Killua Castle

Allen Sangines-Krause fell in love with what's left of the 18th century Irish castle in 1999. He purchased the romantic ruins. It took him 21 years to bring the castle back to life and move in.

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Allen Sangines-Krause, the owner of Killua Castle with his dog Percy
Artiom Ganin had the pleasure of talking to Allen Sanguines-Krause, who gave Killua Castle in Ireland's Co Westmeath a kiss of life. Allen first saw the 18th century building in 1999 and immediately fell in love with it. Actually what he saw back then was only picturesque walls. The rest of the manor house was gone as it had been abandoned since the 40s. Allen's brave decision to buy, restore and rebuild this once glorious castle resulted in large-scale works which dragged for 21 years. Killua was almost built from scratch. Such approach allowed Allen to make it sustainable - the old walls now protect an eclectic 21st century home fitted with geothermal heating and other green technologies. Killua which is linked to prominent Lawrence of Arabia and boasts the Raleigh Obelisk to commemorate planting of the first potato in Ireland is now a cozy private residence where Allen and his wife Lorena breed deer and receive their guest - former Spanish King Juan Carlos was among them too.

A STORY OF PATIENCE, PERSEVERANCE AND LOVE

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Allen, could you please tell me a few words about yourself and your family?
Allen Sangines-Krause (ASK): I was born in Mexico of Austrian and Spanish ancestry. I am an economist by training (Harvard Ph.D 1987). Most of my professional career was as a banker at Goldman Sachs and then as an investor in real estate and renewable energy. My wife Lorena is a photographer. Together we have three children, Alexandra 27, Sarah 23 and Klaus 21.
CnP: I've read that you visited the castle – or rather very fragile ruins - in the 2000s and immediately fell in love with it. Why?
ASK: I actually discovered Killua back in 1999. The house had been abandoned since the 1940's and it was a complete ruin with no roof and trees growing inside the house. It was love at first sight!
CnP: There are so many castles in Ireland, the UK or the rest of Europe – what was so special about Killua that made you buy it?
ASK: The surrounding countryside is wonderful, there's nothing that spoils the view. I liked the idea of working with a ruin and all the original elements were still there. It was once described as the most romantic demesne in Ireland and the potential was obvious to me.
CnP: Did you realize back then how much time, money and effort you would have to invest in the ruins to give them a kiss of life?
ASK: Not at all! It has taken 21 years and has become part of our lives. I would do it all over again!
CnP: The walls of the ruined castle were unstable and could collapse any moment – could you describe the restoration/rebuilding process in simple terms.
ASK: You scaffold the whole house and take a close look. You pray it does not fall down and stabilize it. You replace the missing stones and put in floors and roofs; you make it watertight and then you just carry on and on!
CnP: Did you manage to accomplish everything as you had planned before the restoration started?
ASK: I never really had a master plan. Just progressed as we went along. The results have exceeded my wildest expectations. All the works were funded from my pocket.
CnP: The state of the ruins required an unusual approach and you involved Punch engineers too – why?
ASK: Punch assisted us in the structural engineering aspects. The bulk of the project has been done with me working directly with my builders (Powderly Restoration) and with a number of very talented artists and artisans from all over Europe. The involvement of engineers and architects has been minimal.
CnP: One thing is to restore the facades and rebuild the inside of the castle from scratch. Recreating the interiors is a totally different thing – how did you proceed with that?
ASK: I was clear that I did not want to recreate anything. I do not believe in "putting it back the way it was". How do you choose a date? Buildings evolve through the years and centuries in the case of Killua. I have done a 21st century castle that reflects my own interests in art and history.
CnP: Where did you find the furnishing for your castle?
ASK: It is a combination of furniture inherited from my own family and over 35 years of collecting. I am an avid collector of medieval and early Renaissance art and I do like some contemporary elements.

