through the keyhole

Life experience: I lived as a house-sitter in Charlie Haughey's mansion ... it was pretty tacky

There was a LOT of green going on — and, intriguingly, a locked room full of paperwork.

THERE WERE CLAIMS, back in 2012, that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi once stayed in Charlie Haughey’s palatial Kinsealy manor.

Margaret Thatcher, it was said, also once stopped by for a visit at the north Dublin mansion.

Estate agents Savills made the VIP assertions as they sought to offload the property for some €7.5 million — but were forced to backtrack, after the Haughey family said neither the Colonel nor the Iron Lady had ever taken tea with ‘the Boss’ at Abbeville.

With its own helicopter pad, stables, indoor equestrian centre, swimming pool, and 247 acres of park and woodland — the Georgian mansion was Charles Haughey’s home from 1969, when he was Finance Minister, until his death in June 2006.

With 14 bedrooms — there certainly would have been plenty of room to put up any visiting world leader for a long-weekend…

Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

In the years after the downturn, however, it also served as a temporary home for a number of ‘live-in guardians’ recruited by property managers Camelot.

At one point, as many as 200 people were living in disused hotels, warehouses, former garda stations and schools across the country as part of deals with the firm.

As part of the agreements, the tenants or ‘guardians’ are offered knock-down rent rates to stay in the buildings, keep them in habitable shape, and deter vandals.

From the property-owner’s point-of-view, such arrangements can mean a huge discount on insurance bills, and offer a significant saving compared to the cost of hiring live-in security or CCTV systems.

One such ‘guardian’ who lived in Haughey’s former mansion spoke to this afternoon on condition of anonymity.

His overall impression?

A lot of green. There was a LOT of green going on. There were only carpets and wallpapers left really when we were there — but it was very nouveau riche. Quite tacky, and very 1980s.

Savills Savills

The guardians were briefly allowed a look at the two more opulent ‘state rooms’ as they moved in — but the rooms were out of bounds for the rest of their stay.

There was also a “non-functional sauna that we weren’t allowed access to” —  and, intriguingly, “a locked-off room with quite a lot of paperwork”.

Then again, there was a lot of stuff going on to do with management of the property at the time, and there was also a caretaker there — so the paperwork may well have been to do with that.

The swimming pool, at that point, was “boarded over” and the heli-pad had long since been taken-over by long grass and weeds.

Savills Savills

Elsewhere, there was a “room that had clearly been used at one point for awards — it was full of empty display cases”.

A full-size snooker table was left in situ in one of the larger rooms, while there was also a private bar, with “7 or 8 barstools” and a few taps.

“There were still horses being kept on the estate too — and a few pheasants that were apparently being looked after.”

I found it odd that there were quite a few shotgun shells around — in the house… But then the estate was run as a farm, so maybe that wasn’t so unusual.

Not the average sort of house-share arrangement you might find advertised online, then.

Charles Haughey sale A bust of Charles Haughey by John Haugh at Adam's Showrooms during a sale of paintings and sculpture from Abbeville in 2009. PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Haughey had clearly left his personal stamp on the James Gandon-designed mansion, the guardian told us.

There was a real sense of the great dictator… You’d wonder why people weren’t asking themselves how someone in such a position could have afforded something so preposterously high and grand.

The former Taoiseach offloaded the estate to Manor Park Homes in 2003 to pay off outstanding tax bills for a reported €45 million. As part of the deal, Haughey and his wife Maureen were allowed to continue living there.

Eamon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Eamon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

The company had intended to develop the grounds into a hotel and golf course but went into receivership before it could start any development.

It was eventually sold for some €5.5 million in November of 2013. The Sunday Business Post reported earlier this month that it was now owned by a Cufbay Limited —- a company run by former ambassador to Japan Brendan Scannell and Fergus O’Tierney, a former partner with KPMG.

Read: House-sitters bunk down in hotels, pubs and convents to keep vandals at bay

In picture: Haughey’s former mansion at Abbeville on sale for €7.5 million > 

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