Liss Ard mansion and artists’ haven for €7.5m
Country estate near Skibbereen, Co Cork, on 163 acres with a lake, beach and sky garden
As I lie on the stone plinth in the centre of the Irish Sky Garden at Liss Ard, I wonder who may have been here before me.
They’ve all stayed at Liss Ard, and played here too.
In its hey day, the Liss Ard Festival was something special, but the Sky Garden goes on, and for art lovers it’s extraordinary.
Go through a cut in the earth, as if entering an ancient passage grave, and emerge into a specially created open grass crater, at the centre of which is a stone pedestal made for two.
Lie there and experience the scudding clouds, framed by the earth, like a film show made by nature, just for you.
It’s the kind of magic that money can’t buy – except now, if you have €7.5 million to spend, it can.
Liss Ard, which means “high fort”, is for sale: the 163 acres, 40 acre lake, little beach, pleasure grounds, tennis court, Victorian mansion, lake lodge, and garden mews; together in a single lot through joint agents Sherry FitzGerald and Charles McCarthy.
Between the different houses, there are 25 bedroom suites, and the current owners, the Stern family, based primarily in Switzerland, have been running Liss Ard as a country house hotel and wedding venue.
Family homeIt is well suited to this role, but as the main Victorian mansion has just six bedrooms (all en suite and all gorgeous), it also works beautifully as a family home out of season.
In fact, even though the estate is for sale in a single lot, Maeve McCarthy, who is looking after the sale from the Skibbereen side, points out that you could section off the lake lodge, re-sell and offset some of your costs.
Actually you might want to do it the other way, as the lake lodge, with its own garden pavilion and waterfall, is incredibly romantic and has views to conjure with.
The Sterns, who had been partners with previous owner, art dealer Veith Turske, took over Liss Ard in 1999.
Turske had undertaken a complete restoration of the estate and its buildings, and his affection for Modernist design with Oriental influences can be seen in the clean lines and screens in the bedroom suites.
These work perfectly to let the wonderful original features, including plasterwork, and a fabulous green Connemara marble fireplace, come centre stage. The results are rooms that are gracious and welcoming, elegant yet relaxing, grand but not grandiose.
Timo Stern, youngest son of the owners, remembers summers at Liss Ard while growing up.
“One of the biggest charms is the exclusivity, the privacy,” he says. “West Cork has welcomed me very much and things are slower here.”
I imagine the cultural differences between Skibbereen and his native Zurich might be considerable.
“I like the unexpected experiences you always get here,” he smiles.
One of these must be the time, during the Cold War, when Swiss colonel Albert Bachman bought Liss Ard in preparation for it to be the secret home of the Swiss government, should a nuclear catastrophe transpire.
“The story goes that he had a pint too many in one of the local bars,” Stern says, “and then it was no longer a secret, so the plan was scrapped.”
Unlike Lissadel, there are no rights of way on the land at Liss Ard, but generations of owners have maintained the tradition of local use.
If the gates are open, ramblers, pony riders and families enjoy the woodland walks, something that Stern has always found part of the pleasure of owning the estate: “We like to share it”.
PrivacyThe family are selling as the children are now working in different countries throughout the world. “We spend family time home in Switzerland now,” Stern says.
Just 70 minutes from Cork Airport, it’s private but highly accessible, and with the Ludgate hub project establishing Skibbereen as a digital hub (it’s already a gourmet destination), plus the freshly built arts centre, the town is thriving.
“It’s a special place,” says McCarthy, “some people say it’s spiritual and there is an atmosphere that is unique.”
“Someone who likes privacy,” adds Stern. “There’s the lake, the fishing, the forestry, the art. And someone with an appreciation of history. There’s also the condition it’s in, we’ve put a lot of focus on that.”
“It could be someone with no Irish connections,” says McCarthy. “Like us,” says Stern.
Whoever it is will be very lucky to get it, whether they choose to keep it as a private house or open it up for weddings and other guests.
And if you don’t have €7.5 million up your sleeve, Liss Ard opens for the new season in May. Go and experience it, it really is a magical place.