Live like a Guinness - for €15,000 a week


Michael Jackson used Luggala in remote Co Wicklow as a hideaway not long before his death. Now the estate is to let once more – only the rich and romantic need apply

IT’S hard to think of a more secret place in Ireland than the house at Luggala. Hidden deep in a valley, surrounded by 6,000 acres, the Gothic Revival house is a natural hideaway in a fantastically romantic setting. Film-makers swoon over the wild landscape with its mountains, lake and woodlands.

It was to Luggala that Gérard Depardieu was heading when he was short taken on a flight from Paris to Dublin. He’s in Ireland to film a €50 million Astérix and Obélix movie.

And it was to Luggala that singer Michael Jackson escaped in 2006, spending nine weeks on the estate with his family and entourage.

Staff on the estate kept shtum about the visit, having signed a confidentiality agreement that carried a €1 million penalty clause.

“He was a charming fellow,” says Luggala’s custodian, the Hon Garech Browne, 71. “Very quiet and polite but very strange looking.”

The singer paid €15,000 a week to sleep in a modest bedroom, with a cosy en suite. All the bedrooms at Luggala are modest in size and in fact the entire house is built to a scale that is charming rather than grand. Rich romantics will love it, oligarchs might find it a bit poky.

Jackson’s was the last long holiday let at Luggala but now Garech Browne is seeking another. He’s hoping to rent out the house on a short- or medium- term basis, and the price is negotiable, according to Nick Crawford of estate agency North’s which is handling the let. Another house on the estate is currently to let, asking €3,500 per month. It’s got its own entrance and grounds and and is at some distance from the main house.

Garech Browne insists that the estate where he has lived for most of his life and which was a wedding present to his mother, Oonagh Guinness, daughter of Hon Arthur Ernest Guinness in 1936, is not in fact his. It belongs to a trust and, times being difficult as they are, it now must pay for itself.

In 2006 he sold over €2 million worth of art and furniture from Luggala and other properties, giving a farewell dinner on the night before the sale accompanied by traditional Irish laments led by a fourth generation uilleann piper.

Some of the proceeds have gone back into the house, which is beautiful inside. With a staff that includes both a butler and housekeeper, it’s expensive to keep.

Improvements are ongoing. Right now work is being carried out on the library, a fabulous, double-height room at one end of the house that will eventually house an important collection of Irish books.

Work has also started on a large indoor swimming pool but this has been suspended until the rental money starts to roll in.

Browne is not entirely happy at the notion of allowing somebody else to lord it over Luggala. He says he would prefer to rent it out on an occasional basis only so that he can continue to visit from time to time. However, as he spends most of his time in London, it’s likely that the house will now be permanently to let. A website has been set up to promote lettings but currently there are no details on it as to price and availability. There are plans to advertise the house in Los Angeles and New York in the coming months.

In the meantime, Browne continues to entertain there occasionally. Of all the treasures and curiosities on display in the drawingroom – a wrap made of woven peacock feathers, the Lucian Freud portrait, a fantastic Gothic mirror Desmond Guinness once turned his nose up at, the most interesting of all lies on the coffee table. Ancient and bulging, it looks like a bible, but in fact is the visitor’s book. It’s a masterpiece.

Here are stories and signatures from the rich and famous, sketches and watercolours, pictures of impossibly glamorous women standing around clutching glasses of champagne.

Virtually every artist that Ireland has produced in the last 50 years is here. Each time Garech departs the house, the most expensive items he owns go back into the bank. And so does the visitor’s book.