Inspired by a Countess: Inside the Kilkenny home designed to fit in its 'model village'

Inspired by a Countess: Inside the Kilkenny home designed to fit in its ‘model village’

Caney Lodge, Talbot’s Inch, Freshford Road, Co Kilkenny Asking price: €1.495m Agent: Savills Country Agency (01) 663 4350

ileen Duggan was not impressed when husband Richard took her to see the site he had in mind for their new home at Talbot’s Inch on the banks of the Nore around Kilkenny City.

She thought he was crazy. “It was literally in the middle of dense woodlands. You couldn’t see beyond the trees, and it was on a hill. I couldn’t see the potential that he could,” she says.

Undoubtedly, developing a house on the site had attractions and challenges.

In many ways some of them mirrored those faced by an extraordinary woman, The Countess Desart, Lady Ellen Odette Cuffe, who was instrumental in the design and construction of the distinctive neighbouring village of Talbot’s Inch a century previous.

The location of the site beside the Nore within walking distance of Kilkenny City had obvious advantages. However, the dense woodlands and proximity to the famously ornate model village built at Countess Desart’s behest in 1906, presented two distinct challenges — how to build a house that was sympathetic to both.

The Duggans engaged architect Nicky Fewer of Harrington and Partners, Waterford to help them create a modern home, built to a traditional design and attempting to reflect the character of Talbot’s Inch Village itself, where almost every original home is its own ornate distinctive landmark.

The result is the 5,400 sq ft Caney Lodge which has just been placed for sale with a guide price of €1.495m.

The village of Talbot’s Inch is an example of a ‘model village’ or a ‘garden village’ and is typical of social and architectural experiments undertaken by certain philanthropic industrialists and landowners in the latter part of the 19th century.


The countess: Lady Ellen Odette Cuffe (Desart)

It was the brainchild of Lady Ellen Odette Cuffe, a dynamic character born in London and daughter of Henri Louis Bischoffsheim, a Jewish German banker credited with founding no less than three of the world’s largest modern banks: Deutsche Bank, Paribas and Société Générale. In 1881 she married Kilkenny landowner William Cuffe, the Fourth Earl of Desart and became known as Lady Desart.

She threw herself into the social, political and cultural life of her adopted homeland. Along with her brother-in-law, Captain Otway Cuffe she became involved in the Gaelic League and a range of philanthropic endeavours including Kilkenny Library, Aut Even Hospital, the Woollen Mills, Kilkenny Theatre and Kilkenny Woodworkers, among others. Lady Cuffe also wanted to improve the living conditions of workers employed at the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company and the Greenvale Woollen Mills in the vicinity and took on the building of the village of Talbot’s Inch in 1906.


The garden terrace and rear of the house

The houses were built to the design of William Alphonsus Scott and were typical of the Arts and Crafts style popular in new artisan villages being developed in England at that time as part of a movement to support craftworkers and artists.

At Talbot’s Inch they built 26 houses designed to be different from each other while having certain common stylistic elements. Set at both sides of a village green some were in semi-detached pairs and others were arranged in a terrace. Originally thatched, the roofs were subsequently replaced with tiles arranged in a diagonal pattern.

In recognition of her commitment to the Gaelic League and her work in Kilkenny, Lady Desart was appointed to the first Seanad Éireann in 1922 and is today numbered among the cohort of key women public representatives of the new state. She was also the first Jewish representative to serve in the Senate.


Eileen and Richard Duggan with Pixie and Bella

Eileen and Richard Duggan were very conscious of this heritage and wanted to nod to the elaborate Arts and Crafts style homes of Talbot’s Inch when it came to building Caney Lodge.
“We went to a few architects before we found the particular one that really got what we were talking about, Nicky Fewer of Fewer Harrington & Partners. He had actually designed many of the houses in Mount Juliet, so he could see what we were looking for,” says Eileen Duggan.

“He adopted much of the architectural design in the older houses in the village to make this house appear a lot older than it actually is.

“He did an amazing job in the detail. He took the style that was there in the Arts and Crafts design, like the idea of pitched roofs, and he just modernised it slightly. But it was still in keeping with that era, which we felt was really, really important.”

External features reflecting village design include a pitched roof, brickwork flourishes, a curved roof brow with natural slate, limestone sills and the fine detail in the window designs. Internal Arts and Crafts features include custom ironmongery and panelling with dado rail throughout.


The hallway and reception room

While keeping a firm eye on the designs of a century ago the architect and builders also managed to deliver a building with an energy rating of A3. Underfloor heating on the ground floor and radiators in the upper floors is generated by a geothermal system sourcing its heat from one of the wells 500 feet under the site, an underground stream feeding the river Nore.

“There was a lot of thought put in to ensuring it was built to the highest quality with regard to sustainability,” Eileen explains. “We have two wells, one for our own drinking system and one for the geothermal heating system.

Sustainability and sympathy with the local environment also extended to the garden. “We brought in a local garden designer because we wanted to make sure whatever we did was very much in keeping with the Arts and Crafts garden of the time,” she says.


The kitchen with an electric Aga

The Duggans maintained many of the fine stands of trees present on the original site and, after the house was built, new woodland vegetation and flowers appeared. “The place was beautiful, wild woodland flowers that we had never seen because of the trees appeared once the light got in. Suddenly new plants and vegetation began appearing every year.”

Caney Lodge is a modern four-bedroom family home built in 2008 on 2.5ac.
A driveway leads from a red-brick pillared entrance through the old woodland to a clearing with the house on the left and the River Nore on the right.

Limestone steps and paving lead to double front doors that open to an entrance hall centred around an oak staircase.


Another view of the front of the property

Double doors lead on to the living room centred around a marble fireplace while through a further set of double doors is the garden terrace. An archway opens to the formal dining room featuring a Kilkenny marble fireplace.

The kitchen, connected to an informal family room, to the garden terrace and the dining room, comes with an electric Aga and Neff appliances while a box bay window lets in plenty of daylight. Close beside it is a boot room and a utility. The family room has a solid-fuel stove, and double doors to the garden while other downstairs spaces include an office with a private terrace.

The first floor has three large ensuite bedrooms, two of which open out onto a rear south-facing balcony. There’s a substantial attic space. Outdoors there is a garden shed wired for electricity.

“We’ve had 13 wonderful years rearing a family here,” Eileen says, “we have four children, two girls and two boys, and they just had the most magnificent childhood reared in the midst of the countryside and yet on the doorstep of the city.
“We’ve our own access to the river from the site leading to the riverwalk, a walkway with public lighting that brings us all the way along the river into the city.”

Caney Lodge is on offer through Savills for €1.495m.

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