It’s got an underground Playboy Mansion-style swimming pool grotto, saunas, a steam room, a minstrel’s gallery, a cannon-lined sun terrace fronting Kenmare Bay, a Tudor-style grand staircase, its own marina and floor space the equivalent of nine average family homes.
Ireland’s best kept secret is a 9,000 sq ft Gothic Revival style castle in Co Kerry. The big surprise is that it’s just 20 years old. More unusual still, it came about completely by accident.
An Culu in Kenmare, Co Kerry was placed for sale back in 1997 for €15m and later in 2013 for €10m. But now with Brexit looming and the London-based owners’ children long grown up, this remarkable home has been brought back to market, this time seeking €4.5m, a cut of €5.5m off the previous asking price five years ago.
The fairytale extravaganza was designed and built by London-based entrepreneur Kevin Reardon, a self made businessman. The spectacular imagining is the result of the love an Englishman with Irish roots has for the country of his forefathers.
Remarkably the Charlton-born businessman – who once nearly bought Charlton FC – had no notions of building a castle when he lobbied Coillte to buy the scenic waterside site 25 years ago.
“I grew up in London but Dad was from Cork. As a kid I was always over here and I kept coming back. In particular I just loved Kenmare. I fancied the idea of moving here and I wanted to build a waterfront home for the family. I was in my boat fishing one day when I saw this ruin on the shore. I looked at it and thought ‘that’s a really lovely site’.
“It then took me two days to find it again from the road. We wanted a dream home alright but initially I just wanted the site. We thought the ruin on the land might be a small medieval castle but it turned out to be a tea room folly constructed for the adjoining estate. A sort of elaborate garden ornament.
“It took me two years to persuade the forestry board to sell me the site with five acres attached. Next we had to decide what to build on it. Some people said ‘build a swish modern home with big huge windows’ and what have you. But that was never my kind of thing.
“So I went to the planners with some ideas but they said: ‘Look, Kevin, you’ve got to build a castle.’ So I said: ‘OK, I’d better build a castle then’. And that’s how it happened. The truth is I never actually intended building a castle. So I called in a local architect named Wallace and as I researched castles I began imagining more and more aspects to it. If we had to have a castle, then it was going to be a proper fairytale castle. As we progressed, it got bigger and bigger. I got quite wrapped up in it. Maybe a bit too much, to be honest!”
It helped greatly that the Londoner had a tested business background in construction and development. He found aspects of castles he liked and produced his own sketches for both the exterior and inside. “I was constantly making new drawings or photocopying pictures.”
Kevin brought a works team into place and got started. It took them three years to complete. “We hit hard rock and we had to dynamite it all out of there to make the marina.”
Having access to modern construction techniques actually helped to make it so elaborate. “So we built it just like you would a modern skyscraper. We poured a concrete core pier from which everything is supported and cantilevered.” Even so, the businessman’s mind-boggling attention to detail over a three-year build and the quality of the materials and finish means the resulting home is perhaps the most elaborate and dazzling home to be built in Ireland since the 19th century,.
In the early 1800s, a craze for elaborate neo-Gothic homes took off across the British Isles led by the gentry and it lead to some of the most spectacular mansions of the day.
Reardon, who left school before his 16th birthday, started out selling eggs beside the Thames. His industrious outlook meant that he eventually built up a big business and became a major importer.
Sudden changes in the market broke the business overnight and he was left with nothing. After that “I was driving a black cab feeling miserable for myself when this passenger started talking about taxi rentals and filling stations and I thought ‘I could give that a go’.”
Reardon’s efforts eventually allowed him to scrape the money together to buy a filling station. In time he would go on build up a chain which he ultimately sold to Tesco. “I ended up building 53 of London’s filling stations.”
Next he got into real estate. “We became the developers for the likes of M&S and B&Q. Luckily I sold that business to an institution two years before the crash.”
