When the film director John Boorman walked by Adam’s Auctioneers on a Monday morning in 1969, he soon found himself inside bidding on what was to be his home for half a century. He was noted at the time as saying, “What am I going to tell my wife?”
“I was here doing post-production on a film, and I saw the hills in Wicklow, and those images are still in my dreams today,” says Boorman, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in January.
Now five decades, three wives and seven children later, the director is calling time on his home in the Co Wicklow countryside. From a childhood in suburban London with trips to the US for filming and Oscar ceremonies for his five nominations — twice for best director, for Deliverance and for Hope and Glory — he is still going strong, having received a knighthood in January this year.
“Yes, I was on the queen’s honours list this year, but I’d a bit of a row with [Prince, now King] Charles in the past. While I was on the board of the British Film Institute, we raised a lot of money to build a museum dedicated to the moving image [MoMI]. We asked Charles to open it and he chose the occasion to criticise violence in film, which he said encourages violence in society. Well, his timing wasn’t great, and we were all furious.”
His home at the Glebe in Annamoe, a magical setting against the backdrop of the Wicklow hills, is now far too large for him on his own, and he is moving to Surrey to stay with his son Charley while he looks for a place nearby to live.
As the Avonmore river meanders, so does his driveway beside it, flanked by some mature specimen trees, to include birch, aspen and oak, and rarer varieties such as Sequoiadendron giganteum — from the family of the largest trees on earth. Plantations of these important trees began in the early 1900s with Rev Samuel Synge — brother of the playwright JM Synge — who lived at The Glebe in the early part of the 20th century.
Thirty-five years ago, Boorman added to the plantings and to boot has written poems about these trees in his memoir Conclusions, which he penned during lockdown. There is a lovely 11-minute YouTube video, where the cast in his latest short film are the trees that occupy his estate, with his gravelly voice reciting his poems about sycamore, willow and a much loved “mighty big larch” whose “hormones let it down and forgot to tell it to stop growing”.
The rambling 508sq m (5,468sq ft) pile, with a 1970s extension to the rear, is where the likes of Lee Marvin and Sean Connery have sat for dinner. (Marvin starred in Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank, while Connery donned a scarlet mankini, thigh-high boots and a ponytail in his 1974 film Zardoz.)
There are four reception rooms and five bedrooms — including a principal suite, a mezzanine study and a library that opens out on to an elevated covered veranda balcony. One of the standout rooms is the main drawingroom as it occupies the entire southwest elevation; being triple aspect, it is bathed in natural light.
Behind the house is a secluded bow-fronted pool room, which in a previous incarnation was a changing room for the now filled-in pool that lies between the house and a Japanese-style tea house.
It will need some work, as these houses always do, as all occupants are merely custodians for future generations.
But it will be the grounds — as charming as the house itself — that will capture the heart, just as they did with the director, who filmed Excalibur in the surrounding areas in 1981. “I was in my own bed every night when we filmed Excalibur — which is a rarity when you travel the world to make movies. But I always came back to edit — while a film might take two years to make, the shooting is done in about eight weeks, so I always came back to Wicklow.”
Grounds extend to 50 acres (20.2 hectares) and have two attractive cut-stone cottages offering an additional 208sq m (2,234sq ft) of accommodation, while a walled garden connects to a myriad of pathways that lead to an old tennis court and swimming hole in the river — compete with a diving board.
Will he miss Wicklow and Ireland? “But of course — this is the place I always thought I would die, and I don’t quite know how I’ll survive without it”.
Boorman spent this week catching up with old friends, including his “great friend” the actor Brendan Gleeson, to whom he gave his first leading role in the 1998 film The General. His rural retreat of half a century, surrounded by “soft hills” that still visit his dreams, is now on the market through Lisney Sotheby’s International Realty, seeking €2.75m.