End of era as Guinness family puts pounds 15m mansion on market

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The Independent Online
A MAGNIFICENT stately home owned by the Guinness family is expected to be sold for pounds 15 million - 75 times more than the figure the mansion was valued at seven years ago.

The sale of the 24-bedroom stone house in Dublin, which has been in the Guinness family for 126 years, marks the end of an era of aristocratic living in Ireland.

One of the finest country homes in Ireland, Farmleigh lies in a 78-acre estate, with its own lake, swimming pool, a Dutch garden, stables and a clock tower, close to the centre of Dublin. The Portland stone mansion was valued at IRpounds 200,000 after the death of the third Earl of Iveagh, Benjamin Guinness, in 1992.

Since then, the 1881 house has been used infrequently by the stout-brewing family and now the present Earl, Edward Guinness, has decided to sell.

Farmleigh was acquired in 1873 by the strongly Unionist brewing chief Edward Cecil Guinness, grandson of the stout empire's founder, whopaid pounds 11,000 for the property.

Lying near the River Liffey on the edge of the Dublin's Pheonix Park, the three-story house offered 24 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, a large ballroom built from imported Carrara marble and a two-storey library.

By the turn of the century the Guinnesses were rivalling even the newspaper tycoon Randolph Hearst in their house-buying fever. For London seasons they had their grand residence at Grosvenor Place to entertain royalty, in the country there was Elvedon, their 17,000 acre spread in East Anglia, and for Cowes week the comfort of two luxury yachts.

In Ireland they had bought Ashford Castle in Mayo, which is now a five- star hotel, and Iveagh House, in Dublin city centre. Thereafter, the common remark that "Guinness have done a lot for Dublin" prompted writer Brendan Behan, one of the brewery's bigger customers, to reply tartly: "Well, Dublin has done a lot for Guinness".

Today Farmleigh is one of a declining number of Irish stately homes to survive as a private home and not to be converted into a luxury country house hotel or government headquarters. But the house is too big for the fourth Earl, who will, however, continue farming land around the property.

Suggestions that Farmleigh might become an official residence for the Irish premier seem unlikely. The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is famous for his frugal habits and after revelations of extravagance by his predecessor Charles Haughey, he may not want to risk a similar backlash from an angry electorate.

The estate agents Hamilton Osborne King said that Farmleigh would fetch "substantially in excess of pounds 10 million".