My name is Sonja, and my husband, Kevin, and I currently live in our restored thatched farmhouse while we restore The Black Castle. I'm originally from East St Kilda in Melbourne, Australia and Kevin is from North County Dublin, Ireland. We absolutely love old buildings and are passionate about their preservation, so we were delighted when our humble thatched farmhouse won Period Living Magazine's Restoration Award, 2011, for the UK and Ireland.
The restoration of our thatched farmhouse fuelled our interest in the vernacular buildings of Ireland and, more recently, the tower houses of the 15th and 16th centuries. Since 2003, our fascination with tower houses led us out on countless journeys in search of these ancient ruins, with the dream of finding the ideal tower house ruin to restore.
Our search, which was assisted by many wonderful like-minded people we'd met along the way, eventually led us to North Tipperary and to an ancient ruin, The Black Castle. After castle-hunting for approximately three years, we purchased The Black Castle in May 2007.
The castle seems to have been constructed around 1550 by the important local chieftains, the Kennedys. In the 1640s, the Kennedys were forced to leave by Oliver Cromwell. The castle is on a 13 acre estate, and surrounded by forests, woodlands and fields.
We had planned to start on the restoration straight away, but the deteriorating Irish economy meant we had to postpone.
Now, ten years later....
Finally, in 2013, after a succession of particularly harsh winters which caused significant damage to some other castle ruins in the area, we knew we must begin work on The Black castle before it became too damaged to save.
First the castle was clad in an exoskeleton of scaffolding, and a new roof was installed, supported by mighty beams. Window elements were carved and re-inserted and, under the watchful eye of our dog, Tilly, Kevin repointed the entire exterior with lime mortar, stone by stone - a job which took him more than six months of painstaking work, but which finally helped render the tower weather-tight for the first time in over 300 years!
Kevin then turned his attention to the interior and starting the restoration of the Great Hall in 2014. Three years later, this imposing second-storey chamber, where the chieftain and his family lived and where guests were entertained, is complete.
The vast room, with its stone-vaulted ceiling, its huge carved fireplace and its opulent, mullioned, leadlight windows, is transformed back to its former glory. There is a real notion of what grand banquets, war councils and lively festivities once took place in this cavernous space.