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It’s open House in Bantry again

April 19th, 2024 7:00 AM

By Martin Claffey

It’s open House in Bantry again Image
The view from the top of the terraced garden to Bantry House, with Bantry Bay in the background.

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Renovations have been taking place at historic Bantry House as its opens to the public for 2024, and its bond to the locality is stronger than ever, writes MARTIN CLAFFEY

THE doors of Bantry House are open for a new season, and manager Julie Shelswell-White says they hope to attract 30,000 visitors over the coming months.

Work is due to be completed in mid-April on the west loggia of Bantry House. The loggia is a gallery-style room open to the garden. Extensive renewal, roof works, and specialist craftworks have taken place, which will allow visitors to enjoy summer afternoons looking out to Bantry Bay.

Work taking place on the loggia on the west side of Bantry House. The works will be complete in time for visitors to enjoy over the summer months.

 

Funding for the project was aided by €200,000 granted last year for the urgent repair works through the Historic Structures Fund (HSF), providing employment to local heritage craftsmen.

Keeping it local is something that’s part of the ethos of Bantry House.

‘We have around 20 people working in the house when the season is up and running, and they are from around Bantry,’ explains Julie.
They work in a variety of roles, from the garden, to the tea room, to hosting tours of the house – which Julie herself hosts sometimes.

‘We also try to get local suppliers for the food. We use Clonakilty pudding in the Bed & Breakfast, beautiful eggs from West Cork eggs, and cheese from Durrus and Gubeen.’

Two young visitors make their way up the famed 100 steps.

 

Bantry House is a family business that has developed from its grand origins.

Originally built early in the 18th century, the house was developed by the second Earl of Bantry Richard White in the 19th century. The house survived the War of Independence, and indeed was a hospital for the injured from both sides during the Civil War.

Bantry House was first opened to the public in the 1940s, but it was Julie’s late father Egerton Shelswell White and her mother Brigitte who set about the great restoration of Bantry House, after Egerton inherited Bantry House in 1978.

The East Wing of the House was restored to be used as Bed and Breakfast accommodation in 1987 and a restoration of the gardens began in 1998.

Now, as she grows older, Julie realises how lucky she was to have the original working from home. ‘The great thing about growing up in the house was parents were always around. My dad might be doing something in the House and my mother could be outside in the garden but they were always there,’ she said.

Egerton died in 2012 and by that time Brigitte had begun getting her children involved in running the house. Julie’s sister Sophie used to run the house but Julie has now been manager for the last seven years, though her siblings and mother Brigitte remain active on the direction and future plans for Bantry House.

The terraced garden with its fountain surrounded by wisteria, leading to the 100 steps, is inspired by the great gardens of Italy and France. ‘If you get the feeling that you’re in Italy when you’re looking down on the garden, then the Second Earl got it right,’ said Julie.

Weddings are now an integral part of the calendar at Bantry House.

Ahakista resident and TV star Graham Norton held his nuptials in the house, and though Julie doesn’t comment on individuals, she does say some guests add a touch of stardust.

‘It can be exciting, when celebrities do arrive at the house and it does bring a bit of glamour,’ says Julie.

But at its heart these days at Bantry House is its place in the community. Less Downton, more down town.

Since 1998, Bantry House plays a key part in two of the town’s music festivals, the West Cork Choral Festival and the Masters of Tradition festival, while some events in the Literary Festival also take place here.

‘We’re very grateful to West Cork Music, and proud to be part of it,’ said Julie.

‘We’re also so grateful to the friends of Bantry House – the people who take out memberships for the gardens and house every year.’

The House also hosts many other community events, like the acclaimed Halloween festival, which returns this year.

After more than 400 years, Bantry House is more a part of the community than ever before.

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