Photographs by James Fennell.
Maintaining a big Georgian Irish country house is a famously time-consuming business. Every day presents a new hazard - dry rot in the rafters, jackdaws in the chimney, slates sliding off a roof, the sudden emergence of a major fault-line in a bedroom wall. An owner will find a large portion of his or her life sporadically dedicated to righting these wrongs. Jeremy and Merrie Green were well aware of such pitfalls when they moved into the house which Jeremy's father, Cyril Hall Green, a retired rubber planter from Malaya, had purchased in 1955. Located close to the village of Castlelyons in north County Cork, Ballyvolane ("the place of the springing heifers") was originally built in 1728 by Sir Richard Pyne, a retired Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. An amorous descendent, Jasper Pyne, acquired sufficient capital from his marriage to three wealthy women to have the house considerably enlarged in the early 19th century. It was during Jasper's era that the stables were added, the woodlands planted and the gardens and pleasure grounds laid out. The three-storey house was further modified in 1847 by Jasper's nephew and heir, George Pyne. He had the building pulled apart and then, by removing the top storey, recreated a two-storey house with an extensive west end wing. Under the roof in the attic, the blue and white wallpaper can still be seen in patches on the wall of one of the third storey rooms.
One perfectly sensible way of ensuring one's home is kept in a state of good repair is to make the state of one's house central to one's business. It was with this sort of philosophy in mind that the Greens decided to take the plunge in 1980 and open Ballyvolane as a guesthouse. Soon after the doors opened, visitors began flooding in to set up short-term residence and enjoy the Green's celebrated hospitality in between touring the locality and salmon fishing on the nearby Blackwater. However, the Greens were insistent that the house remain primarily a family home. And so, while international guests wandered around the house armed with fishing rods, large drinks and hire car keys, the Greens three young sons would gallop between their legs on hobby horses, hurley sticks and long-suffering Springer Spaniels. The combination of family home and exclusive accommodation worked well. In December 2003, Ballyvolane was selected by The Sunday Times as one of the Britain's top twenty great escapes.
The added charm of Ballyvolane is its owners. Jeremy Green acquires the fiery glint of an ancient shannachie when the subject of ghosts comes up. He has an arsenal of ghost stories; some charming and very funny, others spine-shiveringly spooky. A murder most foul took place at Ballyvolane in 1731 when the butler and a maid shot and stabbed an elderly man and his wife and made off with a chest full of valuables. An inconvenient gardener axed to death during their getaway is wont to appear before guests to this day. Since January 2004, the property has been managed by the next generation of the Green family: Jeremy and Merrie's eldest son Justin and his wife Jenny. This enigmatic couple have already enjoyed a fascinating career, working for some of the most prestigious hotels in Hong Kong, Dubai and Bali. Prior to their return to Ireland last autumn, they ran Somerset's highly acclaimed Babington House on behalf of London's Soho Club. Now comfortably ensconced in the family home, their four-year-old son Toby gallivants around the legs of the Blüthner grand piano in the pillared hall, where his father and uncles used to play thirty years earlier.
Today, the odd ghost aside, Ballyvolane and its surrounding demesne offer a sanctuary of immense peace and beauty. The spacious, bright bedrooms are perfectly appointed to bring a sense of tremendous ease to guests. Outside, the chorus of songbirds and the rustle of leaves. Donkeys and horses graze in the meadows. Kestrels and fantail doves swirl in the air. The occasional nimble-footed red squirrel leaps from tree to tree. And walking amid all this nature and serenity, one can quite understand why the Green family have every intention of keeping this a family home for many generations to come.