It is arguably the most expensive, beautiful and elegant residence in Ireland. Home to a real life lord who is selling it for €17.5 million, Castletown Cox is spectacular. It was the home of a bogus, but much loved, baron and for many years the residence of the very popular and late Charlie Blacque and family.
To appreciate this special place, imagine, Downtown Abbey from the hit tv television series, and think of somewhere even posher. The gardens on their own are simply breathtaking and the house, is opulence personified. And a great debt of gratitude is owed to the owner, retired banker and former chairman of the British Conservative Party, George Magan aka Lord Magan of Castletown for buying it and for painstakingly restoring it.
He is the son of an amazing Irishman born in Athlone, Brigadier Bill Magan, one of most important figures in Cold War espionage, serving at the very pinnacle of the MI5, British secret intelligence. He died in 2012 aged 102.
Castletown Cox has had a rich and varied past since it was built in 1776 for the Protestant Archbishop of Cashel. Architecturally, it is stunning and is the work of a Sardinian born canal engineer, who really came up with a design which has stood the test of time.
You elicit a gasp once you turn the corner and see it for the first time. It is hard to get your head around it - the sheer scale of the complex symmetry of the entire structure is awesome.
Built in the baroque style and three stories high, it has pillars, huge windows and two wings which are placed at right angles to the main house, barely touching it. At the end of the wings are octagonal slated domes.
One of the most eye catching pieces is the gardens front with its blue Kilkenny limestone and dressed sandstone. Much of the plaster work inside was by Waterford’s Patrick Osborne and includes motifs of cherubs, fruit and flowers.
And it has had its fair share of wonderful owners like the Bogus Baron de Breffny, the son of a London taxi driver turned bookie who invented the title and married the Finnish born widow of a hooky Bahamas based titled banker who fled the country in disgrace.
He and Ulli held lavish parties at the house that would last for three days and people from around Owning who waited on tables there said that what went on at Castletown Cox would make the of the Celtic Tiger era look like penny pinching.
The Baron’s first wife was an Indian princess and his second wife, Lady Ulli Sands, was the Finnish-born widow of the extremely wealthy Sir Stafford Lofthouse Sands. On one occasion, a Kilkenny city resident went down to visit the Baron on business and when he walked down from the reception hall there were eight gentlemen of oriental extraction standing in morning suits at the door of each of the right rooms.
The property is accessed by the granite-stepped entrance at the centre of a traditional carriage forecourt. The main entrance hall sets the tone for the rest of the house. It is jaw-dropping. The white painted walls and simple black and white stone floors showcase the exceptional rococo plaster work by famed stuccodore Patrick Osborne of Waterford. At its heart is a very fine ornate Kilkenny marble chimney piece. Off the entrance are three formal rooms, the reception hall, music room and dining room, one surpassing the next in its opulence. Silk panelled wallpaper, vast antique carpets, and exceptional items of fine furniture and art adorn every room.
A lift services all levels, and the 10 bedrooms arranged across two floors in the main building are en suite, while a sophisticated heating system ensures the rooms are at the perfect ambient temperatures for the fine art on one hand and the vast wine collection downstairs on the other. Another highlight is the lovely warm country kitchen with its vaulted ceiling in the raised basement. Off it is a narrow discrete breakfast room, and both rooms are a homely break from the decadence above stairs.
The adjoining wings house any number of ancillary rooms including a billiards room, ballroom, a model room (where a model of the property stands), a gym, a vestuary and a range of staff accommodation. There are a further eight properties included in the sale – two gate lodges, a gardener’s cottage, four further cottages and a very fine hunting lodge.
Built by Sardinian architect, Daviso De Arcort, (a canal builder) it is said to be based on Villa La Rotunda, a Renaissance villa just outside Vicuña in northern Italy and on Buckingham House (not palace) in London.
It is Brian Baron de Breffny that still haunts the place. Since his death in 1989, the stories about him abound. Here are some truths that have been verified by his family. Born in Isleworth, London, in January 1931, to an English-Jewish father, Maurice and an Anglo-Irish mother (O’Dell). The family had a taxi firm and bookie offices and that’s where he got his first bit of money. He is really a tragic figure in the make of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby.
He first married Princess Jyotsna, the daughter of His Highness Sir Uday Chand Mahtab, KCIE, Maharajadhiraja Bahadur of Burdwan, India. It didn't last.
He then met his second wife. Ulli. She was the widow of the former finance minister of the Bahamas and one of the notorious “Bay Street Boys” - the white businessmen-politicians who controlled the Bahamas at the time. The baron was her fourth and final husband. Those who knew the Baron never forgot him and for what failings he had over his title, he was blessed with a great personality and real charisma.