A lakeside Victorian castle in County Leitrim with a colourful past is enjoying a new lease of life as the contemporary hotel. Built in the 1830s for the Earls of Leitrim, the present owners of Lough Rynn Castle recruited the Cotton Box Design Group to revamp the Gothic building, which now extends deep into the old stable wing. Catriona Hanly, daughter of the house and well-known jeweller, has designer the interiors of a number of new estate houses in the nearby meadows.
Honeymooners who spend a few days at Lough Rynn Castle may thank their lucky stars that the 3rd Earl of Leitrim did not stay on in this world as a ghost. Legend has it the randy old cad was an advocate of droit de seigneur, the ancient feudal right by which the lord of an estate is entitled to deflower any virgins. Such was his devotion to the sport that an irate father eventually assassinated him in 1878. True or not, there can be no doubting the magnificence of the Earl’s home - a Tudor-revival manor house on the shores of Leitrim’s Lough Rynn.
Built in the 1830s, Lough Rynn Castle was once the headquarters of a vast 96,000-acre estate that stretched from the banks of the River Liffey westwards into Galway and north into Donegal. The lakeside mansion belonged to the Clements family until 1990 when it was sold to Mike Flaherty, an Irish-American businessman.
The 300 acre property was subsequently purchased by the Hanly family who spent a significant fortune converting the castle, by then on the brink of ruin, into a 21st century hotel. Lough Rynn Castle opened for business in September 2006. The hotel now has twenty-nine bedrooms, eleven in the original house and eighteen deftly placed in the stable wing running directly off the house. A further wing of twenty-five deluxe bedrooms, 300-seater conference room and leisure spa is under construction.
The principle rooms in the house were restored, furnished and designed by Kevin Mullarkey, Amy Cooney and Jane Dywer of Cotton Box Design Group, Clarinbridge, Galway. When the Cotton Box team first arrived, they found the builders franticly gutting the old rotted timber. They duly restored whatever could be salvaged, such as the existing parquet floor in the baronial hall and the oak panelling which was carefully stripped, cleaned and rebuilt. A specialist conservation team from Letterfrack restored all woodwork while award-winning plaster conservator Seamas O hEocha (www.soheochateo.com) repaired and restored the original cornicing and plasterwork.
Robert Genders (Tel: 071-9639175) a family friend of the Hanlys, acquired much of the furniture and art at auction. Some pieces have a colourful provenance such as the engagement portrait of Lady Caroline Clements (niece of Lord Leitrim) by Sir Francis Grant and the black and white photographs, sourced by Amy Cooney of Cotton Box from the Architectural Archives in Dublin. An oak sideboard beneath a painting of Lady Caroline Clements is also original, while the church pews set into the huge walk-in marble fireplace are in perfect condition.
The Piano Room is particularly remarkable for its hand-painted Parisian wallpaper, reinforcing the oriental ambience crated by the carpet of blue flowers. Each panel was hand painted in the UK by De Gournay. Two sofas, one antique, the other custom-made, were reupholstered by Warwick (a diamond fabric) and Nobilis respectively. They possess a seductive charm, luring one to sink back and listen while a nearby angel lets her fingertips ripple along the keys of the piano. Hot flames crackle within a hypnotic Kilkenny marble fireplace. A sideboard sourced by Jane Dywer of Cotton Box is surmounted by statuary of horses and dogs whilst the wall above features a Martin Reisner painting sourced by Robert Genders. Lavish curtains are held in place by poles and holdbacks from Edward Harpley.
A corridor lined with Georgian prints and Clements family memorabilia leads towards the new wing. A discreet entrance to the left leads to the original wine cellar, now the Cellar Bar. Another doorway opens into the John McGahern Library, named for the late Leitrim scribe considered by many to have been the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett. The room was originally the larder and still has the meat-hooks embedded into its rich French red ceiling. Light pours through rich Nobilis curtains, rebounding off a striped sofa and lively carpet. A burgundy wallpaper from Zoffany is divided by bookcases, groaning under the weight of valuable originals - Joyce, Behan, O’Casey and McGahern himself. The bookcases are an ingenious collaboration of old and new, with the latter designed by Amy Cooney of Cotton Box to compliment a pair of antique cases from Robert Genders. An archway from the library leads back into the drawing rooms and bar area.
A bay window, broken only by classic Jim Dickens curtains, beholds Lough Rynn’s verdant lawns stretching out to the looking glass waters and leafy green woodland beyond. An 18-hole golf course, designed by Nick Faldo, will be twisting and turning around these same shores by March 2008. Sprawl upon a beach of sofas and armchairs, designed by Cotton Box and upholstered by Monkwell, and consider your location. As the fire crackles, for instance, you might spare a thought for Mary Clements, one of the early members of the family arrested for witchcraft during the Salem Trials and very nearly burned at the stake. Her youngest brother Daniel, a soldier in Cromwell’s army, was rewarded with a thousand acres near Cootehill, Co. Cavan. Daniel’s descendents rapidly scaled the heights of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, gaining the Earldom of Leitrim in 1795. Nathaniel Clements, great-grandfather to the 3rd Earl, was one of the finest amateur architects of Georgian Ireland, perhaps best known for Arás an Uachtaráin, the Irish President’s residence in Phoenix Park. The family’s strong creative genes continue to this day - another Nat Clements, raised at Lough Rynn, is one of this country’s foremost experts in architectural restoration, most recently with his work at Carton House.
