A river runs through it

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Property - - FRONT PAGE - Words by Fran Power

BALLYGLUNIN PARK, ATHENRY ROAD, TUAM, CO GAL­WAY €850,000

Agent Ganly Walters (01) 662 3255 View­ing Strictly by ap­point­ment

WAS the first Ir­ish take­away de­liv­ered to the owner of Ballyglunin Park, in Co Gal­way? Around the turn of the 20th cen­tury, Robert Blake — scion of one of Gal­way city’s 12 mer­chant tribes — would reg­u­larly have his pre­ferred din­ner cooked at The Shel­bourne Ho­tel, Dublin, and despatched down to him by train to the prop­erty’s own sta­tion at Ballyglunin. No doubt it trav­elled first class.

His­tory doesn’t re­late what dish Blake craved — per­haps it was roast guinea fowl or lob­ster cut­lets — but it might have been cheaper and eas­ier to poach the chef than trans­port his meals to the other side of the coun­try.

The Vic­to­rian train sta­tion was, ac­cord­ing to the ven­dor, once part of the Ballyglunin Park es­tate, and ser­viced the Athenry to Clare­mor­ris line un­til it was de­com­mis­sioned in 1976. But it has an­other claim to fame, hav­ing played a star­ring role in The Quiet Man, in which it fig­ures as the lo­ca­tion for a re­turn­ing emi­grant in the open­ing scenes. A later scene shows the mar­ried Mary Kate be­ing dragged from the car­riage by Sean, played by John Wayne, to col­lect her “for­tune” from the brother.

Ballyglunin Park it­self dates back to the 1680s when Martin Blake, high sher­iff of Gal­way, was granted the lands by Charles II. Some rem­nants of that ear­li­est build­ing re­main in to­day’s struc­ture, says the ven­dor, but most of the prop­erty dates from later Ge­or­gian and Vic­to­rian times.

The Blakes were by all ac­counts im­por­tant fig­ures in Gal­way so­ci­ety with a large es­tate of 10,500 acres that in 1833 was val­ued in The Great Landown­ers of Great Bri­tain and Ire­land at al­most £4,000. This must have been a golden age for the fam­ily’s for­tunes, and it was the pe­riod dur­ing which parts of the prop­erty were up­graded to a style be­fit­ting the long-serv­ing MP for Gal­way, Martin Joseph Blake.

Some of the touches in­clude the fine carved Vic­to­rian stairs and the won­der­ful stained-glass win­dow which cel­e­brates the al­liance in 1640 be­tween the two Gal­way tribes, the Blakes and the Martins, with their in­ter­twined ini­tials.

By 1916, how­ever, the Blake for­tunes seemed to have been on the wane — they ac­cepted a fi­nal of­fer from the Con­gested Dis­tricts Board of £60,000 for al­most 9,800 acres of their land. Over time the es­tate shrank to its cur­rent 32.47 acres.

None­the­less, for the hobby farmer or for those in search of peace and pri­vacy, 32 acres is a size­able cut of land these days. The grounds also com­prise pic­turesque wood­lands and a park through which the pretty Ab­bert River me­an­ders. The cur­rent owner has in­vested con­sid­er­able time and money into clear­ing the river, dredg­ing it and cut­ting back the veg­e­ta­tion on its banks to en­sure it now flows freely again.

Stand on the bridge over the weir in late Oc­to­ber, Novem­ber or De­cem­ber and in the space of 10 min­utes, says the ven­dor, you might see be­tween 40 and 50 salmon leap­ing back up­stream to spawn. “I’m not a fish­er­man but I do like watch­ing them jump,” he says. “Of course, it could be the same dumb fish go­ing the whole time.”

The present owner came across Ballyglunin Park in 2014 and “fell in love”. At the time, it was owned by Opus Dei, which bought it in 1964 for use as a re­treat and con­fer­ence cen­tre, break­ing the long line of own­er­ship that stretched for nearly 300 years.

The ven­dor found a house that was struc­turally sound with much of the beau­ti­fully or­nate ceil­ing plas­ter­work in­tact, orig­i­nal par­quet floors, as well as fine mar­ble fire­places in some of the main re­cep­tion rooms, which in­clude a draw­ing room, oval study, sit­ting room and din­ing room. The heat­ing sys­tem had also been re­placed.

How­ever, there was restora­tion work to be done. The ex­ist­ing kitchen was in the base­ment and de­cid­edly in­dus­trial, says the ven­dor, who re­lo­cated it to ground-floor level, amal­ga­mat­ing two re­cep­tion ar­eas to give a spa­cious kitchen/din­ing area.

“The kitchen is our piece de re­sis­tance,” he says. Counter tops are made of teak, the units are be­spoke and there are oak floors, while three large win­dows and high ceil­ings mean it is a light-filled space with views out on to the gar­dens.

Up­stairs, there are seven bed­rooms and five bath­rooms, as well as a laun­dry and of­fice. The large bed­rooms had been par­ti­tioned to fa­cil­i­tate the build­ing’s use as a re­treat cen­tre. The ven­dor knocked four rooms into one to cre­ate the mas­ter bed­room, a large walk-in wardrobe and a mar­bled en suite. The mas­ter bed­room looks out over the re­stored bal­cony above the porch, giv­ing fine views out over the river, the weir and the sur­round­ing fields.

The es­tate also com­prises a large walled gar­den and a two-storey Ge­or­gian court­yard with a tower that of­fers huge po­ten­tial.

The ven­dor bought the prop­erty with the in­ten­tion of liv­ing there long term. Orig­i­nally from Canada and work­ing in fi­nance, he had Ir­ish grand­par­ents and had fond memories of spend­ing child­hood sum­mers vis­it­ing them in Gal­way. But, he says: “I got my­self back in to work again. I’m trav­el­ling all around the world again.” So, with re­luc­tance, he has de­cided to sell.

Ballyglunin Park is com­pet­i­tively priced at €850,000. The ven­dor says: “I put more into it than I’m go­ing to get out of it. This was not a flip.”

The es­tate is 3km from the vil­lage of Co­rofin on the edge of the Bur­ren, Co Clare. Gal­way city is 24km away and Dublin Air­port 200km.

Ballyglunin Park, which dates to the 1680s, has 32.47 acres of grounds through which the Ab­bert River me­an­ders. The cur­rent owner has had a be­spoke kitchen/din­ing room (left) in­stalled, and the house has a grand sit­ting room (below left)

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