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Copyright 2004 Financial Times Information
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Copyright 2004 Irish Independent  
Irish Independent

May 3, 2004

LENGTH: 1515 words

HEADLINE: INSIDE DOLLY'S PLAYHOUSE

BODY:


A pink pool table? Lyrics of 'Zombie' in stained glass? Country house expert Marianne Heron visits Dolores O'Riordan's mansion, on the market for Euro 3m, to see the changing face of rural style

Whether it's a Becksian bling palace or an old-fashioned landed gentry pile, the same rule applies: the bigger the mansion the louder it talks.

When it comes to embellishing their palatial pads, however, Ireland's newly wealthy dosome things rather differently than their musty, tweedy predecessors. Take down those old masters and hang an Andy Warhol on the wall instead. Clear the deer park and bringin a few Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gentleman in possession of a fortune mustbe in want of a wife," wrote Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice . Today her observation could be amended to: "A star in possession of a fortune must be in want ofan estate."

Pride still features in the new plot. Just as Mr Darcy's reputation was enhanced by the magnificence of Pemberly, so stars buy fine properties as status symbols and, as theascendancy once did, they put their own distinctive stamp on them.

And as for prejudice, well, it's no longer a question of class but something far more divisive. Taste.

Hoofer Michael Flatley, who ostentatiously splashed out Euro 30 million on listed statelymansion Castle Hyde, is a gleaming, freshly oiled example of the new-moneycashocracy.

Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan and husband Don Burton are another. Theyavoided the planning pitfalls Flatley tapdanced into, but still bought a stableload of status when they acquired Riversfield Stud five years ago.

Situated just a few miles from where Dolores grew up, in the limestone-rich area where the horse is king, the property counts as its neighbours JP McManus's prestigious Martinstown Stud and Mount Coote Stud, to which Colin Powell traces his ancestral roots.

Riversfield, which boasts 150 acres of fine pasture, a gallop, an orchard, a stableyardwith 18 loose boxes, minus thoroughbreds, and the Ballyhoura Mountains as a gorgeousbackdrop, is now on the market for Euro 3 million.

Dolores and Don want to live nearer to Dublin so they can jet off to his native Canada that bit quicker.

The brochure from joint agents HOK and Knight Frank informs us that "the property has been the subject of a major refurbishment by present owners, being thoughtfully designedfor modern day living, allowing for excellent entertaining".

Plus ca change. Tullynally Castle was remodelled by successive generations ofPackenhams until it became the largest castellated mansion in Ireland, changing fromcastle to mansion and then back to Gothicised castle again.

The fact that Riversfield's original house was run down gave Dolly and Don carte blancheto remodel the property on a scale that would have made a gout-stricken 18th centurygrandee convulse with glee.

There is a crucial difference, though, in spending priorities. Two centuries ago the budgetmight have been blown on plasterwork and parkland. At Chez Dollydon, however, there was major spending on entertainment and technology. In fact the whole house is geared to entertainment, both for adults and children.

Take the bars, for instance, three in all. Nestling beside the dining room is a well-stockedcurvilinear bar in Canadian oak. It has a stained glass pelmet adorned with images of a grizzly bear and leaping salmon.

The second bar is in the pizza room, beside the large, specially cooled wine cellar with its well-filled racks and cigar cabinet. The third is an outdoor bar, circular and thatched and situated in the entertainment area, which also features a barbequeue, a bandstand and a play castle for the children.

Some aspects of the property, such as the panelled library with an eclectic collection ofbooks ranging from Dorling Kindersley to bound volumes of a guide to English law(ahem!), haven't changed ... at least not too much.

The billiard room, which would have been regarded as an essential entertainmentaccessory for a typical Edwardian gentleman, is still there -- although not in any form saidEdwardian gent would have recognised.

Curiously, the walls are painted baize green, yet the baize covering the pool table is a shocking pink. A pint-sized Harley Davidson sits in a corner, as though awaiting apint-sized Gay Byrne to mount it, while yet more Canadian animals cavort in the stained glass lighting.

