It’s alive! The mad scientist’s castle for €1.85 million
Cregg Castle, Corrandulla, Co Galway Asking price: €1.85m Agent: Helen Cassidy (087) 246 3748 and Savills Country (01) 663 4350
Once upon a time, Cregg Castle in Corrandulla in County Galway was about to become another gigantic luxury hotel with a golf course added to it; just like so many other great Irish country houses before and since, its future was to suck up an annual quota of liver-spotted Americans in shorts. Locals would only see his entrails at weddings.
In 2006, a consortium bought the place for 5 million euros and then obtained a building permit for 99 rooms and nine holes. But soon after, the Celtic Tiger imploded and all bets were off.
While a hotel would certainly have had benefits for the local economy, this outcome for Cregg would also have been downright boring. At least compared to Cregg Castle’s rock and roll decade since 2012 under the direction of Alan Murray, nephew of its former owners and oil artist.
Murray is the man who brought culture to Cregg and his promotion of its grounds and venues for events over the years has seen thousands pass through the 25,000 square foot country house.
But in 2008, seeing the beloved castle he grew up with mothballed and barricaded, Murray feared for his future. He realized that a building of his size must be constantly used to stay alive. So he came up with some sort of plan and arranged to give a presentation to one of his owners.
“I caught him in a Starbucks at Heathrow airport between flights. He listened and when I was done he said, ‘OK, you have the key. I think that’s the growing up around her that made that vital difference.
“What I offered them was to live in it and use it for events and activities, while maintaining it. Already the kids were breaking in at night for binge drinking and it was only a matter of time before they started a fire and Cregg was gone.
“When my grandparents first bought it in 1972, I was two years old. It was a great adventure to visit as a child. Later when my aunt ran it as a home hosts with a touch of traditional music, it has hosted a host of stars.The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pogues, Sinéad O’Connor, all have stayed there.
“And Dusty Springfield used to come to Cregg regularly. She wrote in the book that it was her “healing space.” The last photo of her taken before her death was taken at Cregg.
When he first opened it, Murray removed the boards from the windows. “I opened all the windows in the castle and left them open day and night, all summer. It dried it out. I had to pull seven or eight sacks of wood from the chimneys that the birds had left there. fall in. Cregg has 19 chimneys. And there were a lot of mice, rats, birds and bats in the residence.
Under Murray’s leadership, Cregg, for hundreds of years the exclusive seat of a stifling local aristocracy, sprang to life as a venue for all manner of colourful, artistic and new age activities, from music festivals to shop at bushcraft classes for children.
It has become a gallery for art exhibitions, a theater for circus performers, a setting for yoga, horseback riding, weddings, birthdays, photography events, meditative breathing and perhaps the most intriguing , Art Nude Day. Its Halloween events were legendary and one of them hosted over 800 people.
“Since I was the guardian of the castle, I refused many offers that did not suit me. Among them was a proposal for a giant sex party for 400 people.
But eventually the bureaucracy started to make things worse. Many events were denied permission. “Otherwise Cregg could easily have been Emo, Stradbally or Slane from Galway. At one point I asked if we could use Cregg to house rough sleepers. The local authority said ‘no way’ .
So, more recently, Murray has maintained it as an eclectic Airbnb. “We have hosted hundreds of people here and most appreciate its quirky qualities. Although a few who didn’t had it complained that it wasn’t four star.
But for now, the party is over. Cregg has just been put back on the market, this time with a more modest price tag of €1.85m for the 25,000 square foot home with 175 acres including extensive woodland. And that takes a lot of work.
At current rates for renovating and restoring period homes, Cregg could cost around £5million to bring up to the highest standards with full insulation.
Its covered floor area is the spatial equivalent of an entire street of 25 mid-size three-bed semi-family homes. Not to mention the outbuildings and various adjoining buildings. Cregg was built in 1648 as the seat of the Kirwan family, one of Galway’s famous tribes.
In the mid-18th century, it was home to a truly mad scientist, the eccentric chemist, meteorologist and natural philosopher Richard Kirwan, who inherited it after his older brother was sent to a duel.
Kirwan, who walked around with a huge pet eagle perched on his shoulder, had a laboratory built in the park (his ruins are still there) and his 18th century experiments on the relative density and attractive powers of salty substances would become vital steps in the development of modern chemistry.
But Kirwan was also a phlogistonist, adhering to the theory that the air around us was full of a combustible substance called phlogiston. He believed that too much phlogiston crowded out combustion.
Today we know that the absence of oxygen prevents combustion, not the congested presence of anything else. A collector of fossils, Kirwan lived only on ham and milk (ham is only cooked on Sundays) and he also had a pathological hatred of flies; inasmuch as he paid his servants a bounty for the dead. He also hated late guests to the point that he had the door knocker removed from the front door at 7 p.m. sharp every night.
Richard’s grandson would lose Cregg Castle in a game of poker to a member of another local family, the Blakes, whose coat of arms is today stamped on the black marble mantelpiece of the grand Hall.
Cregg was a tower house built either by Clement or Patrick Kirwan. Country house expert Mark Bence Jones estimated that it was the last fortified dwelling west of the Shannon to be converted into a country house. This process saw it enlarged with a large wing on each side.
One is as high as the original tower with a partly gabled facade and the other lower and crenellated. The Blakes sold in 1947 to Alexander Johnston, then it was purchased in 1972 by Martin and Margaret Murray, also then owners of the Salthill Hotel. Anne Marie and her husband Patrick then ran a guest house here until it was sold to the consortium.
With 175 adjoining acres, including pasture and mature woodland, the early 17th century castle is located 9 miles from Galway city centre.
It has an enclosed garden, a gate lodge and the new owners could revive the now expired hotel and golf planning permission. There is also a range of outbuildings and shops.
While Murray has made many of its rooms welcoming, others have remained untouched, a factor that has made it particularly attractive to photographers over the years.
There are too many accommodations here to list. It has more than 50 rooms and more than 20 others in its outbuildings. It comes with 12 bedrooms, many of which are ensuite. There is a traditional kitchen, a great hall, which doubles as a very large reception room, and many other receptions. The gate lodge has three bedrooms and Kirwan’s former private family chapel is still there.
Alan still hopes to maintain his connection to the building. “I am forever grateful to the owners for letting me fulfill this role over the past 10 years that I have had the honor of living at Cregg. So my kids love it too. And if the new owners want me do it, I will definitely be interested,” he says.
James Butler of Savills Country launches the international market, while Irish castle home specialist Helen Cassidy caters to Irish buyers.
While Ireland is blessed with many dusty old castles, Cregg must be unique among them, not least for the enjoyment it has provided to guests and the local community over the past decade.
As another castle-based big-screen scientist used to shout:
“It’s alive!! It’s alive!!”