The financial and emotional demands of owning and maintaining one of the country’s finest historic homes is to be revealed in a new television series which begins shortly on BBC.
Borris House in Borris, Co Carlow is the ancestral home of the MacMorrough Kavanaghs, High Kings of Leinster. The stunning, 16th Century home, on 650 acres, is the only Irish property to feature among three historic houses which are the focus of the BBC’s new ‘Antiques to The Rescue’ primetime series.
The programme will show Morgan and Sara Kavanagh selling certain objects, the proceeds from which have since been used to finance urgently-needed repair and restoration works in their 50-roomed home which has been the seat of the McMacMorrough Kavanagh clan for 550 years. Remaining funds will also help finance an exciting Borris Lace Family Heritage Centre originally developed by their ancestors during the Famine era to provide critical local employment and incomes.In the new seriess , John Foster, who is a familiar face from BBC 1’s Antiques Roadshow, uses his 20 years experience as a fine arts and antiques auctioneer to find and sell treasures, squirreled away in three large country houses. Filming for the series, which will be aired on BBC 2 on Wednesday, September 19 at 8pm, was at times intrusive, particularly as it coincided with the birth of their youngest son Charlie, Sara Kavanagh admitted. But she hopes it will spur more paying visitors to come through their gates.
“This is our ancestral home and we are very, very privileged to live here. But maintaining it and financing its upkeep isn’t easy. We host weddings, civil ceremonies and concerts, corporate, social and sporting events and give house tours to help finance the upkeep of our home. It’s great to live in a house like this. But it also certainly poses major challenges, particularly with four young children. We’ve got tremendous support from both the Heritage Council and Carlow County Council and really appreciate their continuous help.
“This property has 130 windows. Half of them need painting and washing them is no mean feat. When other people do a spring clean it might take a day. When we do one, we’ve to get scaffolding up to clean away the cobwebs. We need a cherry picker to clean several of the top windows,” Sara revealed. Choosing which antiques to sell was difficult. “We chose very carefully. It wasn’t easy. We are delighted that this programme was about lots more than antiques – it also allowed us to pay tribute to the great characters that have lived here and whom we hope will never be forgotten. “The feats achieved by Arthur MacMurrough-Kavanagh who was born without arms and legs were immense. Several other ancestors and silent Victorian heroes will all be immortalised through this programme.”
As well as caring for their four children - Minna (7), Eliza (5), Ellie (3) and Charlie who is just six months - Sara and Morgan farm. They have close to 900 sheep and host numerous events annually to help contribute towards the upkeep of the property, which costs up to €250,000 a year to maintain and run.
“We’re delighted we did the programme. It was great to have the experts in to help with the ongoing restoration and to take a fresh look at the history and the significance of what we have here. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of all of this it is hard to see the wood for the trees.
“We hope the programme will spur more people to come and visit Borris House, share in its history and its significance. We are more determined than ever now to get the Borris Lace project off the ground and restore an industry which disappeared in the 1950’s and was so important to this entire region.”
About the BBC series
The ‘Antiques to the Rescue’ series traces how the impact of the deepest recession since the war is being felt everywhere. Even the grandest households need to tighten their belts. Money is scarce and heritage grants stretched, but the maintenance of historically important homes can’t wait.
Through the series John Foster (a familiar face from BBC 1’s Antiques Roadshow), uses his 20 years experience as a fine arts and antiques auctioneer to find and sell treasures, squirreled away in three large country houses. The funds will pay for restoration work, which will help protect these houses for the future. Supported by a team of specialists, John hopes to turn heirlooms into hard cash.
This new series follows the families and caretakers of three important houses as they make tough decisions about what they will keep and what needs to be sold to raise the money needed. John will also discover the remarkable secrets and histories that these houses hold. He will reveal the remarkable stories of earlier owners, and follow their antiques from these historic homes to the saleroom. With all the dramas and tension that auctions generate, will the antiques come to the rescue?
The series focuses on Borris House, which is bulging at the seams with history. Its owners, Morgan and Sara McMurrough Kavanagh, can trace their family straight back to the 12th century. Their ancestor, Diarmuid McMurrough Kavanagh first invited the Normans to Ireland. Borris House has also seen its share of drama and intrigue, but today the fifty room house is in need of major restoration.
A whole wing has been abandoned to the elements. Poor rendering is causing part of the façade to eat away at the interior fabric of the building and there’s a daily battle with falling tiles and masonry. Their collection of art and antiques has saved the estate before. A Reubens was sold to help with huge death duties, but do they have any treasures left to help save the house?
Morgan and Sara Kavanagh, and their four small children have just inherited Borris, in the depths of Ireland’s dramatic credit crunch. They must sell antiques to kick-start a restoration project which would transform a former laundry into a lucrative visitors centre and tearoom –providing much needed income for on-going repairs and restoration, and a less stressful home for their young family.