Townland and Country
Bastardstown, Cheekpoint, Mooncoin, Passenger East, Priesthaggard… Names, names, such memorable names. Say them with a cut glass accent. Only in Waterford, the civilised southeast coast of Ireland. Geography is close, history closer. Everything is near water, everyone remembers generations past. Land of Molly Keane. Nowhere is more horse and hounds than Gaultier Lodge (pronounced “Gol-teer”) thanks to its country pursuits loving owners, Sheila and Bill Bagliani. Animal motifs abound, on potpourri sachets, coasters, wallpaper friezes, upholstery, saltshakers, pepper grinders, paintings (there’s an artist in residence – Sheila), even wine glasses. “We’re a bit obsessional!” jokes Sheila.
Gaultier Lodge may have been referred to in Victorian times as “Gaultier Cottage” but don’t be misled by its reticent exterior. This is a sophisticated design befitting its former status as a hunting lodge of the Earl of Huntingdon. Four rooms span the original beach front, linked by a tripartite gallery along the entrance front. The middle two rooms are deeper with more ornate mantelpieces and cornices. Now the drawing room and dining room, they are interconnected by a vast pair of panelled doors. In the middle of the gallery is a square vestibule with symmetrical openings. Twin sets of doors include a false door for visual harmony. A guest bedroom bookends either extremity of the beach front.
The hand of a master is at work. His name is John Roberts, the architect who designed much of 18th century Waterford City and worked on Curraghmore, the Marquess and Marchioness of Waterford’s stately home. Never has a piano nobile been more appropriate. The raised ground floor provides breathtaking views across Woodstown’s unspoiled golden strand to a Knights Templar church on the opposite side of the Waterford Channel. “Thank goodness low tide goes out 2.5 kilometres,” says Sheila. “Otherwise we’d be as developed as Tramore.”
In the early 1900s a two bay bedroom wing was added – no country house, however miniature, should be without one. And a porch. “We’ve done our best to dress up the plain porch,” she continues, “with pillars and sash windows.” A pleasant colonial appearance is the result. The coastline was damaged by the Lisbon Tsunami of 1755. Gaultier Lodge was built four decades later. A photo dated 1870 shows the retaining wall along the beach part concealing the lower ground floor. “A storm has since washed away the mound of rabbit burrows against the wall. Last winter another storm flattened our greenhouse and blew 100 slates off the roof.” There’s a price to be paid for the beauty of proximity to nature. Not that it’s apparent, on a long spring evening sipping wine on the lawn watching the remains of the day.
“Historic houses are like horses,” declares Sheila. “They’re expensive to run!” That hasn’t stopped the Baglianis buying another one on the opposite side of Ireland. “Castle ffrench was the home of Percy French. Maurice Craig compares it to Bonnettstown in his book Classic Irish Houses of the Middling Sizes. All the original furniture was sold but we’ve bought suitable pieces, many from the US.” Sheila and Bill also own a stud in North Carolina, suitably called Castle French Farm.
The fire roars. Frequently read books on the country and houses and country houses and country house owners and lovers of country houses and country house owners’ lovers pile high on occasional tables. “When I used to go to Mount Juliet, it was just like the famous Colman’s Mustard advert, where the butler is sent back from the hunt to get mustard for a guest’s sandwich. The butler really did cater to every whim,” recalls Sheila. Bats noiselessly swoop in eternal graceless circles across the lawn while inside dinner is attentively served. Red onion and goat’s cheese tart is followed by monkfish with salad on the side, an American touch. The hallmark of Gaultier Lodge cooking is fresh country produce, layered with taste, such as the carrots soaked in butter and citrus. Gin and tonic sorbet – what’s not to love? Pudding is Italian carrot cake “baked with ground almond instead of flour to make it lighter”.
Woodstown has always been famed for its decadent high end hospitality. In 1967 newly widowed Jackie Kennedy and her children Caroline and John stayed at nearby Woodstown House. The Daily Herald breathlessly reported, “Woodstown House, about seven miles from Waterford City, where the Kennedys will stay during their visit is one of the most beautiful residences in the area, known for its gracious mansions… Mrs Kennedy will occupy the main bedroom which is toned in a predominantly dark blue colour.”
It keeps going, “The Woodstown area itself probably carries the greatest concentration of Anglo Irish blue bloods in the country and the social whirl runs at a pretty fast pace. Among her neighbours in the county will be the Duke of Devonshire who owns Lismore Castle and the Marquess of Waterford who lives at Portlaw.” Another temporary resident in the 1960s was Jack Profumo who decided to lie low at Ballyglan, his brother’s house across the road from Gaultier Lodge. Names, names, such memorable names.