Station WIVS was moving along. Jo was doing her thing and I was doing mine. We were in the black, so that was good. We had lots of laughs, did our shows and naturally we talked a lot about Ireland. The audience was part of our family. So of course we had no secrets from them. It was a different kind of station. Off the air, we both were making speeches and appearances all around the area. We were on the Woodstock Opera House Restoration Board and there has never been a more beautiful little theater to restore. What a history! Orson Welles, Geraldine Page, Shelly Burman and Paul Newman had all trod those boards. We all hustled and brought in money from dollars in a “Buy a Brick" campaign to large corporate and foundation gifts. John Eggum was one of our biggest heroes with a substantial gift from the Regenstein Foundation.
It did not take long for our visit to the horse country in Ireland to affect our family. I think it was early in the spring when unexpectedly Pat announced, “I am going back to Ireland. I wrote to the Carews and they have offered me one of the scholarships. The best part is that while there, the Irish National Team will be training for the Olympics so I’ll get to meet and learn from the best riders in the country." She was so excited.
She packed her belongings and a few weeks later we drove her to O’Hare. I remember exactly how we sent her off. “Pat, you remember how we have talked about our ‘Bolthole.’ While you’re there in Ireland, if you have time, please look around and see if you can spot a place. It shouldn’t be big. It shouldn’t be in a city, but somewhere out in the country — a place with Irish character."
John Kennedy met Pat and got her moved into her horse heaven. She loved her work, mucked out the stalls, and did get to meet and even ride with the Irish Equestrian Team. What more could anyone want.
Sometime in the fall we got a letter from Dublin. Pat had taken a huge fall and bashed up a shoulder. One of Pat’s friends, a girl on a similar scholarship, had a father who was a well know orthopedic surgeon. He had packed Pat up, moved her to the family home in Dublin and was monitoring her progress day by day. As soon as we heard, we rang him. He said he felt that surgery was not the best idea, at least for awhile, and he would like to be in charge of her. He refused to take a dime the whole time she was there. Now how is that for kindness!
Riding was out of the question but Pat did not want to come home, so she found herself a little house in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and set out to find a job. She became a shop girl in a craft and wool shop on Grafton Street. It was a year later that she confessed to us that financially, things were very rough. I wish we had known. We could have helped more than needed. Her pride really shut us out.
She and John would meet from time to time. They enjoyed each other’s company but there was nothing serious going on. However, and this is where it gets interesting, John invited her to go for a weekend out to the west. He wanted Pat to meet some people in Kilrush, Lawrence and Ann Archer, an English stock broker and his wife, who had simply packed up and moved from London to Ireland to hand craft wooden boats, all this at a time when wood was being replaced by fiber glass. Lawrence had taken over a building in Kilrush that had been a railroad station. It was a brick building about 40 x 60 and there he was sawing, planing, and joining. Later that year we visited him and although not knowledgeable on wooden boats, his work looked terrific and he was happy. Sadly, his English wife was not. The move from London to a small agricultural center in the west of Ireland was too much. Anyway, after Pat and John had visited and admired boats, the Archers suggested that they have a meal and go about 10 miles west to a little town called Doonaha and a pub with the name Lynch over the door. It had the reputation of being a real, traditional pub, one of the best in the west, and they all felt that Pat should see the real thing. John Lynch, the publican, was famous for his stories, his ability to “pull a pint" and the pub drew patrons from all over the world. It was known as a “singing pub" which meant that at some point nearly every night the singing would start. A bit later, I will devote time to Lynch’s Pub and the tiny community of Doonaha. That area was to become the center of our life in Ireland. It was here that we learned about Irish customs, tradition, pubbing and even John’s famous Kerry Man jokes.
The foursome arrived at the pub around 10:30, about the time pubs come to life. John Kennedy knew John Lynch and yes, he always addressed him as Mr. Lynch, which drove John crazy. “Nobody in Ireland is that formal with me, Why does he do that?" The answer is there is a vast gulf between Dublin and the west.
