This is a short post describing one of the oldest Irish estates. In a way, it is my first personal post, but I hope others will take the time to visit this serene and special place.
I recommend that everyone visit it once in their lifetime. At 2,500 acres, it is the largest private demesne in the country, I believe.
Waterford is a place of stunning beauty and Curraghmore is probably the jewel in its crown. Recently open to the public, I had the pleasure to walk around it and got the guided tour. I will be returning early next year to repeat the experience. I hope you enjoy the post.
Curraghmore Estate, Co. Waterford- Heaven’s Hideaway
If you ever want the sunshine to dance from your eyes, take a visit to Curraghmore Estate sometime. It’s not so much an estate as it is emotional blotting paper. All your worries and cares will drain away under the gaze its broadleaf trees and the brooding power of the ancient walls.
Like a sea sky, Curraghmore doesn’t just appear; it slowly unfolds, rolling out with a latent majesty designed to clobber your senses and stun-clap you into submission. The French called this mirage of the eye ‘delayed gratification’ when building their great estates. The De la Poers came from Normandy to Ireland in 1167. One can see why it took 18,000 men to build the Gardens of Versailles and wonder in awe at how many Curraghmore employed.
It is gatehouses that strike you first. Cockerels the size of ostriches graze freely around them, half hidden by the Jurassic grass and tangled undergrowth of the forest. The gatehouses are hobbit-like and quaint in their appearance. They speak of a time when people believed in the Other because they could not trust the self. As if to apologise for their homely size, vast fields flank you left and right as you drive in. They’re so big, you’re half expecting to see The Wild Bull of Cooley roaming in them. Instead you get the pheasants.
First comes one, then two, then a dozen until, finally, you understand that you’re in nature’s womb. Their raucous clucks, witch-croaks and cheese-grating caws freckle the air and the trees above them leak out with an uncommon greenery. A louche river ribbons through the world-weary fields and time-chiselled forests. It flows like a robe of constellation-blue between wide, stone-walled banks. From the mortar-crumbling bridge built in 1205, you can watch salmon wriggle upriver and dance through the river weed. The leaves of the overarching great oaks seep with such mellowness local legend has it the salmon pause to eat them on their final journey upriver.
Then you see something that makes you rub your eyes. Darting under the whiskers of whispering moss are white birds of great size. Are they egrets, you wonder? They are not. They are the famous white pheasants of Curraghmore, as bold as brass and as rare as iridium. Brought in centuries ago from the Caucuses, they can only be found in such numbers in Curraghmore and can’t be seen anywhere else in the wild. The Sitka Spruce that leans over the bridge is 160 feet of heaven-touching wildness but because it’s in a hollow, it’s not the tallest tree on the estate. It is a fitting guardian to these beautiful birds.
Finally you come to the house itself. On one side, it can be approached through a yawning courtyard lined on each side by neat stables. The gravel is courteous to car tyre and tread of paw and hoof. The house, though large, doesn’t loom over anything much. It lingers there like a trapped memory of something it itself can’t quite remember. It is inoffensive and gentle yet it remains the pulsing soul of this great estate. The rear of the house hosts a lake in the manner of the grandest abbey and its ivy-clung walls glint with richness in the riparian light. The lake is vow-silent and the house seems tattooed onto its gin-clear skin.
Inside its walls is magic; rare treasures, tales of derring-do and rooms seemingly untouched by the endless swirl of ancestors and industrial change. The portraits, a Reuben’s here, a you-know-who-there, are a living reminder of the people who lived and died under this broad roof. Basil, the genial host, will guide you around with a dulcet voice to crack the hushed silence the house inspires. The tick of a clock, the rustle of cloth, the sigh of a door; you feel that the house should not have to endure any more decibels than this. It has seen and heard too much already.
After the house tour, you are taken outside to a marvel of imagination. The Shell House was built in 1754 and took 261 days to complete. One can see why, as the opera of the sea is captured in snapshots inside this remarkable monument. It is shaped like an old, Irish round tower. Seashells from the most capacious seas and distant beaches speckle the walls, covering them entirely. Conches, cockles, clams and very rare shells jostle with the light spearing through the slits, making the room sparkle like Solomon’s mines.
A walk around this 2,500 acre estate shall give you a sense of peace and isolation rarely found in the modern world. Like the faint, dying call of a trumpet, it is the last echo of an Ireland that no longer exists. When the heaven-leaking light begins to fade, the stars can be seen scattered like diamond dust on black velvet. There is no light pollution in Curraghmore. In fact, there is no pollution of anything, including its spirit. Its Tolkien-esque dimensions ensure that.
When your day ends there, you are left with a sense that your footfalls are merely dust in the vast hall of history that is Curraghmore House. You ache for more of its grandeur, more of its spaciousness, more of its wildness. And then you find yourself silent on the journey home, reflecting on the memory house it has given you.
Such is its magic. Such is its sorcery.
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