LOCALS of Abbeyleix, Co Laois, are gearing up to welcome a new neighbour to the heritage town, as young Irish billionaire John Collison has recently purchased the prestigious Abbeyleix House and surrounding 1,120-acre estate.
r Collison co-founded the online payment platform Stripe with his brother Patrick in 2009, and as of 2021 it has a market value of nearly $100bn. It comes as no surprise, then, that John Collison has paid an estimated €20m for the expansive estate and mansion, and locals are excited to see a new resident with the means to maintain and develop the property.
“Céad míle fáilte go mór onto them,” said local parish priest Fr Paddy Byrne.
“I think it’s great that a local, Irish family who have done well will take ownership now, and I wish them sincerely the very, very best. I hope that we can as a town and community benefit by their presence, that we can all be inspired, and that their entrepreneurial spirit is contagious.”
Fr Byrne said that he is “envious” of John Collison’s new back garden, consisting of over 1,000 acres of ancient woodland and meadows, which the previous owner David Davies had granted permission for him to walk through during lockdown.
“It’s a taste of heaven, alive with nature and deer and you name it, and one of Ireland’s oldest forests,” he said.
“If he needs a hand with any maintenance, I’d be happy to get out there and roll up my sleeves and work in the forest a day or two a week!”
Local councillor John Joe Fennelly says they are just waiting for the call to arrange a welcome party.
“We have a fantastic community in Abbeyleix. You won’t surpass the community we have here anywhere in Ireland. We’re looking forward to getting a phone call to meet up with John and to welcome him,” he said.
The close relationship between the locals of the town and residents of the estate stretches right back to the De Vesci family, who built the current house in 1773.
They created the majority of employment for townspeople in the 19th and 20th century, in a sawmill, forestry, farm and gardens, and a brewery built at the bottom of the town. The family also built numerous houses for people to live and rear families in, only charging a nominal fee.
“Abbeyleix is a heritage town, and the De Vesci family were always very good to the town. The monuments in our market square in the town are actually devoted to them,” said Cllr Fennelly.
“There was always a great connection between the people of Abbeyleix and the De Vesci family, and also Sir David Davies,” he said.
Mr Davies, a banker and businessman, bought the estate from the De Vesci family in 1995 for €3m, and lovingly restored the house to its former glory.
“A lot of credit has to go to Sir David Davis for his restoration, that’s been a labour of love over the last few years. Where possible, he used local labour and he preserved the house to its current state, which is in really good order,” said Chairperson of Abbeyleix Tidy Towns, Robbie Quinn.
Sources have said that John Collison is committed to being a “custodian” of the property, maintaining the house and sprawling estate, which is music to the ears of locals, and especially for the environmentally focused Abbeyleix Tidy Towns.
“Climate action, biodiversity, sustainability, they’re all the main pillars of what we’re trying to achieve here in Abbeyleix. We believe he’s very engaged in climate action projects through the company, Stripe, so that’s music to our ears,” said Mr Quinn.
David Davis had worked with Tidy Towns previously on a pollination project, where they harvested seeds from the ecologically diverse and species-rich meadows on the estate.
Mr Quinn is eager to get Abbeyleix’s newest resident involved in future projects.
“Our biggest problem at the moment is traffic volumes coming through town,” he said. “We’re trying to campaign for more cycle-friendly and active travel. By all accounts, that’s his gig as well, so it would be lovely to get him to lead a campaign to leave the car at home.”
On the main street in Abbeyleix, owner of Mueller & O’Connell Bakery, Richard O’Connell, says the town has been buzzing with the news, which locals were clued in to since April.
“People are delighted to see the estate going into a pair of safe hands, and Irish hands. It has been news around here for quite a while, it’s only hitting national headlines this week,” he said.
“It’s great to see it presumably in the hands of a young and energetic person who can keep it in good shape,” he added.
Mr O’Connell is looking forward to welcoming Mr Collison when he moves in, and hopes he might pop in some morning.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing him. We hope he likes good coffee, sourdough and almond croissants. So long as he’s discerning in terms of his taste in baked goods, we’ll all be delighted, and we’ll be able to look after him.”
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