From the Taj Mahal to Tahilla, Francis Brennan’s TV Grand Tours have always ended at this Ring of Kerry retreat, says Tommy Barker.
He may have taken 12 Irish guests on a trip to India’s Golden Triangle, and posed behatted and garlanded in flowers outside the Taj Mahal, but there could only have been one good reason for the presence of a spider web or two in the windows of the super-private Tahilla, Ring of Kerry home of the famously fastidious hotelier, Francis Brennan.
The man must be away, off somewhere exotic, travelling again?
Yes, sure enough, the reason/excuse/alibi was indeed provided, when the Irish Examiner visited Francis Brennan’s extended and upgraded residential farm property as it’s up for sale, the man himself was removed to the Mediterranean sun in Spain, and his long-time cherished home between Kenmare and Sneem had been locked up a while.
One of Ireland’s most beloved TV personalities, tour guides and now also an author, an essayist on the Good Things in Life, advisor on good manners, definite about decorum plus an expert on traditional household cleaning products and ever At Your Service (hem! those spiders??) Francis Brennan has combined, or evolved, several successful careers since graduating in hotel management in the 1980s.
Back in that distant decade, back when the Dublin-born genteel gent first took over Kenmare’s five-star Park Hotel, the ever hospitable and cheerful Francis Brennan also bought a derelict farm house, on over 60 rocky and elevated Kerry acres, and made himself comfortably at home, even if never quite signing up to the toil of a farming life, on admittedly poor land.
Restless and ever-busy, however, he secured the fame and fortune of the Victorian era Park Hotel in the centre of Kenmare, where he also renovated a townhouse, whose contemporary style propelled that chic makeover to TV interiors programme exposure.
Later, through no more than unfortunate timing, Francis and his younger brother John Brennan hit financial exposure after they developed 18 super-luxury, €1m plus apartments, The Retreats at the Park, just in time for the comeuppance of the recklessly-spending Celtic Tiger.
Irrepressible, the hard-grafting Brennan boys bounced back thanks to professional persistence, RTÉ exposure via At Your Service (and Francis Brennan’s own trio of Grand Tours, to Europe India and Vietnam).
They added another tourism string to their bows, taking on the Kenmare Bay waterfronting Dromquinnna Manor, and upgrading it to luxury camping and glamping and functions aplenty, something that The Park wasn’t geared up for.
Through all of the ups, and some of the odd few downs, the sanctuary home to Francis Brennan has been here at Tahilla, owning much of a townland called Dereenamuckalagh.... a bit of a mouthful for a boy from Dundrum.
Francis recalls that “when I purchased the property in the 1980’s, it was a derelict farmhouse which had been occupied by a brother and sister for many years previous.
This was the second house on the site and I would say it dated from the 1920/30’s, a typical two-up, two-down farmhouse of the time.
He reckons it that dwelling had replaced the an original thatched house, which at the time of his purchase, had been downgraded to a lowly cow byre.
Well, ‘byer’ beware, because “with the help of Dom O’Flynn, architect well known in Cork, we set about renovations and extensions,” he outlines, as they added another two-storey wing, at right angles, with a striking arched window at first floor/master bedroom level for discrete view framing, creating a very comfortable main, three-bed stone-faced and flower bedecked home of about 2,000 sq ft.
“The house more than doubled to its existing size, and the cow byre we turned into a studio where Kenneth Attridge Williams the well-known artist often worked,” he adds of what’s now a fully-independent two-bed guest cottage, about 800 sq ft, every bit as attractive as the main, larger L-shaped dwelling.
Each is furnished in a homely, antique style, with a mix of fine quality, stripped pine furniture, some antiques, pillow-stacked beds and lots and lots of memorabilia, reminders of travel, Panama hats and straw boaters, boots and some hotel fare too.
For want of a simple decor description, think of the home a comfortably-off maiden aunt, and you’d be close, and about as tecchie as it all get is the TV in the guest apartment, with its old video collection and some DVDs for approaching modernity’s sake.
Pride of place in Francis Brennan’s home goes to framed Papal commendations, photographs, souvenirs, old china and book collections and CDs, and while the ‘new’ wing is home to a large dining room and double aspect drawing room with terrace access, the cosiest spot is the kitchen with living room and open fireplace at one end, and a black Aga range cooker in the wood-beam ceilinged kitchen, with a clatter of pots and pans hanging above.
With its hide-away setting above both the Wild Atlantic Way and the Ring of Kerry, Dereenamuckalagh is both homely, and hospitable, private and polished, and any new owners have the option of rental income from the beguiling, dormer guest cottage.
Location is near Tahilla Cove, which has highly acclaimed guest accommodation options already with the scenery another star turn.
The more precise setting of Dereenamuckalagh is up a short, incredibly beautiful narrow boreen above the N70, ringed by old oak, holly, ash, sheep fencing and barbed wire, pocked with snagged wool, almost a literal step back in time, so that by the time you reach the electric access gate (with CCTV camera for 21st century security’s sake) the retreat-inducing relaxation has already kicked. Sorry, slippered in. It’s serene.
“The peace and tranquility is what is special and coupled with the stunning views makes the property unique,” notes vendor Francis Brennan, of the mix that includes house, guest cottage, terraces, walks, woodland, paddock and rock.
Lots of rock but even at that “there’s even space for the pony!” he quips.
Selling agent is Dominic Daly, who’s Cork city-based and he guides the entire lot with sheltering screen of land aplenty at €790,000, remarking on its remove from the Ring of Kerry, and easy assessibility to Kenmare, about 15 minutes’ drive in one direction and to Sneem, about five miles away in the other, past Parknasilla – another one-time Great Southern Railways hotel, as was the 120+year old Park Hotel.
Mr Daly says helicopters have landed here in the past, and suggests that its sheltered lower grounds would easily be made up for a tennis court, while the departing owner Francis Brennan says its fragrant, flower-ringed terrace “has proven very popular for a BBQ on many a summer’s evening, and I remember that the lower garden which is very secluded was the place of a ceremony in 2000 when I hosted friends from all over the world at the strike of midnight.
“Having visited, one friend in the USA last year says she is still holding fond memories of that night,” says the author of It’s the Little Things: Francis Brennan’s Guide to Life.
That recent book’s sub-title is “Spread a little sparkle dust and make the world a happier place.”
But, spiders, watch out, when Francis is home again, he’ll be back with a duster, some vinegar and a vengeance, on a windows and web cleaning spree.
the acreage, seclusion and setting so close to Sneem, and its owner’s provence, should add a bit of sparkle dust to Dereenamuckalagh’s sale.
Tahilla, Ring of Kerry
Size: 2,000 sq ft +900 sq ft/on 60 acres