VIDEO: Former schoolhouse in Castleconnell is steeped in history

Benefiting from 19th century largesse, this old school property was later coverted to a dwelling, says Trish Dromey.
VIDEO: Former schoolhouse in Castleconnell is steeped in history

Once a busy school, and now a comfortable home, this impressive limestone property on the banks of the Shannon owes its existence to the persuasive powers of a mid-19th century parish priest.

Fundraising in the post- famine years, the parish priest in Castleconnell was so successful in persuading the Protestant gentry to donate money for a new Catholic Church that he had enough left over to build this very substantial two-storey schoolhouse.

Completed in 1867, it was most likely larger than the average rural schoolhouse at the time and was equipped with two storeys so that boys could be taught at ground level, and girls separately on the first floor.

They even had separate entrances, boys at the front, girls at the side.

Situated on the site of the old parish church, the gable-fronted limestone school was built in the shape of a cross and decorated with redbrick window detail.

The school remained in service for around 100 years and, when it fell into disrepair in the 1960s, the children moved to a new one in the village.

The property was then bought by a Dublin couple who took a conservative and inventive approach to turning it into a comfortable home.

The biggest innovation was the addition of a large conservatory at the rear and the use of glass ceilings on passageways to connect the main house to the separate toilet block at the rear, which was converted into rooms.

A flexible approach was taken to finding the best way to use schoolrooms as living space and as a result three of the four bedrooms are at the front of the house on ground level.

The sitting room went on the first floor, making the best possible use of a spacious nearly 6m square room with three large windows looking out on to the Shannon and across to the Clare Glens.

This room still has its original black marble fireplace which gives an indication as to the wealth of landowners and the fundraising prowess of the priest, who is listed in parish records as Pat Hennessy from Macroom.

For the last 14 years The Old School House has been owned by well-known harpist and composer Janet Harbison and her husband.

Their emphasis has been on maintaining the property and making it comfortable without making any major alterations.

They replaced the windows with period style double-glazed windows recommended for this type of 19th century property.

They also upgraded the kitchen and converted a stable block, built by a previous owner, into office space.

For sale through Sherry FitzGerald O’Malley in Limerick, The Old School House is on the market with a guide of €495,000. It offers 3,000 sq ft of living space and a quarter acre of gardens.

A listed building, it’s described on the Buildings of Ireland website as an attractive landmark which has kept most of its original form and which has some fine detailing.

In addition to its architecture and history, the property may also be considered interesting for other reasons.

A poet and diviner once knocked at the door and informed the owners that their home has been built on a spot where ancient ley lines cross and has very strong energy.

Through the front entrance, there is a hallway leading to three bedrooms and a bathroom. Beyond this is a rustic farmhouse style kitchen with painted timber units, a pine dresser, timber panelled ceiling and a range oven set in the original redbrick chimney.

At one side of the property there is a large conservatory and at the rear there is an office, a small study and a bathroom.

Glass-covered passageways at the side and rear provide extra space which is functional and attractive.

On the first floor there’s a huge sitting room with extensive bookcases, large windows and the original fireplace.

For a little extra comfort, previous owners installed a service lift allowing food to be sent up from the kitchen.

Other first-floor accommodation includes a small drawing room, a tiny study, a bedroom and a bathroom.

In addition to the main building there is a stable block which is now used as office space as well as a utility room in a separate outbuilding.

Enclosed by limestone walls, the gardens have been enthusiastically tended by the owners. In the area near the house there are gravelled areas with Liscannor stone steps and beds planted with an array of flowers including some colourful snapdragons.

There are also a large lawned area enclosed by trees, some rose beds, a frog pond and a fruit garden with pear and apple trees as well as blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries.

Located within a five-minute walk from the village, and 9km from Limerick city, the property has views of the Shannon.

Auctioneer Ailbhe O’Malley says this is an idyllic property with glorious views which are attracting interest from diverse sources.

“I have shown it to two brothers who went to school here and have vivid memories of it, as well as to Limerick people and locals who have been familiar with it for years.

“I also have a viewer coming from New York and one from the UK’’.

VERDICT: Many houses are unique but this one is more unique than most!

Castleconnell, Limerick

€495,000

Size: 280 sq m (3,000 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 4

Bathrooms: 3

BER: Exempt

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