Restored to glory

A UK financier and his wife transformed a beautiful but neglected Victorian estate

In 1998, David Pearl, a UK financier and chief executive of Sovereign Mines of Africa, arrived in Ireland to buy a racehorse and ended up with Ballyneale House in Co Limerick. “I didn’t even have a survey carried out,” says Pearl, “but the night we moved in the windows rattled and there was water streaming down the walls. We then discovered that part of the upper storey was held up by just three planks of wood.”

David and Ros Pearl have spent 15 years at Ballyneale and in that time they have meticulously restored the property to its former glory, at a cost of €3m. The couple originally placed the house on the market in 2007 when all works were complete. The asking price – in what now seems like a different lifetime – was €8m, including the house, 125 acres, a private, nine-hole golf course, a landing strip for aircraft, and a stocked carp lake and fishery. The fishery sold recently, and now the house on 17 acres is for sale through Sherry FitzGerald with a price tag of €3m, while 104 acres of grazing lands including the golf course are available separately.

Ballyneale is a magnificent late-Georgian-style house built in the Victorian era. It was completed in 1853 and valued at the time at the princely sum of £13. The current Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Brother Mark Patrick Hederman, grew up there when it was a working stud farm and he has described his childhood at Ballyneale as idyllic.

In 1990, the estate was purchased for an estimated €750,000 by American philanthropist Lewis Glucksman and his Irish wife, Loretta, who divided their time between Ballyneale and Manhattan before selling the estate to Pearl for more than €1.2 million.


Restrained grandeur
The house itself, while imposing from the exterior, inside has a warm, restrained grandeur perfect for everyday family living. The narrow plank oak floors have been scrupulously restored in the main hall which is flooded with natural light thanks to the large Diocletian window on the return. A double drawingroom, with hand-painted striped walls, benefits from the elevated position of the house which allows majestic views of the carefully maintained gardens. The well- proportioned diningroom, which comfortably accommodates 12 people, is served by a small kitchen and pantry. On the first floor, four bedrooms overlook the estate. The master – with his and her bathrooms – while generous in proportion, oozes warmth for a house of this scale. The bedroom fireplaces are set, awaiting a match.

Downstairs in what was formerly the servant quarters, is a large, simple kitchen, a gun/bootroom, a family den, wine cellar and a plethora of other storage rooms. The flanking two-storey wings that adjoin the house are set in an inner courtyard to the rear and house four guest cottages. The manager’s house and staff accommodation complete the courtyard which has access to an outdoor heated swimming pool, a secret garden and a tennis court.

A large old barn has been renovated as a billiards room, the wooden panels of which give an indication of the attention to detail in the property’s restoration: each panel was French polished and took a painstaking 30 months to complete. Behind the billiards room lies the ultimate boy’s pad: a 12-jumbo-seat surround- sound cinema for which the technology alone cost €250,000.

A second enclosed courtyard is home to 12 stables. Ros Pearl undertook the planting of the estate, which despite having magnificent parklands of oak and beech had no formal gardens prior to her involvement. The yearlings’ paddock has been transformed into a large Victorian kitchen garden with box hedging and monastic-style hazel troughs growing a vast array of organic fruits and vegetables that could well feed the local village.

Outdoor pursuits
The Pearls, along with their estate manager, Tom Fennessy, have taken this historic estate and given it an immaculate new lease of life for generations to come. The house would make an excellent family home, and will suit anyone with a love of outdoor pursuits. Hunting is available locally with the renowned Limerick Foxhunt. Salmon fishing, rough shooting and golf in the nearby Trent Jones-designed Adare Golf Club should satisfy sporting enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, the Pearls are heading off to their 1394sq m (15,000sq ft) dream home in Mexico. Both agree they have loved their time in Ballyneale “We love Ireland and have been made feel incredibly welcome but with work travel commitments and our extended family it is just not practical any more. We are away one out of every three days.” And why Mexico? “Well it reminds us a lot of Ireland but with sunshine”