The estate, on almost 200 woodland acres near Skibbereen in West Cork, has variously been bought by a neurotic Swiss spymaster, a German art dealer, as a most private retreat, as well as opening twice as a manor hotel.
Most recently it has been a wellness centre, and is home to a Sky Garden by the American artist James Turrell, where people lie on their backs on a stone slab, to look up at the sky through a man-made earthen crater. Liss Ard is rarely boring.
Near the sea and beaches, Liss Ard has the 50-acre angling catch Lake Abisdealy, it hosts a master’s programme in organic horticulture with UCC and for a few brief summers in the late 1990s hosted outdoor concerts.
Among those who played, or simply stayed, at Liss Ard, were artists such as Van Morrison, Oasis, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, and Lou Reed, and it has also catered for weddings, private functions, and get-togethers for musicians and supermodels.
Originally owned by the West Cork O’Donovan clan, it has changed hands many times and now has shrunk to 200 acres, with two expensively restored period dwellings on its waterfall and wild lower strewn grounds.
It has a Georgian main house, and a later, Victorian dower house close to the lake, with 25 bedrooms in all, able to accommodate up to 50 between the two residences.
Almost 50 years ago, Liss Ard was bought by a Swiss army intelligence officer, Colonel Albert Bachman, as a retreat for a Swiss government in exile should a nuclear cloud threaten neutral Switzerland.
Other accounts say Col Bachman also proposed vaults for Swiss gold reserves in West Cork at Liss Ard, and tried to set up a private resistance army of 2,000 in Switzerland should the Soviets arrive. Neither ventures had Swiss government approval, though he used its funds. Colonel ‘Bert’ Bachman died in retirement in Co Cork in 2011, when a UK newspaper obituary described him as “Switzerland’s colourful but controversial spymaster, who single-handedly made his country’s intelligence service a laughing stock.”
Liss Ard was later operated by a German art dealer Veith Turske, who set up a foundation to administer the estate and who commissioned the James Turrell Sky Garden which gave it an international profile. It has been owned since the 1990s by Swiss hotel-owning family, the Sterns, who operate five-star resorts in the Algarve, Portugal, and who have signalled their intention to wind down at Liss Ard.
It now goes to an international market primarily, this week with joint agents Charles McCarthy in Skibbereen, and Sherry FitzGerald Countrywide in Dublin, with a guide price of €7.5m, all-in. It’s unlikely to “wash its face” in the hotel business at that sum, so calls are canvassed from a small, super-wealthy elite who may, once again, seek to make this most-special estate near the Wild Atlantic Way coastline an uber-private enclave.