Aussie Rules for Killeavy Castle.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Aussie Rules for Killeavy Castle. thumbnail MICK Boyle, who along with his wife Robin, is behind the project to transform Killeavy Castle and estate into a four star hotel, spa and working farm.

IT is an Irish story that echoes down the ages.

A Father and Mother, in search of better opportunities, move with their young family to Australia.

And with characteristic vigour, and no little ability, that family makes good in their adopted country. Children gain Aussie accents, and adopt Aussie ways.

But the roots in the Irish soil are deep, the bonds between the exiles and family and friends unbreakable.

And so one of the children, now a successful man, spots an opportunity to make a difference in his native country, and grabs it with both hands.

That man is Mick Boyle, who, as the eldest child of Michael Boyle of Ayallogue and Pauline Rice of Fathom moved with his parents, and two younger siblings to Sydney in 1968. Mick was just four years old.

It took the family six weeks to make that journey, and Mick concedes that had they been able to afford the return journey, they probably would have returned immediately.

But they did not, and settling in western Sydney, the family would eventually flourish, with Michael and Pauline adding four more children to their brood.

Michael qualified as a civil engineer and established a successful building and construction company.

A regular visitor to Newry over the last 30 years with his wife Robin and their own four children, Mick and Robin bought Killeavy Castle in 2013, and have impressive and ambitious plans for developing the building and the land around it.

Colin O'Neill travelled out to meet Mick in the newly built gatelodge at the entrance to the property, and to find out more about the project.

Mick began by telling us a little about the previous owners of the building, which lies at the foot of Slieve Gullion.

"Killeavy Castle was originally a house that I think was built in the 1700s. It was a two storey building known as Killeavy Lodge," explained Mick.

"And then in the early 1800s, the Foxhall family, who were bankers in Newry, acquired Killeavy Lodge and carried out quite a lot of renovations. They converted the ground floor into a basement, added an upper floor and turned it into Killeavy Castle.

"The estate went up for sale again in the late 1800s and was eventually bought by the Bell family, who had it for, it must have been nearly 150 years. And then we bought it off one of the descendants of the Bells." There are three main aspects to the project that Mick and Robin will carry out.

"With the castle - towards the front - most of the structure is quite good," he said.

"Towards the back, it was falling down. Most of the wood is completely rotten right through. So, in essence, it was derelict and it's being structurally rebuilt.

"It will have four rooms of accommodation on the upper floor, and the ground floor will be returned to its original glory and be the focus point for functions. Behind it, there will be a marquee that will be able to accommodate 240 people.

"In the basement will be a bar that will have lots of nice nooks and great old features." The second strand of the project will incorporate the old farm buildings, which are just under a hundred metres from the castle, and linked by a tunnel, which will be retained as a quirky feature.

"It's going to be a 45 room, four star hotel and spa. The hotel will have a bar and restaurant, with views of the castle and lounge areas looking over the walled garden and estate," said Mick.

"The third element is to restore 150 acres of farmland and woods, which were also derelict, almost unusable.

"The farmland will then be a working farm. We have a small flock of cheviot sheep, and English longhorn cattle which we'll breed up for the estate.

"And the walled garden in the estate will have herbs, and one of the fields adjacent to the hotel will be for vegetables.

"So, we will be able to provide a farm to plate experience." After outlining his vision, which Mick says will become a reality by the end of 2018, he also tells me that his plans are about much more than mere commercialism.

"I don't think that an international investor would have bothered with this, if they didn't have a local connection," insisted Mick.

"There are a lot of easier places in the world to invest.

"But the place is amazing, the history is amazing, it's so beautiful.

"Australia has been very good to me. I've got lots of family and friends here, but it would have been much easier for me to have invested in Australia.

"I'm a builder foremost and bringing these old buildings back to life is an interesting thing for me to do." Mick and Robin's passionate desire for this endeavour will also create around 100 jobs, and they are anxious to get it absolutely right.

"Doing something like this - the way it usually happens is that the person who is in ourposition gets carried away and spends too much," he said.

"They then go broke and the next person buys it for about half of what the initial person spent and then they do really well.

"So, I'm trying to not let that happen. I'm not that altruistic," added Mick with a smile.

"It's going to be good for the area, I think it will be the symbol of Newry. Between this and Slieve Gullion, it'll be what Newry becomes known for."


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