House of the week: Cashel, Tipperary

Price: €695,000
Size: 557 (6,000 sq ft))
Bedrooms: 8/10 Bathrooms: 6
BER rating: Exempt
Best asset: Steeped in history

Norman roots, over 700 years of history, an apostle associated with a different sort of spirit, time spent as a Model Farm for 400 impoverished boys in Famin times and a ’secret room’ (which is still hidden) — Tipperary’s Castle Leake has it all in spades.

One of the oldest, most characterful Munster country homes to come up for sale this year, the ancient house built around an even older Norman tower even has direct access to the River Suir three miles from the heritage town of Cashel.

On two acres, with a defensive bawn surround and gardener’s lodge, it is a mile from the M8, an hour and a half from Dublin and Cork — or hundreds of years and a whole world away from urban life, depending on your perspective.

Among the many families who’ve been associated with Castle Leake have been Tipperary-born Fr Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance whose brothers had a distillery at Castle Leake in the early 1800s.

Prior to that, Church of Ireland Rector Mathew Leake was in occupation in the mid 1700s. He removed the tower’s castellations and its great hall, making it all more ‘domestic’ for future comforts. The rector’s daughter married a Nicholas Mansergh of Greenane House, a distant ancestor of former Fianna Fáil stalwart Martin Mansergh, who briefly served as a TD for South Tipperary, and whose brother Nicholas is senior planner with Cork County Council. Castle Leake is still visited during four-year Mansergh clan gatherings.

Castle Leake left the hands of the Mathew family’s in the early 1900s, when it was bought by the Land Commission from Sir James Charles Mathew and barrister Theo Mathew, author of the legal ‘Aesop’s Fables’, published as Forensic Fables by ‘O’.

The house’s origins go back to grants of land in the 1300s and the tower’s construction into the 1400s, and it’s a listed structure, continuously inhabited and one which has changed in fits and starts over the many intervening centuries, each intervention and family ownership reading like the chapter of a book or building biography. It’s not over yet, and after a quarter century in caring family ownership with Kate and the late Tom Nagle, a new chapter beckons.

Castle Leake comes to market this month with agents Ian Lyons of Savills and Eamonn O’Brien of CCM Property Services in Mitchelstown, who say it’s comfortable, charming and has great intrigue.

That intrigue includes a secret vault room in the tower, which in recent centuries has remained without an access point, but which is thought to have led to a secret passage down the grounds, perhaps to protect priests during Penal times in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The current owners have managed to contain curiosity and respect the secret room’s air of mystery. “Well, if you opened it up, it wouldn’t be secret any more, it would lose its intrigue,” sensibly points out CCM’s joint agent Eamonn O’Brien.

He and Savills’ Ian Lyons say the house has a charming elegance, and will appeal to relocaters and those interested in a building with a packed past, personality and good internal space.

It was extended in 2006, with rooms with larger amounts of glass making for a brighter interior than in some of the older rooms with their feature latticed windows, deepset into old, old stout stone walls.

Sections could be used as visitor suites, while there’s also a two-bed gardener’s bothy cottage, called the Rivergate Lodge inside the old defensive bawn and other 10’ high boundary walls.

VERDICT: The sales brochure lyrically says, “Castle Leake focuses on the natural environment, an unencumbered place that would constantly renew the spirit, a house for anytime of year”. Or century.


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