LARCHFIELD is an in-the-know backdrop for luxury weddings and a range of INTERESTING RETREATS. PENNY McCORMICK meets the owners …
When Sarah and Gavin Mackie got engaged they spent the first two years of married life living on a building site. Not any old building site. Larchfield, their home, originally dates from the 1750s, and is set in 600 lush acres in Co Down, a mere 90 minutes from Dublin. The house was owned by one of the linen families, for which the area was known and was redesigned by Lanyon (of Queens University fame) in the 1850s.
“When we moved in we had to rewire the main house and redecorate,” explains Sarah Mackie as she shows me around the exquisite formal rooms. “We were very fortunate to have Mary Lou Thomson to help us with the design and subsequently all the other projects.” The Mackies had a choice – to keep their previous jobs (in engineering and media) to provide for the upkeep of Larchfield or to live onsite and be self-sufficient – they chose the latter and haven’t looked back. “Others now get a chance to enjoy the incredible surroundings and we can literally live and breathe the place.” It’s definitely an upscale version of “the good life” with Larchfield an in-the-know backdrop for luxury weddings and a range of interesting retreats.
Food Forage Feast is one, where guests are guided around the property by a local chef, often transported in a 1950s French army truck when necessary. Afterwards the Mackies host dinner in the atmospheric Downton-esque kitchens while the chef serves up a seasonal feast of the day’s foraged produce. All profits from these new ventures will go towards restoring a Victorian beekeeper’s cottage. In addition to fly fishing, there are also simulated clay days. “We host up to 16 people and fire out over 6,000 clays in a day. These are incredibly popular and great, fun days out.”
With a thriving events centre and team on site, there is also idyllic accommodation for up to 24 people. I stayed in Rose Cottage and loved the “made in Ireland” concept of the food hampers and amenities and got a sneak preview of the new glamping truck which started life as a 1952 Swiss Army truck. “We installed a wood stove, under-bed heating, Persian carpets and decking,” says Mackie, who has clearly thought of everything – insulation to keep the truck cool in summer and warm in winter, though the pièce de resistance is the ensuite bathroom and barrel sauna which was sourced from Lithuania.
It has to be seen to be believed and overlooks one of seven ponds on the estate – the sort of pond from which Mr Darcy might emerge with dripping shirt. They’ve also built an orangery entrance to the main barn, reroofed and fitted out stables and recobbled quite a few courtyards. They are always researching and upgrading, going on frequent research trips which have included a recent stay at Soho Farmhouse. To help with their focus and work/life balance, the Mackies also work with a one-to-one business coach. “We have to remember that we live in the most amazing place and to use it for entertaining friends. This summer we had many Sunday barbecues with kids charging around. A house like Larchfield is best when it is full of children.”
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