Kilkenny farmer’s son earns his keep with castle restoration

A Co. Kilkenny farmer’s son has finished his father’s work in restoring a ruined castle on their land. John Campion has turned Tubbrid Castle, the ground floor of which was used as a grain store, into a characterful retreat that is rented out on Airbnb.

Tubbrid Castle is located at the foot of the rolling Slieveardagh hills in north west Kilkenny. “The farm has been in the family for generations. A Catherine Campion is recorded as living at the castle as a tenant of Arthur R.B. St. George, in the Griffith Valuation of 1851,” said John.

My father, John, inherited the farm from his father, Thomas and mother, Delia. He grew the farm by buying a neighbouring land in the 1990s. Dad was initially involved in dairy, beef and tillage, and my mother, Helen, ran a hatchery, selling goslings and fattening geese for the Christmas market. When my brother joined my dad in a partnership, they went into dairy solely.

“Dad and Thomas built up the farm and the herd and dad continued farming into his 60s. I went to National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway to study medicine, and now work at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny,” John said.

“In the early 2000s, when my mother and father had reared my siblings – Karina, Maria, Thomas and Eimar –  and me, dad turned his attention to something he had dreamed about for years – bringing Tubbrid Castle back to life.

“When he was growing up, dad and his siblings had played in the derelict tower house, being scolded by their mother when they would come home with tales of walking along the wall at the top of it. Before he started work, the castle had no roof, no windows and was crumbling at the edges.

“Over a period of 10 years, he did a lot of work to make the structure safe. Unfortunately his health declined rapidly and he had to stop working,” said John.

Sensitive completion

Keen to realise his father’s dream, he took over the restoration in 2015. “I worked with the architect dad had engaged, Cormac O’Sullivan, from Bluett & O’Donoghue, to design a home that would fit inside the structure dad had saved.

“I got a mortgage from EBS to complete the works. The builders, Charlie and Frank Murphy, did great work to sensitively complete the restoration.

“We installed underfloor heating throughout, put down Kilkenny limestone and oak floors and had oak doors made locally. I employed a Kilkenny-based interior designer, Orla Kelly, to choose the furniture and finishes, and we decided to stay away from the Gothic look and instead opt for a minimalist look,” John said.

“I placed a strong emphasis on using indigenous Irish materials wherever possible. I also wanted the design to be light-touch, so that the tower’s architecture can be fully appreciated.”

The family had Christmas dinner at the castle and John moved in last month. “The castle is available for rent on Airbnb, and I move out when guests arrive. So far, most bookings have been from North America and Ireland.

The feedback so far has been very positive. Guests love the unique opportunity to come to a centuries-old Irish castle with a murder hole, battlements and big fireplaces. One fireplace has the numerals 1596 on it, though the castle is thought to be at least a century older than that.

“Dad passed away last August, so unfortunately did not get to see the castle completed, but he’s laid to rest at the local cemetery, within sight of the castle.”

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