Architecture Art Country Houses

Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve Waterford

What a Fad

Mount Congreve Entrance © Stuart Blakley

First it was Farmleigh, then Lissadell, next it was Mount Congreve. Historic Irish houses lived in by the original families with intact interiors and gardens that could have been saved in their entirety for the nation. The Guinnesses’ former home Farmleigh was eventually purchased by the Government after its contents had been sold. Lissadell, once the home of Countess Markievicz who helped establish the Republic of Ireland, was sold on the open market and its contents auctioned despite the Gore-Booth family offering it to the State. At Mount Congreve, it is the gardens that have been saved. Its last owner, Ambrose Christian Congreve, struck a deal with the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey that in return for tax exemption during his lifetime, the gardens would be left to the people of Ireland. The house is still there, stripped naked of its phenomenal collection of furniture and art, still surrounded by one of the finest gardens in the country, if not the world.Mount Congreve Facade © Stuart BlakleyIt took just two days in July 2012 for Mealy’s and Christie’s to auction off the entire contents. At the time, George Mealy explained, “There are lacquered screens and vases from Imperial China, rare books, Georgian silver, vintage wines, chandeliers and gilt mirrors and enough antique furniture to fill a palace. Everything is on offer. It’s a complete clearance of the entire estate. He did his art shopping in London. He got most of it through London because he had spotters for items that he might be interested in. Mr Congreve loved collecting. He loved nice things and he had unbelievable taste.” The result was a hard core property porn auction catalogue. Page after page of exotic beauty: the crimson library, the lemon bedroom, the Wedgwood blue sitting room, the large drawing spanning the full depth of the house: Chinoserie takes on Versailles.

Mount Congreve Garden Front © Stuart Blakley

Jim Hayes, former IDA director, records a visit to Mount Congreve in his autobiography The Road from Harbour Hill, “We were received on arrival by Geraldine Critchley, the social secretary and long-term assistant of Ambrose Congreve. The ornate hall was decked with a number of gloves, walking canes and a variety of riding accessories. We were escorted into a large drawing room, the walls of which were covered in 18th century, hand-painted, Chinese wallpaper. Three large Alsatian dogs lay asleep in the corner of the room. A liveried servant then appeared with a silver tray and teapot and antique bone china cups and saucers. This young man, of Indian origin, was one of the last few remaining liveried servants of Ireland’s great houses.” Sheila Bagliani, doyenne of Gaultier Lodge in County Waterford, recalls, “Gus, Ambrose’s Alsatian, had full run of the house.”

Mount Congreve Driveway © Stuart Blakley

Ambrose was in London rather aptly for the Chelsea Flower Show when he died in 2011, aged 104. He had no children so eight generations of his family’s enhancement of Waterford came to a close. Geraldine Critchley, his partner, survives him. The son of Major John Congreve and Lady Irène Congreve, daughter of the 8th Earl of Bessborough, Ambrose inherited Mount Congreve in 1968 and restored and redecorated and replanted it to within an inch of its being. The good life took off, on a whole new level. Ambrose divided his time between Mount Congreve and his London townhouse near Belgrave Square. He employed a succession of fine chefs de cuisine including Albert Roux who went on to co-found Le Gavroche restaurant.

Mount Congreve Garden © Stuart Blakley

Now for some horticultural stats. 46 hectare estate. 28 hectares of woodland. 1.6 hectares of walled gardens. 16 miles of paths. 3,000 different trees and shrubs. 3,000 rhododendrons. 1,500 plants. 600 camellias. 600 conifers. 300 acer cultivars. 300 magnolias. 250 climbers. The stuff of rural legend, all piled high on the south bank of the River Suir. The manicured gardens end abruptly next to open fields, like a beautiful face half made-up. Awards include classification as a Great Garden of the World by the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and a Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Sheila Bagliani remembers, “Piped music in the grounds kept the 25 gardeners entertained while working. Ambrose also employed the Queen Mother’s former chauffeur.” Lot Number 492 at the auction was his 1969 shell grey Rolls Royce Phantom V1, price guide €12,000 to €18,000. It sold for €55,000. At his centenary lunch celebration, Ambrose declared, “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine. To be happy for a day, read a book. To be happy for a week, take a wife. To be happy forever, make a garden.” His garden lives on in perpetuity, making the public happy.

