First impressions of Uppercourt Manor suggest a vast country estate in the north Kilkenny countryside. But there's a twist. The partially restored, 17-bedroom Georgian manor house – for sale by private treaty for €1.35 million through Ganly Walters – sits on just 36 acres. Prospective buyers still get a lot of bang for their buck.
The 2,500sq m (27,000sq ft) house, just outside the village of Freshford, was built by Sir William de Montmorency in the 1790s. A succession of landed gentry families lived there – largely uneventfully – until the Anglo-Irish idyll was rudely interrupted by the hobnailed Free State.
The house – like many other "Protestant piles" – fell into Catholic hands and was acquired by the Catholic Mill Hill Fathers in the 1930s. The priests established a boys' secondary school – a seminarian feeder unit – and built a church (now deconsecrated) and a four-storey dormitory block for boarders (which needs to be either demolished or significantly upgraded).
The decline in religious vocations resulted in the closure of the school in the 1980s.
Uppercourt has been owned for the past decade by consultant surgeon Paul O’Byrne, owner of Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick. It has been used as a curious mix of stud farm, wedding venue and medical consulting rooms, rather than as a home. However, the substantial restoration project has now stalled and it needs a new owner with a clear vision.
The entrance to the house, via what the agent describes as a “fantastic balustraded Ionic portico”, leads to a series of restored reception rooms with magnificent plasterwork ceilings, shuttered sash windows and opulent marble fireplaces.
The lower ground floor has also been restored and includes a modern kitchen with period details including a hand-operated water pump (so much cooler than, say, an espresso-maker), living and dining areas and four bedrooms. A surprisingly large communal ‘rain-forest’ wetroom, with multiple shower heads, could easily accommodate an entire hurling team.
Upstairs, two floors resemble an abandoned building site but a door opens into the one bedroom which has been fully renovated – to reveal five-star luxury hotel standards in an en suite space bigger than many city apartments. There’s a lot done, but more, much more to do. However, according to the vendor, “all the electrics, plumbing and the roof” have been done.
The parquet-floored church building – certainly an unusual feature – can be entered via a corridor from the main house or its own external entrance. It was built in 1944 as a private Catholic chapel for the school, but has since been restored, “laicised” and modernised. It is, says the agent, “a perfect space for use as a ballroom, party room or games room”. Éamon de Valera and Archbishop McQuaid would need smelling salts. The property also includes a “cabin-style” two-bed guest lodge, a thee-bed staff house, a lofted coachhouse and equestrian facilities with stabling for 22 horses.
Uppercourt Manor could, of course, revert to being a private family home but it could also have potential as a luxury hotel. Recent investments in this sector by international investors – including Ashford Castle, Co Mayo and Ballyfin, Co Laois (also a former school) – suggest there is a growing demand for exclusive country house hotels in Ireland.
Such a concept could work, given Uppercourt’s location 14km north of Kilkenny city, one of the country’s most popular and virtually year-round visitor and tourist destinations.