DescriptionA splendid and most distinguished Irish 18th-century mansion positioned within a remarkable and ancient woodland demesne of over 1,000 acres.
Abbey Leix is one of the most venerable 18th-century houses in Ireland and, following a spectacular restoration, it is also one of the most congenial. In any list of important Irish country houses Abbey Leix has a prominent place. The late-18th-century mansion, clothed in the Italianate manner in 1859-60, enjoys a remarkable position within a private estate comprising some 1,120 acres and includes some of Ireland’s most notable remaining ancient woodland and extensive frontage to the River Nore. The accommodation is grand and beautifully executed with the mansion comprising some 26,910 square feet or 2,500 square metres. The mansion is augmented by 10 lodges and cottages on the estate.
Abbey Leix was designed in 1773 by the noted architect James Wyatt. The house is an elegant three-storey Classical mansion of seven bays, the three central bays under a triangular pediment. The arrangement of rooms is elegant and simple, with three major rooms on the park front. There is a deep hall, with a screen of columns separating it from the east-west-running staircase hall and corridor. The music room at the south-eastern corner of the house retains the light, decorative plasterwork for which Wyatt was so admired. Plaster roundels framed by swags of husks were decorated with grisaille by the artist De Gree a few years after completion, probably about 1785.
In the middle of the 19th-century the Italianate character was adopted and the great Classical library and a conservatory were added. At the same time the front of the house was enclosed within an Entrance Court with terraces added to the rear. A comprehensive and sympathetic restoration was undertaken in 1995. The whole north-west corner of the accommodation was redesigned to provide a new family room (out of rooms subdivided in the 1966), kitchen, and butler’s pantry. A new state dining room was created out of two-thirds of the original library, the remainder now comprising a smaller library. A considerable programme of conservation of the major rooms followed. The works create a 21st-century family home with an appropriate balance between comfort and informality on the one hand and grandeur for entertaining and the display of art on the other.
Abbey Leix has one of the most important collections of trees in Ireland. Whereas elsewhere in Ireland the primeval forests of oak, birch, alder and willow have been almost entirely depleted, the woods on Park Hill across the river from the house are among the last surviving remnants of Ireland’s ancient woodland. Abbey Leix, like so many places in Ireland, owes its origins to religious settlement, and specifically to the French Cistercian monks who came to Ireland in the mid-12th-century. An ancient stone bridge on the estate, known as Monk’s Bridge, marks where they located their abbey. The present demesne evolved out of the monastery’s granges, woods and fields. One tree, the oldest oak in Ireland still survives from this period. The de Vesci family fashioned a landscape as beautiful as the house they built during their ownership between 1675 and 1995.
A stud farm is positioned within the original farmstead and includes an attractive range of cut-stone outbuildings. A beautiful principal yard, complete with a clock tower, was built of local limestone in 1822. The quadrangular yard contains 24 loose boxes. A separate farmyard has a range of farm sheds. The farmland provides good grazing. The limestone soil is highly fertile and ideal for rearing and keeping bloodstock, being well laid out in gently undulating fields and paddocks. The lands are well sheltered by the surrounding woodland. Positioned centrally within the estate the house is quiet and private, the wooded drive being c. 1 mile long.
“As few places elsewhere, Abbey Leix gives a sense of the longue durée of Irish history. Having been home to French Monks, O’More Princes, Ormonde Earls, de Vesci Viscounts, and a Welsh Knight, the house, its park and woods form a microcosm of our past.” William Laffan, 2017.