At the west end of the house, a contemporary looping glass ceiling gently curls over to link the original house to the stable block. Constructed by the Hanley’s Polish architect, this simple design nimbly brings the entire stable wing of eighteen bedrooms into the main house. Guests wander down a long corridor - glass-fronted on one side, the original stable walls on the other - believing they are still in the original house. The old grain store, for instance, has been completely rebuilt as the Sandstone Restaurant, named for the impressive internal stone cladding was selected and specified by Amy Cooney.
The 3rd Earl was, without question, a raving lunatic but, like many a lunatic, he was also a genius. As well as building a sturdy coach house, lovely walled gardens, ample stables, dairy and stores on the estate, he reputedly invented a kiln that produced some of the highest quality lime in Ireland. He also devised an ingenious system involving a horse, a boy and a gravel-filled channel that pumped filtered water from the river into the castle. Perhaps you might contemplate this while stewing in the splendid stand-alone bathtub of the rambling O’Carolan Suite, named for the celebrated Blind Harper of nearby Mohill.
In the sumptuous Clements Suite, an Italian four-poster bed is set into a stunning bedroom with all wallpaper, armchairs, cupboards, side tables, side lamps, bed fabrics, curtains and cushions selected by Cotton box. Of particular note are the large elegant framed wall mirrors which unexpectedly turn into Phillips plasma screens at the click of a switch. The Clements bathroom features a large oval Villeroy & Bosche Jacuzzi with room for all the family and stunning views out bay windows towards the walled gardens.
Perhaps half a mile from the castle, a field is presently under construction. It will soon reopen as a small development of thirty one new-build gable-fronted dormer houses. Four show-houses in this development have had their interiors designed by another member of the Hanly family. Catriona Hanly is already a well-known figure in Irish jewellry and design circles. This April, she will be opening her flagship store for interiors and accessories at the new Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Her vision is to create ‘an essential lifestyle boutique with a warm welcome and uplifting mood’. Catriona’s career began when she was a junior buyer for Bergdorff Goodman in New York. They sent her all over the world to source products and keep an eye peeled on likely trends. By the time she returned to Ireland in 2000, she had gathered an impressive collection of elaborate jewellry which she began to wholesale to boutiques nationwide such as Khan, Diffusion, Arnotts and Les Jumelles. She’s also been enjoying a fruitful career in the world of accessories, with a range of handbags launched in 2006. But interior design has always been Catriona’s real passion. And so she was delighted to be given free rein to display her burgeoning talents in the Lough Rynn show-houses. At her side throughout was her friend, counsellor and project manager, Rachel Hopkins
A typical show-house has a sitting room, dining room, a kitchen and front hall on the ground floor and four bedrooms on the upper floor. The sitting room stands to the left of the hall and is dominated by a cream and purple silk Epoque sofa, designed by Catriona and made in Milan. Fabrics are carefully chosen for dramatic merit so that, for instance, the luxurious purple velvet curtains are echoed in both the armchair and the glass top ottoman which doubles as a coffee table. Light gushes in through triple windows, animating the botanical and classical statuary prints adorning the walls. French style white-painted furniture was commissioned from Willis & Gambier in London. R.V. Astley supplied the lamps on the white sideboards while the unusual French mirror and picture above the fireplace came from the Parisian firm of Emde. The walls were painted with a range from Farow and Ball.
Crossing back through the hall into the dining room, a coal fire heats the room with its merry blue pimpernel wallpaper from Laura Ashley. Contemporary colonial rattan chairs surround a handsome cherry wood dining table. The table is set with Mikasa silverware, glassware from Villa Collection and delicate Chinoiserie green and white china, designed by Jasper Conran for Wedgwood. The exotic ambience of the dinnerware’s birds and flora are echoed in the rich curtains of taffeta, lined with raw silk, from T.D.Q. Quilting in Dublin. All furniture is bespoke from Willis and Gambier. A drinks cabinet looks particularly inviting beneath a side window while lamps from R.V. Astley give the room a gentle golden hue by night.
The kitchen stands to the back of the house, a long and splendidly white room of polished tile floors and smooth marble surfaces, peppered with colour splashes from prints of roses and Renoirs, and floral dinnerware and candles from Laura Ashley. Glasses and crockery are kept in a glass-fronted cupboards by Willis and Gambier.
The buttercup walls ascend a balustraded zig-zag stairwell to the landing and bedrooms. A leafy crystal chandelier from R.V. Astley is reflected in a full-length decorative mirror by Emde. Four charming bedrooms run off the landing. The Master bedroom is papered in a mink embossed paper with a metallic sheen by Edward J. McKiernan. Cream silk curtains compliment the mink and cream bedspread and cushions from Au Maison. The French plush cream couch is from Coach House in the U.K. and the mirror is from Emde. The white furniture is custom made by Willis and Gambier.One of the guest bedrooms has an impressive brass bed, dressed in French style by Au Maison, with curtains of dusty pink raw silk. Mirrored accessories and pictures by Laura Ashley are reflected in silver box bedside lamps from R.V. Astley. McKiernan papered the pale green wall behind the bed. He also applied the lilac Laura Ashley wallpaper to the next door bedroom, picking up on the colours of the quilted bedspread and cushions from Au Maison. The smallest bedroom has a soft mushroom hued wallpaper, subtly repeated in both bed-linen and curtains.