‘Within 10 minutes we had bought a 10 bed cottage and a castle’

Sopwell Hall and Killaleigh Castle, Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary

Selling price: €8.5m Brokers: Lisney Sothebys (01) 662 4511 and Colliers (01) 633 3700

Not many people can say that they bought both a beautiful country house and a large castle in the same day. And within 10 minutes of seeing them both.

When Michael Ramsden first visited Killaleigh Castle, Co. Tipperary in 1985, he was overwhelmed.

In fact, he was so impressed that he agreed to buy the 16th-century castle and its estate, which included the 10-bedroom Sopwell Hall, an elegant 18th-century mansion, and 60 acres of land in Cloughjordan.


The principal residence of Sopwell Hall, part of the Killaleigh Castle estate

“I came to see the castle after being told about it by my secretary, who had married a local and moved here,” explains the English-born antiquities expert, who specializes in furniture from the 17th century and before has worked for the Office of Public Works, refurbishing ancient castles across Ireland.

“But I quickly realized that the entire property was for sale. I made my decision on the spot. I just fell in love with her.”


A day view of Killaleigh Castle, Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary

He bought Killaleigh Castle and the estate, consisting of Sopwell Hall, two gate lodges, a gardener’s cottage, a courtyard with carved buildings including a coach house, studio and workhouses, and the steward’s house, known as the bailiff’s house .

The whole thing was acquired by the Trench family, who had lived there for generations.

However, all of the buildings on the property were in very poor condition, with crumbling walls and old furnishings around every corner.


The entrance hall of Sopwell Hall

Michael, who ran Saskia Antiques for many years, and his wife Sarah took 35 years and “a lot of money” to repair most of the property, and much of that was spent on Sopwell Hall itself, now the couple’s private home .

The home alone is 14,235 square feet, or the equivalent of 14 average single family homes. The castle, which mostly spans four stories, is nearly 4,000 square feet.

Since then, Sopwell has been rewired and relocated. Windows have been replaced and new zone heating installed.


Michael Ramsden. Photo: Bryan Meade

In addition, the house was put back into operation with two kitchens, five bathrooms, a boiler room, a laundry room and a roof terrace. The seven storey property now has 11 bedrooms (there is one more in the basement), six reception rooms, a servants’ hall, a shoe room, a pantry, an office and a wine cellar.

The original Georgian interior has been restored by Michael with an eye for detail that only a seasoned antiquarian can match.


The landing on the first floor of Sopwell Hall

In addition, the couple have also developed the gardens surrounding the property, demolishing a conservatory to create a sunken garden and planting orchards with a walled garden.

Eventually, they increased the size of the estate from 60 to 300 acres by purchasing neighboring properties.

Today it is a real country estate. But ironically, the very structure that first drew her onto the property is still awaiting restoration.


One of two kitchens at Sopwell Hall

“The cost of restoring the castle would have been too high on top of everything else,” explains Michael.

“Instead, I chose to spend the money on restoring the house and some other smaller buildings. The interior of the castle is pretty desolate, but it’s certainly restorable for anyone willing to embrace it. It really is a very impressive building.”

Unlike Ireland’s typical tower houses, Killaleigh is a much larger castle. It was built around 1590 as the home of the Mac Egan family, who lived in Tipperary by the time of the Brehon Acts. But in 1652, under Cromwell, they were forced to forfeit the building and their lands, and then it was taken over for military use.

One of Cromwell’s soldiers, Thomas Sadlier, inherited the building when Cromwell left Ireland. “It is interesting that the castle was in a completely destroyed state at the time,” says Michael, who has studied its history in detail. “Colonel Sadlier rebuilt it, restored it and doubled its original size, about 1660.”


A grand piano in one of the reception rooms

In 1745 his grandson Francis Sadlier decided to build a new principal residence on the estate and commissioned the architect Francis Bindon, who was also responsible for the design of Russborough House in Co Wicklow, to design Sopwell Hall.

Killaleigh Castle has been uninhabited since then. Although weathered over time, it is still a remarkable building and is in surprisingly good condition considering it has not been used for so long. “It is one of the finest examples of a castle converted into a fortified house in Ireland,” adds Michael.


One of the double rooms

“The castle, for example, has larger windows than usual for the period.” There is also a porthole-style window with an inscription in Latin that reads “Ora Pro-Connor 1602” and an impressive spiral stone staircase.

Sopwell Hall remained in the Sadlier family until 1797, when Mary Sadlier married Frederic Trench, whose family were originally French Huguenots.

It then passed into the ownership of the Trench family and remained in their hands until 1985 when Michael and his wife Sarah stepped in to purchase the property.


The stairs and hallway

“Ms. Trench, who was living here alone at the time, managed and didn’t want to take responsibility for the property,” explains Michael. “She sold many of the artifacts in the house before we arrived.”

The Ramsdens even removed the telegraph poles that line the half-mile driveway in front of the house.

“The connections went underground,” explains Michael. “We wanted the aesthetic to be 18th-century.”


Outside Sopwell Hall during the day

Michael has many happy memories of the time he has spent on the estate over the past 35 years, including when they entertained on a large scale.

“When we were younger, we sometimes had garden meetings,” Michael recalls.

“We’re not particularly into horses, but we did it because the previous owners were and we knew the foxhound master. These days we sometimes have a few friends over who we always love to see, but other than that we’re pretty private.”

Ramsden notes that every inch of the house has been restored, even the attic that used to house servants. “There isn’t a room that isn’t comfortable and inviting,” he says.

What he loves most about the property is the sense of tranquility.

“There is absolutely no noise pollution, no light pollution and no air pollution,” he says.

“It’s like stepping into another world because it’s in the middle of the country and the drive takes about half a mile or more. It’s very peaceful. I love being here every day. Just got back from walking the dogs in the woods and it was beautiful.”

The couple is now downsizing into a late Georgian house in Kinsale that’s just a fifth the size.

“My wife Sarah is younger than me and I don’t want her to have the responsibility of looking after the property if anything happens to me,” says Michael.


The driveway to Sopwell Hall

“Of course we will be sad to leave. It has been our home for 35 years and the restoration has been a labor of love.”

And like many who have come to Ireland and taken care of a derelict historic building, the Ramsdens leave behind a fully restored historic country home, ready for the next 300 years and a castle they have protected for a generation, now it awaits waiting to be brought back to life.

The departure of the Ramsdens marks the end of an era for Sopwell Hall and the transition to new ownership should hopefully mark the beginning of a whole new era for historic Killaleigh Castle itself.

While the potential for a high-impact tourism project is evident here, Michael Ramsden is hoping someone will acquire the entire property for private ownership.

“So many of these beautiful houses have been converted into hotels or guesthouses. Our wish is that someone will come here and appreciate the quality of the architecture and the interior design and want to live here and use it as a private home, especially if they expand the castle.”

Joint brokers Lisney Sotheby’s International Realty and Colliers International are demanding 8.5 million euros.

https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/within-10-minutes-we-had-bought-a-10-bed-country-estate-house-and-a-castle-42314727.html ‘Within 10 minutes we had bought a 10 bed cottage and a castle’

Fry Electronics Team

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