In the course of the evening Pat thought of us and asked John Lynch if he knew of any place in the area that her mother and father would like. She told him a little about us. John responded, “There’s an old house down the Gloshien Road, about a mile from here. No one is living there now. It is fairly large and was built about 1840 by some people named McDonnell. It was the big house, and at one time they owned most of the land around here, employed many people and raised the meat, fruit and vegetables for most of Kilkee and Kilrush. You might want to take a look." They floundered around in the middle of the night and then came back the next day to see for sure. They could not get into the house, but they reported that they walked around and peeked in windows.
I do not believe I mentioned before that we communicated with cassettes. The result was we could just talk our letters back and forth. It was a good system. Well, we received a cassette from Pat that radiated excitement, “Mom, Dad, I’ve just seen the greatest house. It is made of cut stone with a real slate roof. It is called a manor house. It’s on 27 acres with a real woods, and little fields and it is on the banks of the Shannon river with a big field in front and the river is 3 miles wide. It’s got the greatest view. It is really private, actually at the end of the road and it is for sale and if you don’t buy it right now, I’ll never look for another place for you. Oh, I forgot it is priced at about $50,000. Do it, do it, do it!"
This was obviously a completely impossible situation. We had gone in debt to buy the radio station which we had been operating for just a little over a year. We had no excess funds that we could use for even a modest down payment. We had children in college. We were in no position to think of anything as crazy as a house in Ireland. What was it called. Yes, it was “Liscrona House" which in Gaelic translates to Fairy Ring, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Just for the fun of it, we took the cassette and traveled back to Wilmette to see our friends, Marge and George Kline, our across the alley best friends. In the past, we had done many strange business things together, like buying two of the early motor homes and renting them out, or buying a 50 acre piece of property on a Wisconsin lake. We knew each other very well. Also the Klines had been part of the brain trust that had pushed us to go out on our own and buy the radio station.
We talked. Then George said, “I know this is bad timing for you. Would you like to own the place, you crazy people?"
“Yes, we would love something over there, but we’ve never even seen it. This was just a cassette from Pat. We know you’re interested in her life in Ireland. But to be absolutely honest, there’s no way we can think of something like a place over there, until we smooth out the radio debt."
George was always great at putting deals together. I could see his brain beginning to float ideas around. Then he said, “Suppose we do some negotiating. We don’t know anything about the owner or anything else. What if Marge and I came up with a 50% down payment and then you could take over the remaining 50% over a period of years. That would give you some breathing room, spread it out so you’ve got time. What do you think?" My response was, “I never expected you guys to get involved in an Ireland project. I think that’s asking too much of friendship."
Marge and George then reassured us that owning a place in Ireland would be a wonderful experience. At that point I said, “Well, if at some time in the future you would want out of the deal, we will buy you out in any way you want so you will not have lost any money. Additionally, we will do all the maintenance and work that needs to be done. That will be our share and will show our appreciation. How does that sound?"
Once again, we enlisted Harold Shapiro to represent us. We found out that Liscrona was owned by a man name Ted Cavanaugh, who lived in Kilkee. The story we got was that Ted’s mother had won some money on the Irish Sweepstakes which enabled Ted to buy Liscrona with the purpose of turning it into a small hotel. He had divided some of the rooms so he had been able to make a total of 11 bedrooms. Liscrona was a substantial house. He had installed central heating, no small matter with two foot thick stone walls to deal with. He had obtained a liquor license and on the lower level he had set up his own pub. Ted played the organ and loved to sing and tell bawdy stories. He even had the drawings of a pitch and putt golf course all ready to construct out in front in the eleven acre field.
The idea was good. He did some positive things to the house but he had two problems. His wife did not like the idea of living so far away from the rest of the world. Liscrona was quite isolated. Also, she did not relish the routine of changing beds, cooking meals, etc. Ted’s problem was that all he really wanted to do was be the entertainer in the pub. So, after all the preparation, the inn never got off the ground. However, the secluded pub idea was a success. The “good old boys" used to love to come and drink and we heard many tales of how the narrow one way lane that led to Liscrona was negotiated in the wee small hours. I think the hedge row took quite a beating. The other advantage was that the traditional “closing time" that is observed in Ireland, just never existed.
