Luggala, the Co Wicklow estate that was home to the late Guinness heir Garech Browne, has been sold for what is believed to be significantly less than its €28 million price tag.
The estate was placed on the market by a Guinness family trust in February 2017, immediately prompting calls for the State to acquire part or all of its 5,000 acres for public recreational use.
This land is adjacent to Wicklow National Park and has significant scientific and biodiversity value, as well as tourism potential. However, no sale was agreed with the State.
The buyer is believed to be a private individual based overseas. The estate has been acquired in full, according to a spokesperson for Barbican International Corporation, the trustees of the estate, who would not comment on the price.
A number of high net worth individuals had viewed the property, which was advertised in the UK and US. At one stage it was suggested that businessman Denis O'Brien was keen to buy the property. Galen and Hilary Weston, who head up a multibillion dollar fashion and food empire that includes Brown Thomas and Arnotts, are also thought to have been interested in the estate as a country base for their daughter Alannah, who is married to Irishman Alex Cochrane. Popstar Ariana Grande also viewed the property while staying in Co Wicklow in early 2017.
Garech Browne, who founded Claddagh Records and helped form the Chieftains, turned Luggala into a haven for artists and musicians – a place where Mick Jagger and U2 partied alongside poets, painters, actors and models. Champagne was served all day when Browne was in residence and guests who found their way down into the valley were often invited to stay for as long as they pleased. The writer Edna O'Brien, President Michael D Higgins and singer Sinead O'Connor were regular visitors.
One of the heftiest books in the house was a guest book where the great and the glamorous signed their names or dashed off a sketch in thanks.
Garech Browne died in London in March 2018 while en route to Luggala from India, where he lived for part of the year with his wife Princess Harshad Purna Devi. His ashes was poured into Lough Tay on the estate in a private ceremony for 200 friends which took place last August.
Film-maker John Boorman, a close friend of Browne, told mourners at the ceremony Browne had been so saddened when the estate had been put up for sale by Guinness trustees that he told Boorman he had wanted to die.
At an early point in the sales campaign it was suggested that the estate might be offered at a discount on condition that Browne could continue to live there for part of the year, but this option was not taken up by any of the potential buyers.
The house at Luggala has a fairy-tale appearance but it’s quite modest inside with three reception rooms and seven bedrooms. In recent years an extension was added to contain a library of rare Irish books, which are believed to have been left to Marsh’s Library in Dublin.
In addition to the main house there are seven lodges and cottages scattered over the estate.
Luggala Lodge dates from around 1787 when it was built for the La Touches, a Dublin family of Huguenot origins and founders of the Bank of Ireland. The Gothic touches were added later to chime with the highly romantic surroundings, which include vast expanses of ancient woodland and rocky wilderness.
In 1937 Ernest Guinness bought Luggala and gave it as a wedding present to his daughter, Oonagh, on her marriage to Lord Oranmore and Browne. Her parties at Luggala were legendary for their audacious mix of artists, musicians, poets, actors and socialites.
In 1970s Oonagh handed over the running of Luggala to Garech Browne, her son, who carried on his mother’s tradition of lavish hospitality.
The house was regularly rented out in recent years – at rates of up to €30,000 a week and the grounds were often used by film crews for period dramas such as The Tudors TV series, which was largely filmed in Co Wicklow. The singer Michael Jackson spent several weeks there in 2006.
The estate is also a special place for the Guinness family, particularly as it is the resting place of one of its most famous sons, the tragic Tara Browne, Garech's brother, who was killed while speeding through London in a car at the age of 21. The Beatles, who knew him as a bright young thing around town, immortalised him in A Day in the Life, a song at the heart of their Sgt Pepper's album.