The historic Rockhill House is nestled in 100 acres of woodlands in the hills above Letterkenny in County Donegal. It is a charming and elegant country house and estate offering guest’s timeless Irish hospitality, a most exclusive and comfortable stay, fine dining on fabulous fares and unique, authentic local experiences.
Rockhill House is a special place, filled with memory, magic and natural majesty. It’s a place of ease and energy – somewhere to bask in the poetry of landscape; to breathe pure Atlantic air; to reconnect and feel at your best. It’s a place of heritage and heart – culture, arts and the deep Irish tradition in land and nature, the fabric of life at Rockhill.
Rockhill House can trace its roots to the 17th Century plantation of Ulster. Seat of the Chambers family for 172 years, the property was acquired in 1832 by the aristocratic naturalist and ornithologist John Vandeleur Stewart. Stewart engaged famed Dublin architect, John Hargrave to design a radical extension and undertake remodelling of the house with the new owner carrying out comprehensive draining, planting and cultivation of the land to create a lush Georgian idyll that remained in his family until the 1936 break-up of the estate when the property was sold along with most of the land to the Commissioner of Public Works.
As headquarters of the Irish Defence Force through to early 2009, the Army’s exit began a period of vacancy that saw Rockhill House slip into a major state of disrepair and decay. When today’s owners, The Molloy family acquired the property in 2014, they began a four-year labour of love, a sensitive restoration project of the house and grounds to bring Rockhill’s rich past back to life. Original features from cornices, ceiling roses and spiral staircases to picture rails, ironwork and fireplaces have been salvaged where possible and historically replicated wherever the original has been lost. The estate is springing back to life with a new Parterre garden adorned with a temple and a fountain. Lost woodland walks and a walled garden have been uncovered and significant new hard wood planting is evident throughout the estate.
Premier Hospitality magazine spoke to Yvonne Clarke of Clarke and Whiteman about the renovation project.
How did you get involved with this particular scheme?
“We received a phone call from John Molloy in early March 2016 regarding the possibility of undertaking the Interior Design at Rockhil House. We then travelled out to meet John and view the ongoing restoration project at Rockhill later that week. Inside, remnants of the original owner’s story remained like the protected fragments of hand-blocked wallpaper on the first floor dating back to the 1850’s. The ground floor restoration plan kept the traditional house plan which sets out a series of interlinking rooms that would have been used for entertaining, including a first floor ‘promenade’ or gallery space within a magnificent triple height hall following on from the entrance hall. The dining room has been returned to its original location as has the Stewart Room. Reinstated were the fine filigree cornices and ceiling roses, Georgian sash windows and doors with deep skirting’s and broad architraves. A delicate cast iron balustrade to the cantilevered curved original staircase now extends through three storeys complimented by a new infill at the lower ground floor level within the ‘U-shaped plan’ that creates The Orangerie – a further space for entertaining up to 140 people and can facilitate small intimate weddings and private corporate events while maintaining the scale of space of a grand house without comprising the overall atmosphere and feeling.”
“I was instantly enchanted by the gentle but grand old dame that was Rockhill and being from Donegal, having met the new owner and viewed the detailed restoration work undertaken to-date under the professional guidance of the late Vincent Hannon of V.H.A, I had from my first visit a very strong sense of wanting to add my input into bring the house back to life.”
What did the client want to achieve with the renovation?
“The Interior Design brief was quite simple really. The new owner had spent a lot of time researching the history of the property, the families that lived on the estate, engaging with local crafts people and sourcing materials both near and far. He had set a vision for Rockhill House & Estate based on sustainability and its ongoing role in and contribution to the local economy and when it came to the house the brief was simple and uncomplicated, namely to create a homely interior and to return the house interior to its former Georgian glory but within a modern context, taking account of the site and its long history.”
Was it daunting taking on quite a large property?
“No not at all. Given the scale of the property, this was clearly a significant, unique and exciting interior design project level where we would need to conduct a lot of research relating to Manor Houses of that period and deliver on the clients expectation by breathing new life into the restoration process, allowing the Rockhill House story to take on another few chapters.
“We have specialist conservation experience within the office and considerable experience in both new and renovation projects in relation to the hospitality industry nationwide. In fact, I thoroughly relished working on every part of this project and we have since carried out further work exploring other developments and additions to the estate for guests including the recently opened Church Bar & Restaurant on the avenue.’’
How did you approach the design challenges within the project?
“Rockhill House as a protected structure has been named as one of the finest large-scale multi-period classical country houses in the county and is a very important element of the built heritage of County Donegal and indeed the North West Region. Many houses have layered histories of their own and are rarely ‘pure’ in stylistic, aesthetic and architectural terms. We used this as our interior design approach in Rockhill as we love to embrace the eclectic and of course ‘Spirit of Place.’ Through the spaces, we have mixed, for example, the original 17th century staircase with a new bespoke Axminster carpet and sculptures from the 19th century set into Georgian glazed windows with walls decorated in a traditional 18th century pattern, reprinted in a modern colour by Zoffany.
“As a practising architect, the ever present challenges certainly included meeting with the current building regulations and often stringent practicalities of modern day legislation.”
What has feedback been like since you completed?
“Everyone is very pleased with it and it has received excellent reviews from all who have visited – Trip Advisor, Facebook etc. all bear testament to this. For Rockhill House and the Molloy family, this new chapter in the life of this grand old dame has just opened and we hope there is much more history to be written in the future.”
For more information, visit: www.rockhillhouse.ie
Gfeller Specialist Joinery Ltd
Gfeller Specialist Joinery Ltd specialise in the delivery of bespoke cabinetry for the commercial and domestic market. The company has been in operation since 1994 and over the past 24 years has built up a strong portfolio of projects which includes the FAI headquarters in Dublin, Argento Jewellery stores, Harrods, Chateau La Coste Hotel and Spa in Provence, Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport and The Spa at The Slieve Donard Hotel, amongst others.
Recently, Gfeller Specialist Joinery Ltd was involved with the work on Rockhill House. For this project, the company provided two bars, as well as bookcases, display cases and the reception desk.
Todd Gfeller, Gfeller Specialist Joinery Ltd, said:
“Being asked to work in a building with so much history behind it was great. The grounds and views are stunning. I loved the idea this building was once close to being lost forever and has now been resurrected and offered a new lease of life that can be enjoyed by future generations for years to come.”
“We are a small company that prides itself on punching above our weight. We offer a personal service to our clients and provide bespoke cabinetry made to the highest standard. We have had many repeat customers which is a testament to our staff and company as a whole.”