We were just 10 minutes outside downtown Waterford City, but the forest was thick on both sides of the narrow road. We’d driven up and down it three times, but we couldn’t find the listing.
Pouldrew House was the sixth potential corporate retreat property we would be viewing together in the week since we’d landed in Ireland. The first four had been in and around Galway, the fifth and now this sixth property, Pouldrew House, in County Waterford.
“The entrance should be right here,” Lief said, referencing his notes. “How can we keep missing it?”
“There!” I shouted. “Do you see that small opening in the trees up ahead on the left?”
Lief slowed the car to a crawl, and finally our path was visible. The hidden drive ran almost parallel to the road we’d been traveling. Tall trees and high hedges blocked the sun, and we continued in near darkness. Then the growth gave way, daylight returned, and we could see an old wooden watermill turning in the river running alongside us. A minute later, we reached a black iron gate. A short stout man came out from the guardhouse and walked over to Lief’s window.
“I’m Lief Simon,” Lief said through his open window. “I’m here to tour the property.”
“Yes, of course, just one minute.” The guard turned in the direction of the gate. While we waited for him to allow us through, I read to Lief from the listing sheet.
“It says the house was built in the Palladian style by Viscount Doneraile in the early 1800s. It’s on 45 acres of mature woodland, with gardens and a lake fed by the River Dawn. It’s got renovated stables with a loft overlooking a waterfall.
“It also says here that all of the windows, doors, shutters, and moldings are original. I can’t wait to see this place.”
Once we were through the gate, we passed the waterfall on the left, then, as we came around the bend, Pouldrew House came into view. The three-story Georgian mansion of white stone was positioned at the edge of the blue lake and seemed to float above the water.
“Wow,” I said.
“Don’t say that inside,” Lief cautioned. My new boyfriend had learned quickly that I have zero poker face. When I liked something, I had trouble keeping my enthusiasm to myself. He, on the other hand, could spend an hour at a property and leave without saying anything more than “hello,” “thank you,” and “good-bye.” I respected the strategy, but these big old Irish country properties were the stuff of fantasy for me. I couldn’t hide the pure delight I was experiencing wandering through them, knowing that Lief might actually buy one.
This one was particularly glorious. It was situated only seven miles from Waterford City and the airport and had been recently and fully renovated.
We parked in front of the lion’s head statue at the end of the drive. A tall Asian man stepped out the front door. He must have been watching for our arrival.
“Remember, please, to let me do the talking,” Lief said as he got out of the car.
I followed him to the front door of the house and looked inside to see an entrance hall with rows of white columns, a double mahogany staircase, and an enormous Waterford crystal chandelier. I wanted to race inside to be part of it. This was my kind of place.
“Hello and welcome,” the tall Asian man said, extending his arm to shake Lief’s hand. “I’m Dr. Chen. Please come inside.”
We followed Dr. Chen through the grand entrance and into the salon to the right. The house lived up to the listing sheet hype. I’d never been inside a private home as grand.
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“Please have a seat,” Dr. Chen said, and Lief and I sat together on the sofa. Dr. Chen sat in the armchair across the room, leaving a wide expanse between us and him that, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows in the very high-ceilinged room, was bathed in light. The carved wooden overmantel above the oversized fireplace was lined with antique ceramic blue and white Chinese plates and vases of red tulips.
“Before we tour the property,” Dr. Chen began, “can you give me an idea of your interest? I understand you are planning to move to Waterford. Would you live at Pouldrew House?”
“No,” Lief said. “I’d like to develop a center for corporate retreats.”
“Ah, Pouldrew House would be ideal. The house is 13,000 square feet with 7 bedrooms and a dining room large enough to seat 30 guests. In addition, we have a large terrace, mature gardens, and several outbuildings that could be converted to additional accommodation or private meeting rooms. Come, let me show you.”
Dr. Chen was a medical doctor from Singapore who’d bought Pouldrew House only three years before. He’d been living there with his wife, the two of them overseeing the restoration work, until his wife decided she didn’t like living in Ireland and returned to Singapore. Dr. Chen had stayed behind to sell the property.
I said next-to-nothing as we toured, and Lief said exactly nothing, but he was taking more time with this viewing than he had with the others. This could be just the place he’d been hoping to find.
