Today less than 10% of women are licensed horse trainers and having a license in the 1960s and 1970s was even rarer.
At the time, Connemara woman Frances Loftus was one of the only female trainers in the country and she met her second husband, Prospero Colonna, a Florentine prince, while training horses in Co Wicklow. The couple married and she became Princess Frances Colonna di Stigliano.
She had bought Clonmannon Estate in Ashford with her first estate husband Chester Beatty in 1968.
The original James Adam & Sons sale catalog details the “curious objects of art and virtue” that accompanied the property.
The main house, a younger and larger model, and quite a bit of land were sold in the 1980s and in 1984 she and Prince Colonna moved into the charming Clonmannon House – a former estate property which was then in ruins.
Together they renovated the rambling pile using salvaged materials, some of which came from Dublin’s Hibernian Hotel. The beams used came from an old Lebanese cedar felled on the land considered to be the largest of its kind in Europe.
The exact date of the charming stack of red bricks is reputed to be between 1680 and 1700, but there is what is presumed to be a Norman keep within the keep, so the exact date of this most intriguing house is actually a bit mysterious.
It is also noted on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, which specifies that “The classic style brick house recalls the work of Inigo Jones”; he was the first important architect in England, who designed the Queen’s House in Greenwich and the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It originally had a three-bay wing on either side of the front door, but today only the right side remains.
Spanning 430 square meters (4,630 square feet), the house is spread over four floors and the princess still occupies the bedroom at the top which has exposed beams, a fireplace and a step-in bath.
The third floor houses a range of opulent bedrooms, some with fabric-covered walls, as well as a nursery and living room.
On the ground floor, the original front door opens into an impressive entrance hall with wooden columns, off of which is a sitting room with an original marble fireplace. This in turn leads to a study.
There are many columns in the house and this is because the surname Colonna means column in Italian, and there is a lot of Italian influence in the design and the decor itself with many aristocrats looking out from old portraits.
Interesting snippets from the past include a small piece of exposed wall in one of the upstairs bathrooms. Dating to 1894 (nearly two centuries after the house was built), it contains writing that details the number of traps (for otters and rabbits) set on April 24 of that year.
To the left of the entrance hall is a full-depth banquet hall with a large open hearth and a great place for entertaining, where the family has hosted many luncheons over the years. A flight of stairs leads to the kitchen which has low ceilings with exposed beams and a raised fireplace with a solid fuel burner.
The outbuildings are as interesting as the house itself, which the late Chevalier de Glin described as “having a Palladian dollhouse touch”. Part of the old stables are what Frances calls “Cromwell’s lavatory”, as his army is said to have dried their clothes in the basement of the main house and used the stables as latrines.
Another part of the old stables, which offers more accommodation, is called the “art gallery” because when they were children, the two girls drew on the walls instead of doing their homework.
But it will be the gardens that will really make the new owners swoon as they have a right of way and direct access to the local beach. Designed by Frances herself, and in which she was heavily involved in all aspects of the work, they now have ornamental lakes, lawns and mature plantings.
Particularly attractive, the Japanese-style wooden bridge is reminiscent of Monet’s in Giverny. For her 70th birthday, Frances threw a party in the garden where all the guests dressed up as impressionist painters.
Although the house appeared on the market in 2006 when it fetched 5.6 million euros, it then had 185 acres.
It has now been launched on the market by Knight Frank looking for 1.5 million euros, and with 10 acres, as one of the oldest inhabited houses in the country, its charm and character are endless.