Successive governments passed up the opportunity to acquire Adare Manor for the State during the 1980s despite the urging of a senior minister who claimed in 1980 that it was going “for a song” at IR£1m.
State papers revealed justice minister and Limerick TD Gerry Collins had become aware in November 1980 that the well-known manor and estate in Adare, Co Limerick, was due to be sold.
Mr Collins wrote a note to taoiseach Charles Haughey to suggest it could be acquired by the State using funds from the National Lottery as it was going “for a song”.
Adare Manor, a 19th-century building with a 1,000-acre estate, had been the home of the Dunraven family for more than 200 years when it was formally placed on the market in 1981.
Mr Haughey indicated the State should acquire the property if it could be put to some good civic use and the cost was not too great. The finance minister, Michael O’Kennedy, also supported the purchase of the estate but upon a full examination of the proposal, concluded it could not be justified.
The OPW said it had no purpose for which Adare Manor could be used and it also had no plans to establish a national park in the Limerick area.
It said Adare Manor was not among a list of selected properties which contained gardens of outstanding quality that should be acquired by the State if their future ever came under threat.
Nevertheless, the OPW acknowledged that Adare Manor was “an attractive estate” with “fine demesne landscapes and good mixed woodland” but was also “nothing particularly out of the ordinary”.
It noted one of the lots containing the 19th century Gothic building and 117 acres of parkland could form an attractive regional park similar to Malahide Castle and Marlay Park in Dublin.
However, it suggested Adare Manor’s best use might be as “a deer park”.
In 1982 two private investors also indicated they were prepared to buy the estate and develop it as a luxurious holiday resort with a IR£5m investment but neither plan went ahead.
Documents show the acquisition of the manor for IR£1.25m was also considered in 1983 by the government led by Garret FitzGerald when another justice minister and local TD, Michael Noonan, as well as the National Museum were pushing for it to be bought by the State.
A memo drafted by the Department of Justice in October 1983 said the loss of Adare Manor to the public would be regrettable “from the point of view of the nation’s heritage”.
However, the then finance minister, Alan Dukes, informed his cabinet colleague that the OPW had examined the estate in 1981 and found “no proposals for State use of the manor or ground particularly recommended themselves”.
Mr Dukes continued:
It was decided then the acquisition of the property by the State would not be warranted. No new factors have emerged since then to justify changing this decision.
He said he could not agree to make funds available to purchase Adare Manor given the financial situation of the country at the time.
Documents also reveal that Adare Manor, which opened as a five-star luxury hotel in 1988, asked Mr Haughey to consider it as a possible venue for an East-West summit between US president George Bush and USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev.
However, the proposal was rubbished by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which said it had been already been inspected as a potential location for a European Council meeting and found to be inadequate.
A standard room in Adare Manor cost up to IR£160 per night in high season with the price of a suite up to IR£230.
In reply Mr Haughey said the facilities at Adare Manor were “indeed excellent as I remember from my most enjoyable stay there last year.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs informed the Department of An Taoiseach that officials had visited Adare Manor to examine it as a possible venue for a meeting of European foreign ministers during Ireland’s presidency of the European Council in 1990 but had concluded that “the standard of service was not adequate for a meeting of this type”.
Adare Manor, now owned by JP McManus, will get to host one major international gathering in the future as it was announced earlier this year it will be the venue for the Ryder Cup in 2026. It is the first time the biennial golf competition between Europe and the US will return to Ireland since 2006 when it was held at the K Club in Kildare.