Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Loughcrew is For Sale

Loughcrew is up for sale, a cool 5.8 million euros.


The Naper family have lived at Loughcrew in Oldcastle, Co Meath since the 16th century which has included taking over stewardship of the large network of the remains of over 50 passage cairns and stone circles the predate both Newgrange and Stonehenge. The preserved cairns, known as Cairn L and Cairn T are perhaps the most famous.


Cairn T is open to the public and is now very popular due to its preservation of one of the best collections of megalithic art in Europe. Inside this cairn are 16 large stones with carved arrangements of sun positions, moon positions, star charts and stories told. During a sunny equinox sunrise a beam of light lights a sun symbol on a stone and then travels through an arc of sun symbols as the sun rises, a spectacular site.


Cairn L was closed to the public about 20 years ago, but is the most spectacular, to me, because of its function. There is not the collection of art as in Cairn T but a free standing quartz standing stone lights up like a torch on a sunny Samhain and Imbolc sunrise. This light is diverted into a mysterious chamber with a large bath-like stone with holes. In Ireland’s National Museum are what limestone balls that once fitted into these holes.


From Cairn L is the source of the Yellow River that runs by Athboy and Hill of Tlachtga into the Boyne. In ancient times at Samhain there was a new fires lighting ceremony that was passed down these rivers to Tlachtga and onto Tara.


Charlie Naper is descended from the same family that have lived there for 400 years. Together, he and his wife Emily have developed quite an enterprise in several small farm, cottage and tourism industries. Now they just want to retire, although its hard to imagine the Napers doing this, but I am sure they have a wonderful new project in mind.


Currently, most famous for them, is their annual Opera Festival. This is quite quirky, outdoors, lots of tents, and a passionate atmosphere. They also have a 200 acre estate farm worked by themselves and a tenant farmer. Through the summer they host their own wonderful farmer’s markets. Also, their estate property hosts bed and breakfast and a range of country craft and self help courses ranging from gold guilding and metal crafts through to yoga and creative writing. The creative writing courses have also evolved into a successful publishing business too.


For some of our tours their wonderful cafe and gift shop is a wonderful sojourn location for after our visit to the Loughcrew Cairns.  


It appears the Napers will be very selective about who will buy their property and lands as they also aim to include their profitable enterprises into the package. They wish to sell to someone who will continue and develop these enterprises, especially the Opera Festival, Cafe and Publishing.


The Naper family came to Ireland during the Cromwellian times of the 16th century so there is a strong Anglo Irish culture and tradition within the Loughcrew estate. The days of master-servant have long gone and like all of these estates they have largely dwindled back into the ownership and stewardship of Irish farmers and home owners. Naper’s estate in the 1800s was over 180,000 acres and now dwindled to 200 acres.


Loughcrew is one of the most historic, as well as most beautiful, corners of Meath that drifts over into Westmeath. Loughcrew is named after a local lake but mysteriously the name as been applied to its network of cairns towering from the highest point of its very green hills. I prefer to know this area by its more ancient name of Slieve na Cailleach Bearra, hills of the goddess Bearra. The is a beautiful story hill that links with the Cork and Kerry regions of Gougane Barra, Bearra Peninsula and Bear Island. It was from here, around 200 BC, that High King Ollam Fodhla give this entire land its first name, after his, “Fodhla” though it was not accepted by the Ulster king who preferred Banba and Munster king who preferred Erin. King Fodhla also commenced the first Feis at Tara as a gathering of the regions and clans supported by the bardic harpers of the regions.  


Emily Naper says they've "put heart and soul into Loughcrew for a lifetime now and it's time to let someone else take over and continue. It's such a spiritual and healing place, and important to so many, many people, that I know it will go on.


Considering Ireland’s prices, 5.8 million is quite a bargain for what is being offered. the main house, its beautiful 17th century restored gardens that are open to the public with revenue from admission charges,  the 200 green acres or greens and farm that include the site of the Opera Festival, an 1840s groom's lodge, a stable lodge, two courtyard apartments that are used with their b&b packages, a number of large outbuildings such as coach-houses and stables and haybarn that are used for indoor farmer’s markets, craft fairs, theatre performances and concerts . Included too are studio, offices, tennis courts with 16th century portico standing guard, and their very lucrative visitor’s centre and cafe.


The current house was built from the 1820s, which is quite typical of Irish country houses to replace an earlier medieval castle. However, with Loughcrew house the medieval building was burned down. Unfortunately, the 18th century house was largely destroyed by fire in 1964 but was restored when the Napers moved in to continue their family tradition.


As tour operators to the best of ancient sites in Ireland we have a natural concern about who will continue the stewardship there. Already there are challenges because of the rising popularity of Newgrange. Only a maximum of about 400 people a day are allowed to visit the Newgrange cairn yet often between 2000 to 5000 people will turn up in a day at the Bru na Boinne visitor’s centre hoping to get some of the 400 tickets available, most of which are booked out more than 12 months in advance.


This means there is an overspill to Loughcrew, where the cairns are now managed by the OPW office at Bru na Boinne. The Napers do not have ownership of the cairns, even though they are on their estate but are employed as keepers. They have to abide by OPW rules. As the popularity of Loughcrew visiting has grown, so have the rules. Several groups desire time for themselves there for their rituals of meditation, but for much of the year this is neither possible or fair to the many people who wish to visit. There are now restrictions of how long visitors can be present in Cairn T. On quiet winter days this can be two hours but on a warm sunny summer’s day down to around 10 minutes, like at Newgrange. The next overspill is to our own local Carrowkeel Cairns in Co. Sligo and I anticipate some kind of OPW controls arriving there soon due to their rising popularity. 


There are now not enough preserved passage cairns to serve their rising popularity as places of silence, meditation and inner restoration.


I have experienced frequent heated clashes with the Napers over access to the Loughcrew Cairns, but their hands are tied with the responsibility of maintaining the OPW rulings. Despite these clashes the Napers have also provided us with wonderful service where they can. I admire and applaud their developments and initiatives in the spirit of country enterprise tradition that brings benefits to their locality.


Like the Napers, I hope their successors will continue good stewardship within local countryside enterprise traditions rather than the modern corporate imagery traditions like the OPW centres at Bru n Boinne and Cliffs of Moher, but this may be too much to expect.


At only 5.6 million euros Loughcrew could be developed into a large profit enterprise with developments within its accommodation services, catering services, publishing and tourism services. As this develops more people will be attracted to visit, and this will ultimately enforce severe controls on access to the Loughcrew Cairn L just like Cairn T is severely controlled today. Unfortunately, this will be essential for the preservation of the remarkable ancient art.


Even with this development I believe it is still possible to maintain a sense of ambiance, healing and creativity rather than the coldness of cooperate imagery. I sincerely pray that Loughcrew’s new owners will develop the Loughcrew Enterprise where profit is balanced with spirit based stewardship.


To Find Out More


Check out Loughcrew’s own beautiful web site 


If you are thinking of buying Loughcrew Estate and Enterprises


And, of course, supporting our own smaller but somewhat smaller enterprise to serve our local Carrowkeel Cairns and Keash Caves along with our Ceili Kitchen, Two Worlds Theatre and Labyrinth Garden


May I finish by announcing that this summer's Loughcrew Garden Opera will go ahead, this being “Donizetti's Don Pasqcinguale” performed on Friday and Saturday, June 27th and 28th.  www.loughcrew.com


 

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