The Sunday Times, May 15th 2016
On June 23, 1871, Clare’s elite descended on Newhall House, a Queen Anne-style mansion, on Killone Lough in Ennis, for a scintillating ball. The owner, Major William MacDonnell, hosted 200 guests. A national newspaper reported that the 18th-century house “presented a most animated appearance”. Dancing began after 10pm, and the guests enjoyed the “abundant hospitality”.
This was the hey-day of this plush pile, whose first dwelling had been built in the 1650s. The current house was designed as an add-on to the old structure by portrait painter and architect Francis Bindon in 1765 for Charles MacDonnell MP. The new building was striking, its layout in a long T, with the newer structure to the front, and the staff quarters in the long service wing to the rear.
The red-brick front was designed with a central three-sided bow, with two bays. A cut-stone front door case with a shouldered architrave leads into an octagonal entrance hall. Here, a Doric cornice and frieze with masks and the MacDonnell family crests remain, as well as the most peculiar feature of the house: a giant drinks cabinet, which looks like a full-sized organ in the baroque style.
A number of reception rooms lie off, and are adorned with intricate cornicing and centre roses. Two more bows, curved in shape, sit at either end of the wings where each of the windows are curved and even have curved glass.
In its prime, Newhall House was bustling with people. A rent collection room in the house was where tenants of estate farms went to pay their rents. The service quarters to the rear have ancient kitchens and wine cellars, as well as a dairy and butler’s pantry. The kitchen of the original 1650s house remains and has an authentic hand water pump and inglenook fireplace.
The 1,365 sq m home could have accommodated plenty of guests in its 15 bedrooms, and the following day they undoubtedly would have taken walks around its acres of parkland, enjoying the lakes, as well as the views of the Galtee mountains to the east.
Today, Newhall House sits on 365 acres and came into the hands of the present owners, the Joyces from Galway, in 1921. There were five Joyce siblings, among them lieutenant commander Tobias Joshua Aloysius King Joyce, or Spike, a Second World War hero. He survived the sinking of HMS Ark Royal by a German torpedo in 1941, but was killed in a test flight in 1948.
When the Joyces first moved to Newhall, they ran a dairy farm and had up to 35 people working with them. In the 1940s and 1950s, the family operated a sawmill on the land, and manufactured coffin boards.
Spike’s brother, Patrick Francis Joyce, lived in the house until his death in 2011. At that time it passed to his niece, Molly Farry-Joyce, and her son, Kevin, who moved down to the estate from Northern Ireland. Molly had been born at Newhall.
While Kevin had haulage and construction businesses up north, he decided to take over the farming of the land at Newhall, grazing cattle on some of the land. The pair set about fencing the entire property, and invested money into piping water to the fields.
“I wanted to make it a more manageable place. I did farm a bit in my younger days, but this was a whole new ball game for me. It’s been a different pace of life. There’s less pressure and more contentment,” says Kevin.
Molly says it will be hard to drag themselves away from the place when they sell. “It’s not a financial decision, as there is no debt attached to the property, but with me spending most of my life in the UK and Northern Ireland, it’s not really home. There will be some regret selling, but my uncle said to me before his death that it was ours to do what we wanted with it.”
Newhall House will be a renovation project for its future owners. While the house is solid, with a good Bangor blue slate roof and many of its original features, the interior design needs some tender loving care.
Molly says it deserves to be returned to its former glory. “There’s very little that needs to be done to the hardwood floors, but there would need to be an investment in the rest of the house,” she says.
Kevin has reroofed two folly gate lodges, working with Clare county council — Newhall is protected and in a Special Area of Conservation. “Clare county council has been very good in progressing things. We have a declaration 57, which means that the new buyer can start renovating the main house to the front. The interior walls are good, but it will probably need new electrics,” he says.
With the amount of land on offer, it is hard to discount Newhall House as an agricultural investment. Likewise, foresters could look to planting. The house is such that it would look well holding a glittering ball once more. A buyer could return it to a fabulous home.
Boutique hotel investors may want to look at restoring the main house and turning the outhouses into separate residences. Killone and Ballybeg lakes, parts of which belong to Newhall, would be a draw for visitors. Pike swim in them at present. The property is about 15 minutes from Shannon Airport and about 6km from Ennis.
“Before we thought of selling, I looked at turning it into an activity centre and boutique hotel. With the terrain we could introduce a selection of things such as walking tours and mountain biking,” says Kevin.
The ruins of Killone Abbey — often regarded as a hidden gem in Clare — also lie on the site, and each year the Farrys welcome between 500 and 600 locals to a mass beside the abbey.
When the mother and son first put Newhall House on the market in 2013, they were seeking €5m.
They took it off in recent months and have just relaunched it through David Ashmore, of Sotheby’s, and Owen Reilly. They will keep 55 acres to build a couple of holiday homes so they can visit.
Newhall House is available in one or four lots: the house on 65 acres for €500,000; on 294 acres for €1.55m or on 310 acres for €1.7m. You can buy 230 acres of land for €1.35m. It goes to auction on Thursday, June 9.
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The Sunday Times, May 15th 2016