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Preparations for Body And Soul Festival at the privately owned Ballinlough Castle last year. Sam Boal
open door policy

'It's disruptive, but in a good way': Meet the Irish families whose homes double as festival venues

“A month later, you’d hardly know anyone had been here, except for the odd cable tie.”

WOULD YOU HOST a music festival in your house? Most people would balk at the notion, terrified by the idea of handing their gaff over to merry revellers armed with glitter and cans.

Yet there is a cohort of Irish homeowners who are more than happy to hand their properties over to music festivals every year.

Many of the major summer festivals, including Electric Picnic and Body & Soul, take place on sites that are technically private residences.

Zoe and Roland Purcell know a little something about lending their house to a festival. The couple live in Killyon Manor, Co. Meath. The 18th century house serves as the venue for Another Love Story, a three-day long boutique music and arts festival that takes place every August.

“My husband inherited the manor after a tragic accident in the family,” explains Zoe.

He and I were living and working in Tanzania in East Africa at the time, so Roland’s mother took charge of the property for quite a while. About ten years ago, we returned to take over.

Initially, the couple were naive about what supporting and maintaining an old country house would actually entail. As Zoe recalls:

We thought we could run the place with our eyes closed. Having been running a major bush safari company with a string of tented camps and a big workforce, we were used to relatively large scale hospitality and overcoming logistical challenges on a daily basis.

The pair soon learnt what they’d gotten themselves in for. “How wrong we were,” says Zoe.

The house and estate had become somewhat dilapidated and overgrown due to years of what Purcell describes as “benevolent neglect”. The couple conducted a detailed sustainability study on the house and arrived at a rather dramatic conclusion.

“The house was utterly unsustainable,” says Purcell. “Its only hope was introducing a life-saving circulation, which possibly a large number of people could bring.”

They decided to open the house to events, billing it as an alternative big house. “To be honest we couldn’t think of what else we were going to do,” recalls Purcell.

It was way too quiet for us all alone. So we unlocked the gates, turned on the lights and waited to see who and what showed up.

“I don’t know whether we were just incredibly lucky, or whether it was simply testament to the miracles that happen when you offer up your trust, but the most amazing people showed up, and continue to show up.”

“With their imaginative, kind and enthusiastic support, Killyon Manor hasn’t looked back. Neither have we.”

In 2014, the estate hosted the first Another Love Story. The festival, organised by Homebeat and Happenings, describes itself as a “bespoke weekender of music, art, whimsy and fun”. The ballroom serves as the main stage and attendees are invited to camp on the estate, within spitting distance of the house.

Was Purcell at all reticent about hosting a festival?

“The decision to have a festival here seems rather reckless in retrospect,” she says. “But at the heart of this festival is a sound core of really good, mindful and fun-loving people who make the event a positive experience every year.”

It’s disruptive, but mostly in a good way. A big old place like this needs the cobwebs to be blown away and the roof lifted every now and again. It’s mad how much the festival breathes life into the place.

“Within a month, apart from the odd cable-tie and a vaguely warm feeling inside, you’d hardly imagine anyone had been here.”

Another festival due to take place in a private property this summer is All Together Now. It’s a new entrant to the summer festival lineup and is due to take place in Curraghmore House, an estate in Portlaw, Co. Waterford.

The house sits on 2,500 acres, making it the largest private demesne in Ireland. It is currently occupied by Lord Waterford and his family.

“I have owned Curraghmore since the passing of my father three years ago,” explains Lord Waterford. “It has been in the family for 800 years.”

Since taking over the estate, Lord Waterford has sought to make it more open to the public, a decision that was in part motivated by the financial realities of running the estate:

It is nice to share the estate with people but it is also becoming a very good revenue stream for the estate. When I took over we were losing money and had to create additional income to survive.

All Together Now represents the estate’s first foray into festival land. It’s a significantly larger undertaking than Another Love Story with 10,000 expected to attend. Acts performing include Fleet Foxes, Underworld, Roisin Murphy, First Aid Kit and Chaka Khan.

Lord Waterford concedes that it’s new territory for Curraghmore, but is hopeful it will go off without a hitch.

“It is fairly daunting and quite worrying to host an event like this but hopefully we will have good weather and it will go off okay,” he says. “We have a very good relationship with the promoter and are working together to give all the visitors to the festival a really good experience.”

And can fans expect to see the Lord himself giving it socks?

Definitely, I will be going.

More Culture: The Bride St plaques featuring stories of life in Dublin 8

More Culture: 12 photos showing run-down Dublin buildings in a brand new light

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