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Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan selling his historic Castle Upton home for £1.35m

Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan tells Stephanie Bell why, with a heavy heart, he has decided to sell his historic Castle Upton home for £1.35m

Published 23/04/2016

Shades of Downton: Danny Kinahan with his wife Anna and dogs Ollie and Odie at their Castle Upton home
Shades of Downton: Danny Kinahan with his wife Anna and dogs Ollie and Odie at their Castle Upton home
Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham and Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess with dog Isis in hit TV drama Downton Abbey
Danny Kinahan and wife Anna
Danny Kinahan and wife Anna relaxing in the drawing room
Danny Kinahan and wife Anna outside their castle
The hallway with mosaic tiled floor
The impressive dining room
The grounds at Upton
Family album: The Kinahans at Castle Upton, from left, sister Emma, brother Harry, mum Coralie, sister Vivi, Danny and sister Louise

Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan has revealed his sadness at putting his historic family home Castle Upton on the market for £1.35m. The South Antrim MP and his wife Anna have decided to downsize now that their four children have grown up, and although they have not yet decided on a new home location, they do plan to stay in the Antrim area.

Mr Kinahan says he enjoyed such an idyllic childhood growing up in the 400-year-old castle that he wanted to give his children the same happy upbringing.

Now that their three eldest - Eliza (23), Tara (22) and Hugo (20) - have left home and their youngest Mia (18) is preparing to start university, they felt the time was right to sell up and move to something smaller.

While their decision is a practical one the MP admits it will be a huge wrench for him and his family. "It is the right time in our lives," he said. "Everything has changed and my life as an MP means I'm away a lot. The children have moved on, so it had to happen.

"It is sad. I had such a fantastic childhood here. I was five when my father bought it, and it was at a time when Templepatrick was just a small village and there was no motorway, and it was a grand big playground for me and my three older sisters and younger brother.

"I always thought the best possible thing was to give my children the same fun time in the house that I had enjoyed as a child, and now that they have all gone to university it is time to move on.

"The children are heartbroken, too, and have a great affection for it, but they completely understand what is going on and realise the time is right to move on."

During their time in the house the couple have made many improvements, continuing the good work started by the politician's late mother Caralie, who was a main driving force in restoring much of the magnificent building.

Anna (54) has established the castle as a major wedding venue in Northern Ireland, securing a licence for religious and civil marriages, catering for up to 100 guests.

The castle's beautiful gardens have witnessed the start of many a happy union, and although Anna has stopped taking bookings because of the sale, the potential to continue the business remains for the new owner.

Castle Upton was almost in ruins when it was bought by the MP's late father Sir Robin Kinahan and mother Caralie de Burgh in 1963 after he sold off the family wine merchant business of Lyle and Kinahan.

The couple spent years restoring it in what Mr Kinahan (58) describes as "an ongoing process of repair and care".

Today, though, it is a welcoming and warm family home with much of the major works completed, including its famous gardens.

"There was no garden here when my parents bought it and did it up," the MP said. "The gardens now are lovely, like an oasis, and I think as a little boy I took it all for granted. It is only when you grow up you realise how great it is.

"I remember as a child the painters being in and all the work being done, although it wasn't all done at once.

"My parents basically made it into a really fun place to live in and we never looked back. Annie and I have also done a lot of work - we have reroofed, rewired and replumbed it.

"Basically, it is a home. Even though it has big, spacious rooms, it is not foreboding, and is this really bright, warm, cosy home that is hidden behind this great big wall.

"Maintaining a house of this size is always a bit of a battle, but not nearly as much as you would expect. I suppose it is what you choose to make it.

"We have oil central heating and there are lots of open fires and a wooded area in the grounds for timber."

The spectacular grade A-listed building does have the feel of a family home - albeit a very grand one. The ground floor features a grand hall and a ballroom, where Anna has hosted a number of weddings.

There is also a sitting room, which is a lived-in family room, a more formal drawing room, a dining room and kitchen.

The house has six bedrooms with a luxurious master suite with its own sitting room, bedroom, dressing room and en suite.

A basement level has a self-contained apartment in addition to a laundry room, cellar, wood store, workshops and storeroom.

Outside a courtyard houses an office and gallery, and there are tennis courts within the grounds, as well as around 21 acres of land.

The house has a fascinating history, its earliest roots dating back to medieval times, when it was a fort and chapel built by the Knights of St John, parts of which are still evident in the basement today.

A large part of the castle was built before 1611 by Captain Humfred de Norton, and then in 1625 Captain Henry Upton bought the house and lands of Castle Norton, as it was then called, and give it the name of Castle Upton.

Interestingly, like its current owner, Upton was an MP, serving in Carrickfergus in 1636. During the 1641 Irish Rebellion the native Irish kept all the Protestant inhabitants of the district on the defensive inside the castle.

They finally received aid in 1642 from a Scottish army, which remained on duty at Templepatrick until 1646.

The property remained in Upton hands for many generations. But by the late 1920s the Castle was in disrepair. It was sold in 1923 to a timber merchant and subsequently to an entrepreneur. When the Kinahan family purchased it in 1963 both the castle and the Adam yard were in a state of neglect.

They immediately started a restoration project, which began with the castle and the gardens being slowly returned to their former glory.

While for Mr Kinahan the whole house and gardens are a delight, when asked to pick a favourite room he doesn't hesitate. "I think it has to be the drawing room," he said. "It is large with views out to the west, so every night it gets fantastic sunsets. It sits up high and has lovely views and is always full of light."

Growing up in a castle gave him a love for antiques, and before being co-opted in 2009 to replace David Burnside as an MLA he worked for Christies as their representative and valuer for Ireland.

His political rivals have tried to use his privileged upbringing in such a grand property against him, referring to him as a "Big House unionist", but that accusation is one Anna is quick to dismiss. "It is not something he can change and he can only be himself and do his best," she said.

Her husband is used to the jibe, and his response today remains: "I would like everyone who aspires to it to have a big house. You can only do your best, and over the years we have opened the house to the public and held all sorts of community events in it and enjoyed sharing it with people."

The MP is also the cousin of singer Chris de Burgh, but he confesses to not knowing him at all and joked: "He might just know who I am. I know my sister stayed with him once. We are related, but we are not great friends and I can't sing or play music."

The couple insist they are not moving away from the area, although she admits that they have yet to decide on a new home.

"We have a few options up our sleeves, but we haven't completely decided yet," Anna added. "We aren't leaving Antrim and will stay as close as we can to Templepatrick."

  • The sale of Castle Upton is being handled by Savills. For further information contact Savills in Belfast, tel: 028 9026 7820 and ask for Neal Morrison, or Harriet Grant at their Dublin office, tel: 00353 1 663 4300.

Belfast Telegraph

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