Look inside: Idyllic sporting estate once home to a duke and a dancer on almost 400 acres for €12m

This slice of Waterford heaven was occupied by a duke of Westminster and later Adele Astaire, and dates from 1836

Address: Fortwilliam Estate, Glencairn Lismore, Co Waterford
Price: €12,000,000
Agent: Knight Frank & Michael H Daniels
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Fortwilliam Estate, considered to be one of the jewels in the Blackwater valley, is itself worthy of a tome. This Tudor-revival residence, at the end of a mile-long driveway surrounded by nearly 400 acres of quality farmland with far-reaching views to the Knockmealdown Mountains, enjoys a long, colourful history.

The lands here were acquired by the Gumbleton family, originally from Kent, in the early part of 18th century. The first property to occupy these vast lands was Castlerichard, which Richard Gumbleton built and named after himself. It is now called Glencairn Abbey, lies in the eponymous nearby townland and is currently occupied by the Trappist branch of the Catholic Cistercian order.

Not to be outdone by his ancestor, three generations later William Gumbleton built another property on the land and called it Fortwilliam. It wasn’t until 1836 that the current house was constructed to a design by the renowned Pain brothers of Cork, who were also responsible for Adare Manor, Dromoland Castle and nearby Strancally Castle.

It later sold to Hugh Grosvenor, the second duke of Westminster, in 1946 for a reputed £10,000 to include a herd of pedigree Hereford cattle. It is rumoured he bought it to impress Nancy Sullivan – the daughter of a retired general in Glanmire – who became his fourth duchess. Reputed to be one of the world’s richest men at the time, he added embellishments such as the panelling in the diningroom, which reportedly came from one of his yachts. In addition, the finely gilded Louis XV boiseries in the magnificent drawingroom had been removed from the ducal seat, Eaton Hall, in Cheshire, which is one of the highlights of this bucolic pile.


Later it passed to MP Henry Drummond Wolfe and later to American socialite Murray Mitchell, who ran a donkey sanctuary here in the 1990s. Most interesting was the period 1887-1925 when it was leased and lived in by Adele Astaire, sister of Fred. Adele, who was a dancer before her brother, eventually married her neighbour, Lord Charles Cavendish, son of the ninth duke of Devonshire, who gifted the neighbouring Lismore Castle Estate to the couple as a wedding gift.

It has been home to the current residents for the past 11 years. They say they have thoroughly enjoyed their tenure here on the idyllic sporting estate.

There’s quite a bit of accommodation included in the offering. The Tudor-revival house laid out two floors over basement measures 949sq m (10,215sq ft). Over the past 25 years it has been restored and retains some marvellous features in the four rather grand reception rooms off the main hallway, which is itself exceptional as it reaches double height. Six-bedroom suites occupy the first floor, while the basement level has the estate office, billiards room, wine cellar and all-important rod room.

For those with a penchant for catching their dinner, the estate has 2.2km of private double-bank salmon, sea trout and trout fishing and it’s where the current owner goes for a bit of peace and to catch a fish or two. The fishery also has a separate trout casting pond. It’s all part of the 100-mile-long Munster Blackwater, which, according to the selling agents, is one of the finest salmon rivers in the country.

Incorporated into the western side of the house is the four-bedroom 160sq m Fisherman’s Cottage, with more accommodation in the Coach House (300sq m, and newly renovated), a 149sq m Steward’s Cottage and 105sq m Stable Cottage, all of which are refurbished, while the Gardener’s Cottage requires restoration.

The gardens are exceptional and include a 2.25-acre walled garden and a sunken garden. A lavender walk will lead you to a glasshouse, where exotics include peach trees that provide an abundance of juicy fruit, along with almond trees, a vine and some young kiwi trees.

The estate used to hold annual driven shoots but has not done so since the pandemic. It is teeming with wildlife including ducks and snipes and has been well stocked with pheasants, which have their own release pen in the forest.

Then there are the stables, as the current owners enjoy equestrian pursuits, with eight boxes and a tack yard. Accessed separately from the main drive is the farmyard, with an extensive range of buildings. Much of the farm, currently all in grass, is suitable for tillage and the property comes with entitlement agricultural grants.

It’s quite a historic location here on the banks of the Blackwater, where one of Handel’s greatest Italian operas, Giulio Cesare, was performed this week for the Opera Festival in nearby Lismore Castle.

The owners say they love the peace and tranquility of their home, especially when “the great team” from the fishery and farm have gone for the evenings and it’s just them and the sounds of nature.

They are downsizing from their pile, also home to whooper swans in winter, and have placed this slice of Waterford heaven on the market through joint agents Knight Frank & Michael H Daniels.

The entire estate on 390 acres is seeking €12 million, or it can be purchased in two lots: the estate on 290 acres for €10 million with the remaining adjoining 100 acres for €2 million.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables