Country houses for sale

A remarkable Georgian home in ‘the Irish St Tropez’ that’s a perfect fit for the A-lister’s secret retreat

In a secluded part of Kinsale, West Cork, is a 28-bedroom property that has undergone 20 years of extensive renovation work to turn it into the breathtaking work of art that it is today.

It’s an exhilarating sail across the Irish Sea to the historic port of Kinsale in West Cork, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Here, we find Ballinacurra House, currently on the market through Knight Frank in Dublin and London at a guide price of €6.35m (£5.46m).

Dubbed Ireland’s St Tropez, no other town outside Dublin and its environs attracts multi-millionaires from around the world as does this picturesque gourmet hotspot and gateway to the sailing ports of West Cork.

Kinsale was the destination of choice for Northern Ireland-born Des McGahan and his Australian wife, Lisa, when, in the 1990s, they bought a holiday home on the hill overlooking Kinsale as a retreat from hectic careers as event organisers in Hong Kong and south-east Asia.

Some years later, they were looking to extend their horizon beyond a view of Kinsale harbour when, one day, they drove up a narrow winding road through the woods lining the Bandon River on the edge of the town.

At the top of the hill, Lisa looked back and saw a run-down Georgian house with cows grazing on what was once a lawn. That was the ‘light-bulb moment’ that led, in 2000, to the purchase of Ballinacurra House and the start of a 20-year programme of renovation, investment and improvement of the house and its ancillary buildings, the whole set in splendid seclusion, surrounded by 25 acres of ancient woodland running down to the Bandon estuary.

‘Secluded but not isolated’ is the watchword at Ballinacurra House, which has evolved over the years into an exclusive wedding and private party venue frequented by a who’s who of corporate and celebrity clients.

Even locals are largely unaware that the estate exists, hidden as it is by massive trees, tall gates and 12ft-high stone ‘famine’ walls along an unmarked country lane. ‘Ballinacurra House has always slipped below the radar, probably because it has largely been a country retreat rather than a principal family home,’ says Mrs McGahan who, from the outset, has incorporated many original historical elements in an often startling reconstruction of the 18th-century house.

Built in 1770 by John Swete, as a ‘small hunting lodge’ on 300 acres for his son, John, the entire estate was sold to the prosperous Bleazby family of Cork for £5,500 in 1791.

In 1831, William Bleazby built the east and west wings and Ballinacurra’s stately ballroom, where dinner dances were held in a bid to present his five daughters to Cork’s most eligible bachelors.

Some 150 years later, the Bleazby family sold Ballinacurra to the artist and explorer John Danford, who left the property to the Ardfoyle nuns of Cork on his death in 1970. The nuns lived in the centre of the main house and used the rest of the building as a summer retreat.

In the 1980s, Ballinacurra was twice sold to expatriate owners before the arrival of the McGahans in 2000. During their 21-year tenure, the McGahans have remodelled the main house, which now comprises the main block of eight en-suite bedrooms, a country-style kitchen, various reception rooms and living areas and an entertainment wing with six further guest bedrooms and various entertainment rooms.

The original garden cottage and coach house have been fully restored and a new six-bedroom lodge, currently the owners’ private residence, was added in 2008.

In its current configuration, Ballinacurra offers 28 bedrooms in all. The property enjoys private water frontage onto the Ballinacurra Creek, which feeds into the Bandon River and out into the estuary.

As well as road access to this romantic picnic area, there is a rebuilt jetty and fishing deck, and the remains of an old stone boat house which has evident development potential.  As does the rest of this magical property which stands once more at a crossroads.

Ballinacurra House could revert to its original status of a private family estate or continue in its present commercial role as a corporate estate with development potential; or as a private ‘wellness’ retreat, a luxury retirement retreat; or as a private addiction and rehabilitation centre.

The possibilities, say the owners, are ‘endless’.

Ballinacurra House is currently for sale via Knight Frank at a guide price of €6.35m (£5.46m) — see more pictures, or enquire with the agent for further details. 

Kinsale: What you need to know

Location: Kinsale is located on the banks of the Bandon River, just a 30 minute drive from Cork — Ireland’s second largest city. Cork has an international airport and excellent transportation links, which connect to Europe and across the Atlantic.

Atmosphere: A former fishing town, Kinsale is now known as the ‘Irish Riviera’, attracting a international visitors and making it a playground for the rich and famous, whilst still maintaining its rich culture.

Things to do: The town boasts beautiful scenery and large marinas — suitable for superyacths, and plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventures. The award-winning heritage town is home to numerous cafes, Michelin-starred restaurants, bars and high-end shops, plus a world class golf course — Old Head Golf Course – famed for its 200 acres of rugged landscape and proximity to jagged cliffs.

Schools: There are a number of schools within the area, including Kinsale Community School, St. Multose National School, Kinsale College, Gaelscoil Chionn tSaile/ Kinsale Gaelscoil and Summercove National School.