So Ted went broke and moved back to Kilkee. I think his wife was so disenchanted she left him. Ted opened a little souvenir-gift shop and was quite the man about town. Many years later Ted met his end in the way all men secretly envy, in the bed of a local lady who was obviously much too young for him. His finale is now part of Irish folklore. I cannot prove it. We never really got to know Ted. Every step of the way was negotiated by our law firm in Chicago, our solicitor in Dublin, and Ted’s solicitor in Kilrush. Our payments went to his representative.
The back and forth began. John Kennedy was very helpful to us in the process. He was able to help us understand the way real estate deals are done in Ireland. Even the legal language is different. We needed him to translate.
We made the first approach only to find that at that time Ireland was worried about so much of the country being bought by foreign interests. A law had been passed that a foreigner had to prove a direct Irish heritage before a purchase of land or a house could be finalized.
The proposed buy had to be publicized and if a genuine, on the scene, Irishman wanted the land, his claim would take precedence. We had no objection to that. Jo was our Irish connection with tons of Irish relatives. The notice went out and there were no Irish takers. Actually Liscrona House was too large for a typical Irish family , and being only 27 acres, it was not enough to support a local farmer. No one else wanted to try the hotel project. It was too isolated.
The back and forth continued. We had the plans for the golf course and the floor plan of the two story house, and a couple of pictures. We had never seen the condition of the house. We had never been inside. How stupid can you be! About the only question we asked was, “What does Liscrona mean?" We were repeatedly reminded that Liscrona had a genuine woods on the property and it was very unusual. There were almost no trees in the whole area, only hay fields separated by hedge rows. These were real trees, big ones, that had been there forever. This fact alone made Liscrona unique.
If you live in a house and it has a name you ought to know what it means. Please ask so I can tell you.
It is a Gaelic word that means Fairy (Lis) -Ring (Crona) — Fairy Ring. In the very old times the Irish were not home builders. They were nomad families, moving from place to place. A family would be the related men, women and children and their animals, probably sheep, a cow for milk and whatever they could take with them as they wandered. It was a dangerous life because there were always those who would steal anything they could grab. To provide a degree of protection the family took to building a round circle of earth usually eight or ten feet high. One central opening was left. At nightfall the family would gather inside the circle, a barrier thrown across the opening, and they were reasonably safe.
Time passed. Eventually these people settled down and built houses. However, a superstition centered around those old rings. Anyone who destroyed or in any way disturbed a ring would be lost. His luck would be gone forever. It was like Hell on earth. Consequently the rings remain scattered in farmer’s fields all over Ireland.
We were fortunate to have a Fairy Ring not 300 yards from Liscrona. Hence the name.
If you look at the sketches and maps I have included, you will come to know a lot more about the west of Ireland than we did in 1970.
We had a Dublin solicitor, Donough O’Connor, working for us. His office was in Dublin. Harold Shapiro was our lawyer in Chicago. Transatlantic communiqués were zipping back and forth. We could have certainly benefited from a fax machine. John Kennedy and Pat also had their fingers in the pie, and we must not forget Ted Cavanaugh in Kilkee and his solicitor in Kilrush. The big agreement came in the early spring. Over a number of bottles of Korbel champaign we signed the papers. The pound at that time was 2.44 so we paid 51,250. George came up with half and we paid off the remainder in semi annual payments between 1971 and 1976, We divided the legal fees. It was an unusual arrangement because in Ireland almost all real estate is purchased for cash.
We never knew what Ted paid for Liscrona or what he spent in capital improvements. I suspect he came out fine. I hope so. He definitely wanted to get rid of his Big White Elephant, which then became our “Old Grey Beauty."