Going, going, gone. Athy’s White Castle has been conquered by a Galway couple.
The 14th century castle was up for sale last Friday, July 6, at a distressed Allsops auction in the Shelbourne Hotel. The Leinster Leader was in attendance and observed the frenzy of bidding for the south Kildare landmark.
More than 2,000 people were at the Shelbourne as distressed properties from all over Ireland went under the hammer. A housing estate here, an apartment there. Leftovers from the Celtic Tiger.
There was a nervous buzz of excitement as people of all ages clutched their brochures and wandered through the legal rooms. A host of plasma TVs were stationed and the auction room itself was adorned with rows and rows of red chairs. Astute observes huddled on the stairs to see the auction in full force. One could smell the anticipation as the talk of the room was Lot Number 31.
Countless viewings and a large number of legal document downloads the previous week, this was going to be an auction not to be missed. Indeed the local community came together to fundraise for the Castle, an initiative by the Athy Lions Club and the Athy Chamber of Commerce.
The legal document room at the Shelbourne was packed, and one could view the paperwork in all its glory online or by file and the history of White’s Castle did not disappoint.
Enclosed were the Deeds of Consent for White’s Castle by the Duke of Leinster, a 1970 will, a Protected Structure Notice by Athy Town Council, a conveyance deed where the castle was sold for E200 in 1968, a now infamous Anglo mortgage to the tune of E1.2m. Also noted was the demise of the previous owner, local businessman and publician Gabriel Dooley in the form of Special Condition 31 that allowed the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation to sell the property.
On a sidenote, it is interesting to note no right of way along the River Barrow was mentioned in any legal document.
As Lot Number 31 approached, the auction house became more local, Kildare accents were heard as familiar faces stood to watch or take their seats and sharpened their hands.
Among those spotted were Brand Athy’s Patricia Berry, a local building contractor, a number of publicians, legal eagles representing the town’s fundraising appeal, an ex-councillor and a representative from Athy Town Council among others (it is not clear if the council employee was there in an official or personal capacity).
There were rumours circulating that the Athy Town Clerk was in attendance. Alas that was another man with the same first name. Local politicians from councillors to TDs or Kildare County Council were nowhere in sight.
Then Lot 31.
The auctioneer smoothly spoke of White’s Castle historical attractions along the River Barrow, many in the audience and listening in online were all-too-familar with its importance. A rollcall of phone bidders, of which there were too and then the bidding began.
The reserve price was matched quickly and six bidders battled it out. It went to five bidders at E115,000, then two backed out. Humming sighs echoed. E150,000 between three, a couple negotiating over the phone, a man in a black suit with glasses and a man in his 50s. Up to E160,000, and then there were just two left in the race.
The room bounced as the auctioneer went from bid to bid. The remaining two were, by chance, just yards away from each other. The glass-wearing man and the young couple. And then the final bid, which came from the couple holding the phone, E195,000. Going, going gone.
Moments of silence and then another frenzy ensued as waiting national and local media huddled around the bemused young couple. “What are your plans for the castle? Do you have any connections with Athy?”
The friendly couple explained they were bidding on behalf of their friends, a Galway couple in their 40s with a young family who plan to restore the castle for private residential use and have no Athy roots. That was it, no more comments, no names given and they were off.
Brand Athy’s Patricia Berry said it was an emotional yet proud day for the town.
“It is just great. These are people from outside coming in and they have chosen Athy to live in. They hope to restore the castle. It’s a testament to us and what a good town it is to live in. They have chosen to live here and have checked out the facilities as well. It’s brilliant. We wish them the very best.”
Local historian and solicitor, Frank Taaffe, who was heading up the town’s fundraising appeal, spoke to the Leader afterwards too.
“We wish them well -an Irish couple living in America. I haven’t met them yet but I look forward to. Yes we did had a representative at the action. We had agreed a figure that was double the reserve and once that was reached we could not bid anymore. Of course we were disappointed. We were in negotiations with Athy Town Council to purchase it but the council just did not have the funds. We did our best to try and convince them.”
In a statement Athy Town Council’s Town Manager Joe Boland explained: “Athy Town Council was supportive of the castle coming into public ownership, either through national or local intervention, and did pursue a number of options in this regard which did not ultimately come to fruition. However, it was not in a position financially to purchase the building, and perhaps more significantly, to take on the maintenance liability.
“In this regard, there are now considerable pressures for its scarce resources and, clearly, it must be balanced in terms of allocating funds and determining priorities.
“Indeed the town council did work with the previous owner in the context of examining the feasibility of progressing a tourism/cultural initiative involving the castle and would be pleased to work with the new owners in a similar way, should the opportunity arise.”
It seems the council was not the only one without funds.
Deputy Jack Wall who lives in nearby Castlemitchell explained that he requested monies for the castle on behalf of the Office of Public Works and the Department of Environment. Alas the money there had run dry. “We welcome the young couple and family to Athy and wish them well,” he added.
So it’s a new chapter in the history of White’s Castle, new blood will bring new life. However the hot question is, will it be a Galway or American flag flying over the River Barrow?