After our tour of the house and the grounds, we returned to the salon where Dr. Chen got down to business.
“When would you be looking to make your purchase?” he asked Lief.
“I have no timeline,” Lief said. “I’m looking at many properties, and I’ll have to run all the numbers before discussing anything specifically.” He was keeping his cards close to his vest. I wondered how he could appear so calm. It was taking real effort for me not to let my enthusiasm show.
“Well, this is a one-of-a-kind place,” Dr. Chen said. “And it’s getting a lot of attention. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have inquired.” I struggled harder to keep the look on my face blank.
“Well, I’ll have to run the numbers,” Lief said.
While the two men talked turkey, I studied the collection of Chinese snuff bottles in the glass-fronted cabinet between the two front windows. There must have been 200 of them, lined up in neat rows.
Dr. Chen came over, opened the door to the hutch, and picked up one of the bottles.
“This is for you,” he said, holding it out to me. “A small gift so you will remember your visit.”
I wasn’t sure I should accept and looked over at Lief on the sofa. He showed no reaction. I turned back at Dr. Chen, who was smiling as he continued to hold out his offering.
“It’s too much,” I said finally. “It is too nice a gift. I can’t accept it.”
“I insist,” Dr. Chen said. “I would like you to have it.”
I took the little green and white bottle from his hand.
“When you return, I’ll show you the rest of my collection. I have hundreds of these bottles, in cabinets throughout the house.” When he said it, I knew he was right. We’d be back.
“You seem to have made a friend,” Lief said when we were back in the car. I tried not to smile. He was jealous.
“So… what do you think?” I asked, changing the subject.
“The property is perfect,” Lief said, finally acknowledging his interest though with maddening calm. “Now I have to see if the math works.”
“I wonder if Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are really interested,” I said eagerly.
“Who knows,” Lief said, still nonplussed. “I’ll put the figures into a spreadsheet tonight and see what I can afford.”
I would have made an offer on the spot, but my new boyfriend, I was learning, took things one step at a time.
We’d allowed extra days at the end of the trip for some fun. The Pouldrew House viewing was the final item on our business agendas. Now, finally, we could be tourists. As much as I’d traveled in my years at Agora, I’d seldom been on vacation. To have no daily objectives, no schedule, and no urgent reason to be up before dawn each morning was unprecedented for me, and I’d been looking forward to these few days of freedom with Lief for weeks. Kaitlin was safe and happy with my parents in Baltimore, and I was a single young woman on a romantic adventure in a foreign country with a man I felt more attracted to every day.
Now we had a chance to get to know this county the Irish kept telling us was the country’s sunniest, though, by the third day of this visit, Lief and I had agreed the idea had to be tourist board propaganda. It’d rained every day. But we didn’t mind. The low skies and near constant mist made for a dreamy backdrop.
From our Waterford City base, we took off each morning of our mini holiday to explore the surrounding area. We drove for hours through rich green farmland getting lost on narrow, winding roads, not minding not knowing where we were or where we were going.
Then we headed to the coast. Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford was once southeast Ireland’s main seaport. The traditional sea approach was via a broad channel past the lighthouse of Hook Head and the village of Crooke. Cromwell is reputed to have said that Waterford would fall “by Hook or by Crooke”—that is, by a landing of his army at one spot or the other during his siege of the town in 1649. The beaches in these spots are considered the best in Ireland, with white sand and lapping waters. You could imagine yourself in the Caribbean if it weren’t for the constant gale and the freezing water. We stood on the shore in sweaters and jackets watching the Irish swim and surf.
We walked the cliffs at Dunmore East, saw the water crash at Mahon Falls, drove along the Copper Coast, and explored 13th-century castles. Lief won a stuffed bear for me throwing darts at a stall in the seaside amusement park at Tramore. Then we stopped on the way back to the city so I could pick wildflowers along the side of the road to put in the little vase he’d bought for me when we’d toured the Waterford Crystal Factory.
We spent our final evenings in Waterford snuggled close together in wooden seats by the window of a pub listening to traditional Irish music. We’d make our way back, hand in hand, each night, through the mist and along the cobblestoned streets, to our hotel overlooking the River Suir. I’d confessed to Beth over a glass of wine one night before leaving for this trip that I thought I was falling in love. Now I knew I was.
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