Castle Oliver – where’s that? A couple of Facebook posts made me wonder – thank you, Bridget Elliott and Seamus Quaide! And so on a balmy day last summer I headed off to discover this beautiful building, nestled under the Ballyhoura Mountains near Ardpatrick, County Limerick.
The entrance is guarded by a pair of fearsome looking griffons. This a relatively recent entrance, lacking the grandeur of the original gate lodges, but is nevertheless pleasant and certainly not your average gate!
Crossing in front of the very spectacular house, veritable herds of rampant griffons protect the magnificent structure! The setting is stunning with an uninterrupted view of the Ballyhoura Hills in the ‘front yard’ so to speak, with the immediate area around the house laid out in manicured terraced lawns, fringed by woodland near the house. A carp lake, sunken garden and fountains complete the picture.
This house bears testament to two women – sisters Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne, talented artists who designed stained glass windows and glass panels. Isabella was also an accomplished woodturner. They built this house in 1843 mainly for lavish country entertaining. Many locals were engaged in the building of the house during the Famine, and so avoided the ravages of hunger. Ownership of the estate changed several times over the decades, and it was eventually divided up into lots and sold off to pay bank debts. The house fell into decay and at one stage had a large tree growing out through the roof. All but 15 acres or so surrounding the house were sold off . It was almost a total ruin when it was purchased by the current owners, the Cormacks, in 2006. Roofless and windowless, they set about turning the shell into a beautiful home for themselves and their three young children.
I love the elegance of the house with all its architectural detail – I have a passion for interesting chimneys and had lots of them to look at here !
In the large entrance hall there is a beautiful stained glass window. Some of the original panes had survived and thanks to old surviving photographs it was possible to recreate the window in its entirety. Isabella and Elizabeth had designed this feature.
Working from old photographs it has been possible to create an interior that reflects many of the features of the original house. Some small portions of original decoration survive as on the dining room ceiling below.
The most beautiful room in the house, in my opinion, is the ballroom, with stunning views of the countryside and a magnificent ceiling. Here too can be seen some of the original artisan work at the fireplace.
Lavishly furnished bedrooms fitted out with carefully sourced period pieces, many with a history all of their own, add to the ‘sense of place’ of this lovely house.
All great houses had a wine cellar. Castle Oliver is no exception and it boasts one of the largest ever built in these parts, with room for tens of thousands of bottles!
Castle Oliver is a gem in the Limerick countryside. How wonderful to see beautiful houses such as this being loving restored and open to the public, so we can share the splendour and grandeur that was such an integral part of our society in days gone by.
For opening times see http://www.castleoliver.ie/