Anthony Kierans always wanted to live in a Victorian Gothic house. The problem is that there are very few real examples of Victorian Gothic houses in Ireland.
And perhaps none in Donegal, where he planned to make a home with his wife Evelyn in the 1990s.
Undeterred by such trifles, the Mornington man decided to build his very own Victorian Gothic stack from scratch.
The result is Rossmore, completed in 2000 after two years of work, clad and bordered in carved stone.
It’s a rich extravaganza of recreated historical details blended with the genuine item and a home that has amazed first-time visitors for 22 years.
“It’s my Downton Abbey,” laughs Anthony.
Rossmore has seven receptions (counting the great hall and kitchen/dining room) and three bedrooms. It features large columns, Gothic stained glass windows and a triple height “great hall” of truly grand proportions.
This has a huge and intricate handcrafted historic style bifurcated staircase.
The views are romantic too – the 2 acre gardens have a direct foreshore to the sea overlooking Donegal Bay.
This home is also full of genuine Gothic style period pieces that Anthony collected and discarded for years before starting construction.
In many ways, Kierans is better qualified than most to build a Victorian Gothic mansion from scratch. Even as a fully trained master painter, he is a rarity.
From a long line of master painters he took a five year apprenticeship and completed a further year at City and Guilds.
“There are very few of us left in the decoration business,” he says.
“But back in the day, any painter worth their salt had to get a degree in painting and decorating.
“You have often worked in a family business like mine, where skills have been passed down from generation to generation and your own trade secrets have always been closely guarded.
“Each family business made their own unique paints and the recipes were secret.
“I remember stopping in the street to watch another master painter at work and he stopped dead and went in and closed the door. Even the technology was strictly guarded back then.”
Working in large historic houses in Ireland and the UK, Anthony developed an appreciation for mid-Victorian Gothic.
“With Georgian, you always recognize the proportions, but most of it is pretty simple. But with Victorian Gothic there is that elaboration of craftsmanship and attention to the smallest of details. You can sit on a piece of furniture and spend an hour just sitting and looking at it.”
After completing his education in the 1970s, Anthony represented Ireland at the Skills Olympics in the Netherlands, where he narrowly missed out on medals, finishing fourth.
Many would argue that he would get on the podium for his work at Rossmore, on the Murvagh Peninsula just outside Donegal Town.
His talents for artificial marbling and trompe d’oeil come into their own.
The blockwork in the hall is a painted illusion. The four majestic and ornate Grande Verde marble columns in its living room are hand-painted reproductions and the exotic home bar’s stone-clad windows are painted in mahogany to resemble stone.
The Victorians also used these techniques – think of the famous Blue Room at Buckingham Palace.
Throughout the house he has used simple materials such as plasterboard and MDF combined with his extremely intricate painting skills to recreate historical features that would cost a ransom to reproduce today.
But there are also great originals here. The incredible bifurcated staircase was handcrafted from pitchpine by two Irish firms.
The two stained glass windows in the bar come from an old church in London. 19th-century marble chimneys were salvaged from scrapyards. The bar counter is a 19th century pulpit.
From the great hall a door leads into a games room and a Gothic style bar.
Directly opposite is the main reception room, which connects to a tiered formal dining room. At the rear is the kitchen which connects to a tiered reception desk which in turn extends into a conservatory to a raised terrace overlooking the lower waterfront garden.
Rossmore has three en-suite bedrooms with an oversized en-suite bathroom and a balcony off the master chamber.
He and Evelyn are retiring and want to build a smaller, more manageable home in the area. And yes, chances are it will be Victorian Gothic.
DNG Dorrian is asking €950,000 for Rossmore.
https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/homes/this-is-my-downton-abbey-the-master-painter-who-built-a-victorian-gothic-style-mansion-from-scratch-41408946.html ‘This is my Downton Abbey’ – the master painter who built a Victorian Gothic mansion from the ground up