Mount Congreve Garden Dutch Steps © Stuart Blakley

13 replies on “Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve Waterford”

As a former employee of Humphreys & Glasgow Ltd 22 Carlisle Place London S.W.1.

A reminder of Ambrose Congreve is a most joyous experience.

The few years I spent with this Company are undoubtedly amongst the happiest in memory,

a huge man in size and in stature.

Thanks for the memories!!

Dear Kenneth

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful memories of Ambrose Congreve. Such an interesting slice of history about your work place too. While alas we never got to meet the man himself, his garden is a lasting legacy. Thanks again.

Best, Lavender’s Blue

I worked in Mount Congreve Estate for many years as Private Chef to the Congreve`s ,it was a joy and a pleasure and has given me wonderful cherished memories..Mr Congreve was an amazing man and I owe him a great deal for his wisdom that he kindly let me benefit from ..

Waterford is my home since 17 years and Mount Congreve was always my soft point.. The moment when you enter the place is simply magical..
I’ve been inside the house recently, just before yesterday.. I was inside of the Blue Wedgwood room.. well.. only the pale blue walls and the beautiful but sadly empty china cabinets reminded me about past grandeur of this place..
It’s really, really heartbreaking to see the empty rooms, stripped from anything.. even the curtains.. the books allover the floor in the library..totally without the respect for Mr.Congreve..
I hope that Waterford City Council didn’t forget that was someone else’s home…
As Mr. Yeats said “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”…
Thank you so much for your review 💙
Kindest regards from Waterford

Dear Ewelina, what a wonderful message . We completely agree it is such a magical place from the outset. The house wasn’t open when we visited but the gardens really opened our eyes to its beauty. Thank you for sharing your fascinating if heart breaking experience of the interior. The state of the rooms do truly sound disrespectful to Mr Congreve. We do hope Waterford City Council come to their senses and start to treasure this incredible asset which, to put it commercially, would make an even better tourist attraction if properly looked after. Thanks again, Best, Lavender’s Blue

Hopefully they’ll create a piece of heaven up there…As some people says, life is rocky sometimes if you are a real gem… exactly as Mount Congreve.. So let’s keep fingers crossed..
Thank you so much for your message.
I’m truly delight that I found Lavender’s Blue.. its really my cup of tea :)..
Kind regards,

Good Evening Ewelina, great to hear from you again. You have a great way with words! Waterford is such a wonderful part of the world . We have another Irish article coming up tomorrow which we hope you enjoy. We do like being people’s cup of tea! Enjoy the read tomorrow… with pics of course. Best, Stuart

You’re a star Ewelina. Have a good evening. London is very sad with the end of the Elizabethan Era. Our Artistic Director Annabel P is down at Buckingham Palace and she said it is thronged. Even in the rain! She’s running fashionably late for the LVB HQ Thirsty Thursday party, but dedication to the cause! Hope all is well in Waterford. LVB X

Good evening Stuart,
I’m truly sad and sorry about death of Queen Elizabeth.. Amazing, powerful woman with great sense of humour.. Though and tender… Gentle and strong in the same time.. An icon.. It’s always some sort of personal grief when such a person leaving this world.. Can’t stop to think about her..
Waterford is extremely rainy and windy today… So its a bit blue Sunday…
Kindest regards,

Good evening Ewelina

Thank you for your comment and isn’t just such a sad time for all of us. The late Queen was amazing in every way and a true beacon of Christian faith. An example for us all. I hope the blues have faded and there is plenty to look forward to in Waterford. Bestest Stuart, LVB X

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