The stained glass window in the staircase hall, once a favourite device for displaying the family crest or depicting some act of heroism (at Kilruddery, for example, a Brabazon ancestor is depicted as William the Conqueror's standard bearer), has survived.

Dolores, however, has opted to emblazon her window with the lyrics of her song 'Zombie' ... "It's the same old theme since 1916. In your head, in your head they'restill fighting, With their tanks and their bombs, And their bombs and their guns..."

William the Conquerer would have run a mile from that.

Once a upon a time, if you wanted to exhibit your taste, you simply had to have one or the other of the following: an art collection, such as the one housed in the purpose-builtdrawing room at Newbridge House, Donabate, or a folly, like the extraordinary sham-ruin 'The Jealous Wall', built by Lord Belfield at Belvedere, Co Westmeath.

But who needs art or follies when you can have your own purpose-built recording studiowith roll-up doors, an office and kitchens?

And surely a display of Cranberries gold discs is more dazzling to behold than the spoilsof the Grand Tour, no?

In centuries past, stables, like the magnificent ones designed by James Gandon atCarrigglas Manor, fulfilled the same purpose as garages full of flash cars do today.

At Riversfield there is a garage courtyard with three double garages. Mind you, there isn'ta jeep to be seen, other than the brightly coloured kiddie models.

One thing aspiring upwardly mobile ancestors did not have was technology (unless youcount the convenience of prototype central heating and telegraph systems installed at Tullynally Castle for the Packenhams by inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth).

The technology at Riversfield is impressive; 16 security cameras (one of them located in the nursery) with a control centre have taken the place of watchful eyes at the gate lodge. There is a massive water filtration system for both mains and well water (we wouldn't want dirty water soiling those vocal chords).

There's a large plant room to house the commercial-sized De Dietrich boiler. The entirehouse is wired for sound, with a control centre straight out of Star Wars and ducting cleverly hidden inside hollowed-out beams in the music room.

Bears are a recurring theme. There's another one in the music room - a stuffed polar bear that gazes down upon a polar bear rug.

Once-living animals from the Canadian wilderness seem to rule the roost. A moosehead surveys the collection of Waterford Glass in a cabinet built into the gleaming Canadian Oak panelling of the dining room.

If hunting and shooting once kept gentry fit, then the contemporary equivalent is a gym and swim regime. Both are available on site at Riversfield. Two rooms filled with exercisemachines are housed in a special complex with dressing room attached, and a heatedindoor pool with solarium and steam room.

Today's cashocracy have a couple of opportunities to spend their money on things that their forerunners didn't. Bathrooms didn't feature at all until the 1870s and who cared what the kitchen was like when the servants did the cooking?

At Riversfield, the showpiece tailor-made kitchen with black marble floor, graniteworktops, cherry wood cabinets and top of the range Gaggenau appliances and glass dolphins etched in the windows probably cost as much as your average first house.

The en suite master bedroom has something of the eclat excited by the Earl of Belmore's extravagant Regency entrance hall at Castle Coole near Enniskillen, complete with classical peat-burning stoves.

With marble floors, a jacuzzi with a fireplace above it, a Hollywood-style dressing table and a huge walk-in closet, the master offers deluxe pampering.

If there's anything here that could be described as a collection, it's Dolores's clothes,which take up a bedroom of their very own. By the standards of today's Princesses ofBling, this is hardly an over-the-top indulgence - and nothing compared to theacquisitive habits of Lord Berehaven, the original shopaholic, who sent home European artefacts by the shipload and enlarged Bantry House to accommodate them.

Historically, children were seen but not heard. You'd be hard pressed to hear Dolly and Don's kids, for they seem to have a mini-world to themselves.

A community of soft toys resides under their beds; their bathroom has a kid-sized loo anda corner jacuzzi, and their pets include ponies, a wolfhound and an old English sheepdog.

The children's playhouse is a converted stable ... something that would surely havefrightened the horses in the old days.

JOURNAL-CODE: FII

LOAD-DATE: May 3, 2004