If a passer by had stopped to look at the Dunraven family home in the 1830s he would have seen a typical Georgian house. Returning twenty years later, he would have found that modest structure had disappeared and been replaced by the exceptional Neo-Gothic Manor that stands to this day. Staring at its towers, bays and steep roofs, he might have wondered what prompted such a great change. It is unlikely he would have guessed the reason, for the Manor owes its existence to one of the most excruciating ailments of that time. The 2nd Earl of Dunraven, an active outdoors man, had been laid low by gout, and confined to indoors. His wife, Lady Caroline, had encouraged him to embrace this immense undertaking to distract him from the pain of the disease. It was a distraction that would develop and mature into the next generation.
When Lord Dunraven began to rebuild his home, he conceived a grand architectural scheme brimming with vigorous imagination and peppered with eccentricity. To marshal his taste for eclecticism and keep it in step with the principles of a beautiful house, the services of a front rank architect were required. The Earl chose James Pain whose technical flair and ability were indisputable.
The house is initially reminiscent of a chateau, but many of its features are shared by great residences of the era in Britain and Ireland. Mysteriously, the Manor is laid out as a Calendar House. 365 stained windows and 52 chimneys mark the annual tally of days and weeks. Sleuthing visitors may be able to spot references to the 7 days of the week and 12 months of the year. Although there are other examples of such buildings, they are rare, and no one is certain why the Earl determined on this symbolism. This allusive quality is heightened by discreet gargoyles and French or Latin mottoes graven on secluded walls.
Records indicate that the Earl was prone to changing his mind. As a result, when he died in 1850, the Manor still stood incomplete, compelling his son to return home from Britain to complete what his father had begun. With a new generation came zest and focus. The 3rd Earl decided to commission an innovative new architect, Philip Charles Hardwick, whose remit also ran to laying out the garden.
Flanked by mature coppices, and the river bank, Hardwick’s formal garden runs from the southern aspect of the Manor towards the lush parkland beyond. Lording over Hardwick’s botanic ensemble looms the notable Cedar of Lebanon. This hoary old Samson had already seen out 200 years when Hardwick set to work beneath its branches. Nothing, not even the Manor itself, can claim primacy over it.
Only in the early 1860s did the vision of an agonised man three decades previously became realised. To this day Adare Manor speaks volubly for the talent and inventiveness of the people who laboured over it. Some of their story will always be locked in its stones, but what can be seen today bears eloquent testimony to their skill and vision.
Until 1982 the Dunravens kept their family seat here. Five years later the Kane family of Florida took matters in hand, purchasing the 840 acre estate in its entirety. In the Dunraven tradition, no effort was spared in a restoration that sought to preserve the grand ethos of the house’s earlier epoch. And rightly so, because it is never forgotten here that the Manor is not only a hotel but a great and intriguing house.
The full History of Adare Manor is relayed in The Adare Manor Story