A County Kilkenny couple received an early Christmas present this week when their 300-years-old restored house became the first winner of a new prize intended to draw attention to the challenges of owning an historic property.
Since buying Ballysallagh House in 1987, local pharmacist Kieran White and his wife Geralyn have devoted themselves to bringing both the building and gardens back to peak condition, ready to mark Ballysallagh’s tricentenary in 2022.
The Whites are ideal recipients of a new prize devised by architectural historian Robert O’Byrne, generously sponsored by the O’Flynn Group and awarded with the support of Historic Houses of Ireland. Currently, private owners of properties like Ballysallagh receive little public acknowledgement or assistance for their work in helping to preserve Ireland’s architectural heritage. Paucity of aid means these buildings are particularly vulnerable to decay and potential loss, since their upkeep can be expensive and beyond the financial capabilities of owners. Many of them stretch their resources to the limit in order to ensure the survival of houses for which they have assumed responsibility.
The O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is the first of its kind: a new national award acknowledging the significant role played by owners of historic homes. For this reason, the O’Flynn Group has joined forces with Historic Houses of Ireland, a charity established in 2008 to promote the immediate and long-term future of privately owned historic properties in this country. All HHI members are owners of historic houses and understand better than anyone the challenges faced by this sector. The new prize is awarded to a member ohf HHI.
The organisation’s chairman, Thomas Cosby of Stradbally Hall, County Laois commented, ‘Knowing first-hand the costs of maintenance and restoration this should be a welcome reward for someone who has completed a suitable project.’
Worth €5,000 and adjudicated by a small panel of assessors, the O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize will be presented annually to one property, the owners of which have demonstrated outstanding dedication and commitment to the preservation of the building in their care; this is clearly the case with the Whites and Ballysallagh. The O’Flynn Group has already shown itself keenly aware of the importance of providing a viable future for historic buildings, as can be seen in the company’s sensitive redevelopment of the former 19th century barracks site in Ballincollig, County Cork, and elsewhere.
The prize’s next recipient will be announced in 2021.