hay up the stairs every day for 18 months – until the last resident of Killahara Castle somehow made her way down again.

The project to rescue and renovate the castle was the brainchild of business partners, local builder Patrick Noel Ryan (34) and Tom O’Neill (48), a Kilkenny man who runs an IT company in Cape Town. In 2006, the two men bought Killahara which was then “a shell – with no roof, no floors, and no windows” – and set about the arduous task of restoring one of Ireland’s finest tower-house castles to its 16th century glory.

Mr Ryan’s company, Heritage Building Contractors, already had extensive experience in renovation work on heritage sites including the Rock of Cashel and Clare Castle.

With the help of conservation consultant, Ivor McElveen, the two men submitted a planning application for “conserving and refurbishing” the castle to North Tipperary County Council and gained approval in April last year.

Work started immediately and took seven months to complete. Their main objective was “to make the castle habitable to a high standard – to make it dry, warm, and comfortable” while also respecting the heritage and cultural aspects of the building.

The result is spectacular. They have created a five-storey house which would make the perfect holiday home for a Tipperary tycoon, or a permanent residence for a family of adventurous bravehearts. As Mr Ryan points out with typical Tipp understatement: “It’s not for the first-time buyer.” It certainly isn’t. Here is a place where men can indulge their every knight-in-shining-armour fantasy; where damsels can play at being distressed Rapunzels. This imaginative and fun building would thrill well-heeled romantics, dippy eccentrics and every child in the land. While modern bathrooms are cleverly concealed in nooks and crannies, the period details – arrow-slit windows, white-washed walls and spiral stone staircase (with iron handrail for nervous Nellies) – will delight traditionalists.

In the ceiling above the hall is a “murder hole” – through which boiling oil was once poured down from the room above to repel unwelcome intruders. What a fiendishly clever and satisfactory way to deter election canvassers or pesky Sky television salesmen.

Despite the popular perception of Irish castles as dark, gloomy places, Killahara is filled with light and is very well-insulated. At some points the wall is 2.5m thick and, on a chilly and damp November morning, the interior was comfortably warm – without the heating being on. A 21st century oil-fired heating system with cast-iron radiators has been installed while the boiler is hidden in an attractive little purpose-built stone outhouse.

But Killahara Castle’s new crowning glory is a glass-walled, self-contained, penthouse apartment built on the battlements. Carlsberg don’t do vistas but, if they did, then the commanding views from this quintessential bachelor pad are guaranteed to bring a smile to the eyes of any red-blooded Irishman. The Gaelic Elysian Fields, stretching out to the far horizons, offer glimpses of the floodlights towering over the GAA’s Semple Stadium; the Dovea AI station; the Garda college at Templemore; Slievenamon; and the Devil’s Bit mountain. Who needs Tuscany?

And the location is a mere roll-of-a-dice away from “the Tipperary venue” planned for the nearby village of Two-Mile-Borris which will include a vast Las Vegas-style casino and has the backing of local TD Michael Lowry. Who’d have ever thought it, eh? Imagine a James Bond wannabe, wearing a Brioni dinner jacket, in a Bentley rolling home through Thurles after a night of roulette to a shaken Martini in his castle-top penthouse? As the great Tipperary novelist, Charles Kickham observed: “Thank God, there are happy homes in Tipperary still . . . but Knocknagow is gone!” It sure is.