2 weeks ago

Castle Keepers: Dominic West and Catherine FitzGerald of Glin Castle

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With its elegant reception rooms, pretty bedrooms, fairytale turrets and pleasure grounds, Glin Castle in Co Limerick was built with entertaining in mind. Rock stars, poets, writers, artists and aristocrats have all figured among the visitors, Madam Olda FitzGerald and the late Desmond, Knight of Glin, its generous and gregarious hosts for many decades.

Now their daughter Catherine FitzGerald and her husband, actor Dominic West have updated the castle and are continuing the convivial legacy, hiring it out as a venue for gatherings and creative retreats. London-based landscape architect FitzGerald is relieved the decision to sell Glin, made in 2015, has been reversed. “Generation after generation of the family has added to Glin, each in its own way. The house has its own spirit, which won’t let us out of its grasp.”

The present Glin Castle was built in the late 18th century. The entrance hall, with its screen of Corinthian pillars and very rare “flying” staircase, has a superb neo-classical plaster ceiling. The drawing room has an Adam ceiling, a beautiful Bossi marble chimneypiece and six vast windows which overlook the croquet lawn. The reception rooms are filled with a collection of Irish 18th-century mahogany furniture and family portraits and Irish pictures line the walls. “Some pictures were sold in a sale we had ten years ago,” says FitzGerald, “but my mother has been snapping up some fabulous (and very good value) Irish watercolours and oils from Adams over the last few years to fill the gaps.”

Throughout, the rooms are decorated with vintage furniture, art, books, candelabra and objets. In the en suite bedrooms, there are colourful rugs and chaise longues which stand at the end of comfortingly plump beds. There are watercolours and blue and white porcelain on the walls. “We did a purge of knick-knacks and glass to give a cleaner, sparer look as over the years things had got a bit cluttered,” says FitzGerald, although the colourful and artlessly layered look prevails. How did FitzGerald and West approach the restoration? In a completely hands-on fashion, it turns out, seeking advice and engaging the right professionals but doing much of the work themselves, with FitzGerald in project manager role.

“The restoration is ongoing of course, but our first job was getting the fireplaces working again and putting in a really good stove in the hall to belt out the heat. The old 18th-century flues had deteriorated, allowing smoke to escape through the walls of the house and, alarmingly, seep into the bedrooms above. Dominic was adamant that the house needed to have working fires in all the main reception rooms again – nothing like cosy flickering fires to make guests relax with a book or a game on a wet day. Action Chimneys did the most fantastic job but my heart was in my mouth as giant holes were bashed into the walls to get to the old flues. They put it all back together beautifully. Declan Kingsley-Walsh of Morso Stoves installed the most fantastic Morso 3610 which has transformed the once-chilly hall into a cosy centre of activity – now we have drinks there, as well as concerts and talks.”

FitzGerald’s wide network of connections and friends gave excellent advice. “My friends – decorator Mary-Jane Russell and Helen O’Neill, a conservation expert who has advised at Castletown and Luggala, were wonderful. Helen advised on the finer points of ‘deep’ housekeeping, dealing with old textiles and re-inventing curtains and upholstery, so that we could save and re-purpose, replacing only what was beyond repair.“

Our good friend, LA-based decorator and fabric designer Kathryn Ireland (who happens to be Mary-Jane’s sister) sold us wonderful end-of-line bolts of her irresistible fabrics – a delicious maroon cord and a raspberry printed linen – so we could do a sweep of upholstery we otherwise could not have afforded. Antiques expert George Stacpoole told me about Christy Murray & Son of Croom who did the most fantastic job with the very fine upholstery. “

Jessie Fortune Ryan, another friend with a great eye, tipped me off about Polkra cushions which are gorgeous but reasonable. When Taylor Swift booked in for Christmas 2019 with all her family and friends I went on a spree and ordered a wonderful selection which brightened up bedrooms and hall chairs. Lovely new lamps and lampshades also updated the rooms – I love the ones from Fermoie on the Pimlico Road and I bought one or two sari-cotton pleated ones from Oka, as well as others from the good value pooky.com.”

If you hire the castle – which has four reception rooms and 15 bedrooms – for a weekend or a longer stay you can choose between a private chef or self-catering. Pre-dinner drinks are served in the drawing room and a Gothic-styled dining room seats at least twelve. Here, you may feast on dishes such as smoked haddock and mussel chowder with warm brown soda bread, followed by a rib of pork with crackling crust and for pudding, a frangipane tart made with apples from the estate orchard. There is plenty to do – croquet, tennis, woodland walks. Like any good host, FitzGerald organises various entertainments, golf and horse riding. In the sweet village of Glin, you can stop off for a quick pint of Guinness at traditional pub O’Shaughnessy’s or enjoy a music session and Irish stew. The Burren is close by and Shannon Airport is 50 minutes away.

As well as developing the 400-acre gardens at Glin, FitzGerald has worked on other historic gardens at Hillsborough Castle outside Belfast and Glenarm in Donegal. At Glin guests can see her charming garden seat collection made by local craftsman Leo Healy, and available on her website, www.catherinefitzgerald.co.uk.

The drawing room, in the part of the castle built in the late 1700s, was repainted and new upholstery – in rose and turmeric – gave the furniture an update.

The doorway leads to the cosy dark blue-painted library with its peony-pink sofa and a portrait of the fourth Earl of Dunraven above the fireplace. 

There has been a house at Glin since medieval times, with the existing castle constructed in the early 1700s. 

At Glin, paintings, interesting objects and vases of flowers from the garden add layers of interest and a strong sense of family.

The celadon colour on the walls in the hall, with its elaborate plasterwork ceiling, was unchanged.Bayonets and swords, portraits and paintings, line the walls.

The new hosts at Glin Castle: Dominic West and Catherine FitzGerald.

The elaborate plasterwork ceiling above the bi-furcated “flying” staircase (it begins as two flights and continues as one) leads to the bedroom floor.

The guest bedrooms have four-poster beds with plump sofas at their feet, pretty antique furniture and portraits and paintings on the walls.

In a guest bathroom, classic black and white tiles, a roll-top bath and a collection of vintage photographs.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

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