Memory and the written word can’t compare to the memory of land.
Land carries the history of its past in the quality of its buildings and the quality of its soil.
Battles were fought for the good stuff, and the bad stuff provided refuge for the weak and the lost.
Every field in Ireland carries its own historic memory and while powerful and rich people come and go, the soil, into which they are interred, prevails.
With great estates like that of Ballygiblin, the windowless walls and shrunken acreage tell of a dispossessed ruling class — the ruins of a family whose influence once ran all over Co Cork.
The Becher/Beecher dynasty started out as footsoldiers for Queen Elizabeth 1 and was rewarded with seized land in Cork. It rose to prominence from the 15th century, probably by backing the right side — like William of Orange at the Boyne — and by always remaining one step below the Perceval family, the aristocratic Earls of Egmont who owned huge tranches of Cork and Limerick and from whom the Bechers leased a great deal of family lands in North Cork.
This included Ballygiblin, and the estate at one time comprised 20,000 acres belonging to the Becher/Wrixon clan.
Up to the 19th century, the house was a modest Georgian residence, but it was modernised in 1837 and was still occupied by the family until 1906 — at which stage it was presumably diminished by a series of reforming land acts which saw British goverment financial support for buyouts by tenants, the majority of whom were Catholic.
The Wrixon-Becher family occupied the house until 1935, when it was brought by horse trainer and breeder Jack Lombard, who ran the remainder of the estate until 1955 when the property was sold to a Captain Hornsby, who took the roof off the main house and abandoned it, to avoid property tax.
Most recently, the property was purchased by local farmers/property developers, the O’Donoghue family, trading as Magner Homes, who applied for and achieved planning permission for the 140 acres of land and the ruin of Ballygiblin House.
The firm’s aim was to restore the house for use as a boutique manor hotel with 40 bedrooms and to convert the stable yard, coach houses, and ancillary buildings to holiday homes and apartments. The rich, fertile tillage land would provide an 18-hole championship golf course.
In a way, the estate has once again gathered unto itself another piece of our history — our recent, sharp, and self-administered national financial setbacks.
Now, the property is being flagged primarily as an agricultural sale by agent Joe McCarthy, but his inclusion of joint agent Ganly Walters suggests the idea of another market for this property.
Qatari buyers aside (buyers from the Gulf made significant purchases of land in Co Limerick last year), the presence of top quality limestone soil in a compact, easily managed holding with existing stables might suggest a bloodstock buyer.
The property will also appeal to tillage and dairy farmers, of whom there are a number of top class practicitioners in the locality, and the guide price of €2m for the entire isn’t out of order for the quality of what’s on offer, says Joe McCarthy.
And then there is the long-term prospect of non-agricultural development, although the current demand for farm land makes that a long shot.
Likely buyers here will be equestrian and farming interests, and getting a decent, quality block like this in North Cork, will stir interest. The per acre average comes out at €14,285 — high enough, but not top end either, as reports of €16,000 per acre for top class grass and tillage land have come through this summer.
Built in cut limestone, the original stable block is a working yard with 14 loose boxes, coach houses, a tack room, and former grooms’ quarters. It has independent access from the roadway, with a formal and impressive entrance on the other side of the farm, which serves a long driveway to the main house, part of which is still liveable.
The house is just a mile from Cecilstown village and the planning for the esate includes a 40-bedroom hotel, 93 residential units, 16 holiday homes, an 18-hole championship golf course with golf academy and driving bays, and it’s valid until February 2016. Ballygiblin desmesne is one to watch for the coming autumn, certainly.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved