The period home, by the River Nore, has a fantasy sculpture garden, like a cross between a pre-Celts Newgrange and Stonehenge, with its rock outcrops and standing stones in its grounds. Then, close-by, is another large, circular, also heavenly-oriented outline — a paved helicopter pad, created from tens of thousands of slender, brick paviors, a silent swirling symbol of the deceased Celtic Tiger era.
It is just one of the ironies prompted by the knowledge that the period estate is only up for sale as its owner, developer and philanthropist, Niall Mellon, is financially straitened, with his property development book in NAMA. His Niall Mellon Township Trust has built tens of thousands of houses for South Africa’s most destitute, with a further 750 Irish volunteers out building there right now.
While Mellon’s own Irish property empire has dived, and he is struggling with debt and guarantees, he has said the African trust will continue to work through the bad times. “It has been an economic war, of sorts. My priority has been to try to provide for my family and to be as responsible as I possibly can with my business assets to mitigate any loss to the banks, or, now, ultimately, the State.
“I can give a blanket guarantee, however, that no matter what my personal financial situation, I will never take one euro of a salary for my position as the voluntary chief executive of my charity. Over the past two years, I have used all my personal funds to pay off almost all my business creditors (except long-term bank loans) . . . That is the most any decent person can do in the current difficult climate.”
He is putting his mouth where his money was, with the late 2010 sale of Coolmore. He’s put this dream, private family estate, near Thomastown, in Co Kilkenny, up for sale, with agent Colliers Jackson Stops, in Dublin, with Cohalan Downing, in Cork, for €3.75m.
Mellon reportedly paid €6.25m for it in 2004, and has spent considerably on its upkeep and upgrades. It previously changed hands back in 1999, after auction, for £1.55m, so its has seen the rise, and the fall.
Agents Maurice Cohalan and Marcus Magnier say the guide is realistic, given the quality of the estate and its lands, its river setting and mile of fishing rights, with proximity to the Dublin-Waterford motorway, as well as to internationally renowned places like Mount Juliet. Dublin is 78 miles away, Kilkenny city is 11, and art and crafty Thomastown is two miles upriver.
With its exceptional privacy, and ease of access (especially for anyone left with a helicopter), Coolmore is a classic retreat from the woes of the world, and any captain of international commerce still in funds could easily command an empire from here, thanks to the wonders of the worldwide web.
There’s 6,000 sq ft of good quality living space here, on the two main floors, propped up now on whopping, great steel RSJs visible in the unused, but dry, four large basement rooms.
An elegantly ‘compact’ late Georgian home, it has clearly been used as a get-away/retreat for a young family, with rooms, garden and outbuildings packed with toys, bikes, go-carts and more: it would be an exceptional, and privileged, place to grow up in and around.
For adults, this playground’s pleasures may lie in things like the stables and old stone courtyard buildings, riding arena, woodland, fishing on the Nore, farming, shooting (there are deer) and walking. Incredibly, there are 4kms/2 miles of brick-paved walks through the land, while the half-mile-long approach avenue is smoothly tarred, rather than graveled, so you’ll need a dog to bark out a warning/welcome, instead of the time-proven merits of crunching gravel.
There are four principal and well-proportioned reception rooms, high-ceilinged, and suitably bedecked with retained fireplaces, ceiling plaster work and sympathetically-matched, replacement sash windows and French doors. The kitchen, meanwhile, has large oak units and an island, granite-topped, and an oil-fired, four-oven Aga.
Decor and furnishings are muted rather than flashy, and two of the six first-floor bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms.
While the upgraded house (roof done, structural work addressed, services renewed, etc) has charm and character, the very best assets are probably outside. It’s the setting, the setting, with the Nore in high winter flow and view beneath, and then there’s a perfect blend of good, undulating land, woodland, stone outbuildings, coachhouse, 18 boxes, farm buildings and barns, walks. There’s a high, walled formal fruit, veg and herb garden with a recently renewed large lean-to glasshouse, and an old stone portico entrance linking back to the house and terraces via a brooding, Yew-treed avenue.
Fishing rights extend to a mile of the Nore, single bank, with eight pools noted for salmon.
The near gardens off the kitchen and family room have been carefully railed in to keep young children secure, while, just beyond, is a bit of an anomaly, a play space with full-size goalpost. Anyone bar a pro, or a seasoned gifted amateur, would be hard-pressed to protect this goal ... particularly at a time when the goalposts, in just about every sense, have been moved and distorted. For those with any money left to enjoy, you could do a lot worse than lay low in Coolmore for a while.