And so An Culu became something of a project of focus for Kevin. “I really do believe in quality building and materials. So we used hardwoods like oak and cherry wood.” He enjoys when visitors come to stay. “They are particularly taken by the fresco of blue skies and clouds on the ceiling of one reception by a talented local artist.
“We lived here for many years full time with the kids, but with my business across the water, it didn’t really work out. Once the kids were grown up, it seemed too big, especially given that we’re not over here often enough to enjoy it.”
So how much did he spend on it? “Let’s just say I won’t ever get out of it what I put in. I really can’t say any more than that. People have dreams of living in castles but those who buy and renovate a period castle will find that they’re not all that comfortable to live in. They’re quite cold and dark and there’s always repairs to do. This is a warm, functioning and very comfortable home. The architect did meticulous work on situating the windows so that the daylight really does run right through it. On the downside, I don’t expect it would be much use for repelling any attacks from invaders.”
One of the reasons the fantasy neo-Gothic castles and mansions of the 19th century enthral us all so much compared with modern homes, is the sheer amount of detailing, the level of craftwork and construction that has gone into them.
Aristocrats had access to craftsmen who were top of their game and the wealth to employ them over the years long period it took to bring about such a home. As a developer and construction boss, the Londoner could also step up to these standards. Despite being modest about it, Kevin Reardon has managed to produce something extraordinarily special. Aside from the joinery there’s detailed plasterwork and cornicing, wall linings and hardwood timber panelled wall areas.
The original period grand tea house tower has been expertly blended into the new property at the back over four floor areas and its styling has helped to inspire the new creation around it.
The Tudor-style staircase is a particular triumph in cut stone with its stout cut stone balusters and pillars and lit by day through an extraordinarily authentic and colourful stained glass window triptych.
Modern touches include the umistakable modern party zone of the grotto pool cavern, which Reardon produced by hacking out a cave into the rocks and then blasting it with concrete. It comes with a steam room and a sauna.
There’s a state-of-the-art music system throughout, the bathrooms are finished in marble and top of the range tiling and there’s even a lift to take the residents between floors.
The property is approached via a stone entrance leading into a winding tree lined driveway that heads through forestry to a parking apron in front of the entrance.
Alternatively it can be reached via boat to its own private harbour. The castle is surrounded by a moat and is approached from the drive over a stone bridge and then a drawbridge through a castellated archway to a courtyard with gas lanterns and a circular tower. Once inside you’re in the main hall with panelled walls and doors leading off to the reception hall with the stone staircase. From here you enter the octangular conservatory with its estuary views. The drawing room has a huge castle’s stone chimney piece around the fireplace and a minstrel’s gallery overhead on the first floor. On the gallery double doors lead out to a raised Romeo and Juliet-style balcony with elevated views over the bay.
The dining room comes with a stone fireplace, hardwood floor, panelled walls, and window seats. A modern kitchen and breakfast room has bespoke fitted units, a gas cooking range and a central island unit. There’s also a utility room and wc.
On the first floor is a study with built-in bookshelves, a stone chimney piece and cherrywood panelling. There are six bedrooms in all, finished to an historic style and three have full ensuites.
The master chamber is on the third floor with panelled walls, built-in wardrobes, eagles nest window seating, a stone chimney piece and a sitting room space. There are two marble lined ensuites, the ‘his’ bathroom has a double shower while the ‘her’ bathroom has the shower mounted over a panelled bath.
To avail of the views, there’s a sitting room on the top floor. The five acre grounds have are floodlit and have a spectacular waterfall. It’s located on the Ring of Kerry, just outside Kenmare.
And as Kevin leaves his castle home, to Ireland he’s left a spectacular modern landmark that will make people smile and dream for generations to come. Despite its tender age, Kevin’s Castle has already drawn some official appreciation. “Someone told me recently that they were trying to have it listed. I particularly enjoyed that.” And they should. Savills seek €4.5m.
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