Magnificent Bellinter House to become a luxury hotel


One of Ireland's grand 18th century country houses, Bellinter, near Navan, is to be converted into an upmarket country house hotel after being sold by a religious order of nuns. Jack Fagan, Property Editor, reports.

The Palladian mansion on 14 acres has been bought in a private deal for just over €3 million by Dublin businessmen Mr "J" Bourke, Mr Eoin Foyle and Mr John Reynolds, who own a range of bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Dublin.

It is one of the last country houses to have been designed by Richard Castle, the architect responsible for many of the great houses including Carton, Russborough, Powerscourt and Leinster House.

The new owners of Bellinter plan to turn it into a 40-bedroom hotel with leisure and sporting facilities, including a swimming pool, gym and a spa. There will also be a restaurant.

Bellinter has its own salmon fishing on the adjoining river Boyne and overlooks the grounds of Royal Tara Golf Club. It it also close to the Killeen estate, which is to be turned into an exclusive golf and country club by Dublin property developers, Mr Liam Maye and Mr Joe O'Reilly of Castlethorn Developments. Bellinter will be within 20 minutes' drive of Dublin when the proposed N3 Clonee-Kells bypass opens. Mr Pat O'Hagan, of Hamilton Osborne King, handled the sale for the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion.

Mr "J" Bourke says Bellinter will be run on fairly similar lines to Babbington House, a fashionable country club in Somerset, England, which is frequented mainly by young executives and people in the arts and music. "However, it will not be stuffy."

But then Bellinter was always run in a relaxed and informal way when it was owned by the Briscoe and Preston families for over 200 years. The Tara Harriers' kennels were based there for many years and Bellinter was the venue for famous hunt balls in the first half of the last century. More than 400 supporters packed the house on such occasions for dancing and "a sit-down supper" served by Lawlers of Naas.

On one occasion, after wining and dining in extravagant fashion, a previous owner, Gussy Briscoe, rode his horse up the servants' narrow spiral staircase to win a bet. After reaching the top, the horse refused to come down and spent three weeks in the attic before a beam and pulley could be put in place to lower it down to the ground floor.

The house has changed little over the years, apart from the building of a new block of bedrooms in the rear yard. The five-bay centre block stands two-storeys over basement and is joined by straight arcades to the two subordinate two-storey wings. The west block was originally used to house servants, the other as stables and to accommodate grooms, huntsmen and game keepers.

Bellinter House was originally the centrepiece of an 800-acre estate which was sold in 1954 for £36,000 at a time when farming showed relatively poor returns and the cost of maintaining the big house put a strain on family finances.

The house has a stunning main entrance hall with plasterwork depicting military trophies which might suggest that this was the home of a famous war lord.

However nothing could be further from the truth, for the Prestons and Briscoes were peace-living families who enjoyed the good life.