HUNDREDS of visitors have experienced the mystery and mystique of one of County Limerick’s most impressive properties, Castle Oliver, since it opened its door to the public two weeks ago.
And such has been the response to the public tours that the castle owners have decided to continue the tours for the rest of this week and then every weekend until the end of September.
“That’s the reason we extended it - we are just so overwhelmed by the amount of people coming here, it’s unbelievable,” said Emma Cormack after she finished taking the last tour of the day around the castle last Friday afternoon.
“We have had people from all over the world - Canadians, Germans, Australians and Americans.”
Emma and her husband Declan purchased the property in 2006. While the castle had been up for sale in recent times, it is now off the market with the family deciding to continue dividing their time between Ardpatrick and their other base in County Antrim.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Ballyhoura mountain range, the magnificent castle is set on 15 acres of prime Golden Vale land and built in the Scottish Baronial style.
The tour begins in the Clondofoy entrance hall with St Patrick’s stain glass windows overhead where Emma imparts some statistics. There are over 365 windows in the castle and 108 rooms!
“Even the room for the dry toilet off the library is classed as a room,” she explains.
Moving down the hallway, the tour takes in the library, and then the billiards room complete with mounted deer heads, a billiards table originally from Kilworth Army Barracks and a hidden television.
“There are a couple of hidden televisions and secret doorways throughout the castle,” says Emma before directing the guests to the castle’s piece de resistance – the ballroom.
Bathed in natural light from the south facing windows, the expansive room complete with draping curtains, crystal chandeliers, fresh flowers, and beautifully framed portraits offers a spectacular view of the Ballyhoura mountain range.
In the corner, a large, old door is opened back to reveal the candle-lit dining room complete with a baby grand piano and an antique table that sits 22. “We couldn’t get a table anywhere,” reveals Emma, as the touring party continues to drink in their breath-taking surroundings.
“We couldn’t go to your normal hardware store to get one that size,” she says, pointing at the long, dark wooden centrepiece.
“We had a couple of people on the lookout but we couldn’t get one anywhere and then we got one at probably the most famous auction in the world at the minute. Can anybody think of what it’s called?”
“Sothebys?,” comes one suggestion. “No, it begins with E,” Emma teases. “eBay!” offers another, who is proved correct.
“A lady had it and she was selling it on eBay and she had a second-hand receipt of it dated 1898. It sounded too good to be true but she did, she sent it over.”
In the dining room, a minute part of a stencilled wall with crests of the original family remain. The Cormacks engaged artist Pat Conroy to decorate the remaining walls which involved the stencilling, by hand, of 4,000 motifs.
“It took 11 months - roughly around 500 hours,” explains Pat, who also painted 600 stars on the ceiling.
The tour proceeds to the grand staircase, passing a suit of armour and then into a number of four-poster bedrooms. One of the beds, weighing half a tonne, is a replica of one the King of Denmark owned.
“The floor had to be reinforced to hold the bed,” Emma explains.
All beds are dressed in crisp Egyptian cotton sheets and the bedrooms have a unique bathroom, with his and hers sinks and a double slipper bath tub.
Taking a glance out the window, Emma’s attention is drawn to the 5ft stone griffins keeping vigil below. The griffins, she explains, were delayed in arriving due to heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne.
“Sharon was getting Ozzy a fountain made for New Year’s, by the same man making our griffins so we had to wait,” she smiles before the visitors make their way to the last stop on the tour - the wine cellar, the largest in Ireland with a capacity to hold 55,000 bottles.
Ballyorgan native Breda McCarthy nee Nunan has made the trip from Midleton where she now lives to be at the castle for today’s tour. “The work that has been put into it is incredible, and the detail,” she remarks. “They really did a terrific job on it. Heating it would be my big problem,” she smiles.
The tours continue until this Sunday, each day at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm and will continue every weekend until the end of September.