CnP: From the outside the castle is 100% Gothic revival, how does it look from the inside?
ASK: Eclectic would be the best way to describe it! It is a reflection of our own personal histories and intellectual interests.
CnP: Going green is one of the trends today worldwide. When you build a structure from ground zero you can employ green technologies and make it sustainable. You almost built the castle from scratch – the standing walls do not count – how green is your castle?
ASK: We heat the house and produce hot water geothermally. We use solar panels to generate electricity and use a small wind turbine for the farm. Having the luxury of working with a ruin allows you to use all the modern technology in energy efficiency such as high tech insulation and LED lighting.
CnP: The existing castle was built in 1780, the history of the previous manor goes as far back as to the times of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John which had to give up these lands. Have you found any traces of the Order on the territory of your estate?
ASK: A lot of the stories around Killua are a mixture of truth and myth. We have worked with historian and archivist Andrew Hughes in producing Killua a History (available from Amazon UK). The real history is far more fascinating than the myth! There is documentation on Killua dating back to 1231 referring to a donation of its lands to Llanthony Abbey in Wales by Walter de Lacy. The old Killua churchyard dates back to the 7th century. St. Dalua, after which Killua is named is mentioned in the Book of Armagh in connection with St. Patrick.
CnP: By the way do you know any legends about your castle and if yes could you please share one with me?
ASK: The legend about the Knights of St. John being in Killua during the Middle Ages, although inaccurate, is not complete rubbish. Killua had Welsh Agustinian monks and the Church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Sir Thomas Chapman may have been genuinely confused rather than just making up a tale.

THE FIRST IRISH POTATO AND MODERN CATTLE BREEDING

CnP: There's the Raleigh Obelisk next to the castle – in memory of Sir Walter Raleigh who is believed to have planted the first potato in Ireland exactly where the Obelisk is located. Is it just a legend or is this story true?
ASK: Just think about it for a second. Raleigh sails to Virginia, fetches a potato, sails back to Europe, does not stop in Co. Kerry where he actually owned land. Gets to Dublin, rides a horse to Westmeath and plants a potato in the middle of a field that belonged at the time to the Earl of Westmeath! Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? But never let truth get in the way of a good story!!!!!
CnP: Exactly! Forget about the potato. You seem to carry on with cattle breeding, right? Please tell me about your deer and venison you produce and sell.
ASK: I am very interested in regenerative agriculture. We have a herd of red deer, Irish moiled cattle, Old Irish goats, Jacob sheep, Kerry Bog ponies, geese, ducks and hens. We have also allowed certain areas for wildlife and have recently started a rewilding experiment in part of the land. The environment is one of our family's passions.
CnP: You use the castle as a private residence and enjoy the beauty of the Irish landscapes. Which room offers the best view at the surroundings?
ASK: Each room offers something special, from the front of the house, you can see all the way to the hills of Loughcrew. The view from the back is lovely parkland and the lake.
CnP: Is it possible to visit your castle with a guided tour?
ASK: The grounds are open for free every Saturday from 1000 to 1600. We intend to open the house for guided tours once the COVID restrictions ease.

CnP: Which part of your castle do you like most of all?
ASK: The cellars!
CnP: You surely receive guests here – the former king of Spain Juan Carlos was among your guests several years ago. What did he like about the castle.
ASK: Yes, he visited us in 2017. He enjoyed the countryside and repeated several times that I am a complete lunatic!
CnP: The former Spanish king should know a thing about castles, shouldn't he? Killua is of course connected with world famous TE Lawrence, the man who is better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Could you share a fact from the castle history which is not generally known or a fact which is somewhat extraordinary and unusual?
ASK: The connection with Lawrence might be tenuous….or not! Lawrence's father was the last Baronet of Killua Castle, however he never lived in Killua. However, when he and his mistress, Sarah Junner, were discovered in Dublin, she was heavily pregnant with their second son. Supposedly, they moved to Wales before she gave birth, however, T.E. Lawrence was registered in Wales when he was already one year old. All their other children were, on the contrary, promptly registered after birth. Local legend is that he and his wife stayed at Killua with his sister, Lady Caroline Margaret Chapman and that the future Lawrence of Arabia was born in Killua on the first floor, above the smoking room.
CnP: Looking back at everything that you did to the castle – what would you have done differently?
ASK: I have absolutely no regrets!

CnP: You don't want to return to a big city and live a life of a "normal" city resident, do you? Why?
ASK: I keep a flat in London where I go when I need to but I do not see why would I change Killua for anything else!
CnP: Fair enough. Maintaining such a castle requires certain efforts – do you do all on your own or do you employ local who help you run it?
ASK: We have a farm manager but I am very hands-on in the running of the property.

CnP: How do you get along with locals – people should have welcomed your saving the castle, didn't they?
ASK: The people of Clonmellon are absolutely the best! We LOVE Clonmellon!
CnP: My traditional question and you can surely answer it better than anybody else: what would you tell those who just like you fell in love with a ruined castle and want to buy it and restore it to its former glory either as a private residence or an exclusive hotel?
ASK: Do it by all means! Having been in the 5 star hotel business, I am not sure that a castle is ideally suited but as a private residence, it is absolutely the best!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Allen Sangines-Krause the owner of Killua Castle in Westmeath, Ireland.

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Photo credits: Killua Castle

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