The fine life between woods and waterfront

Tommy Barker admires a gracious and very spacious double-fronted Victorian manor at leafy Currabinny on the shores of Cork Harbour

Currabinny, Cork Harbour - €825,000

Size: 350 sq m (3,700 sq ft)/on one acre of gardens

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 4

BER: G

ONE of the great glories of Currabinny, by Lough Beg and the Owenabue facing Crosshaven in Cork harbour, is the great, mounded hill of woodland and wending walks under leafy canopies, leading to an ancient burial cairn near the top. Here, there’s even an octagonal gazebo, built as a private teahouse for enjoying Cork harbour’s wondrous vistas, far and wide, high and low.

And, in earlier times, much of the c 85 acres of mature woods at Currabinny were in the private care of one-time owners of Manor House, Currabinny. The house which surveyed all in its demesne and domain now comes for sale on one still spectacular acre, with ever-changing and engrossing views over the water.

With a mile-long perimeter walk, and 5km of trails, Currabinny woods transferred to the care of what’s now Coillte around 1969, during the time Cork TD Jack Lynch held office as Taoiseach, says Patrick O’Hara, an artist and ceramic sculptor who moved to Ireland 41 years ago with his wife Anna, also an artist, after they fell for Manor House’s charms, and abundant accommodation.

The English couple, back then with two very young children, had been on a home hunt along the Irish coastline, and had detoured at the last minute from their route back to Cork airport to Crosshaven, almost on a whim. While there, over a cup of tea, they told the man serving them they were, sort of at least, on a bit of a house hunt.

The man waiting on them, whom Patrick recalls as Cecil Curran, said he was also an auctioneer and, as luck had it, he was selling Manor House which they could see from Crosshaven, across the mouth of the Owenabue Estuary next to the much-admired terrace of ten mid-1800s-built houses.

They viewed, were won over, and were particularly taken by the fact some sheltered niches in a rear yard were a perfect size for Patrick’s kilns for his detailed, botanically-inspired ceramics. They jumped at the house purchase, and for decades it was both private home, and creative work spaces, studios, and occasional gallery too, for the productive couple.

Built in 1869, and thus just nudged over a century in age when bought by the O’Haras, Manor House had been a year or two up for sale for its previous owner, William Coe, who moved to a Georgian house in Kinsale.

It’s a graciously-sized detached double fronted Victorian era home. But, that’s not how it was first envisaged, apparently, as its original builder had intended it to be a pair of semi-detached houses, but he went bust before completing the duo and the man who finished it off opted to keep it as one single building, hence its sizeable 3,700 sq ft of space within, over two floors.

So, it’s quite symmetrical in some ways, with fine deep rooms graced by double-height bay windows left and right of what’s now a central entrance, framed and sheltered by a sympathetic conservatory/porch addition. However, there’s another ‘front’ entrance, off to the right, in a two-storey later 19th century addition, which Patrick O’Hara dubs ‘the butler’s entrance,’ as this is where guests were formally greeted by staff, back in the day, where carriages and cars would turn by the eastern boundary wall.

There was always an extra touch of grandeur, it appears, to yet-manageable Manor House, and its retained acre of tiered and maturely landscaped grounds includes what was a clay tennis court at the lower level.

That former tennis court is now a productive fruit and vegetable garden, with a semicircle of raised beds, in the shape of a giant sickle, and as Patrick originally trained as a botanist, much of the planting tends toward the exotic.

Currabinny is noted in almost any case as a spot with some of Munster’s finest private gardens, thanks in part at least to the sea-level setting which means frosts are rare, and while Manor House’s grounds are a natural delight, they won’t be too challenging to maintain.

The higher section includes an orchard with bramley apples, elm, Scots pine, and lime trees, and it backs away uphill into Currabinny woods itself, where there’s a pedestrian gate into the Coillte-maintained broadleaf forest, dense in ash, beech, birch, and sycamore, as well as Scots pine, and Corsican pine, with 400 giant redwoods more recently planted.

There’s also abundant fauna, foxes, rabbits and badgers (one badger’s been busy digging in Manor House’s leafy bowers too) and bird life is equally rich, including nesting herons in the woods behind.

Now aged in his 70s, and recently bereaved by his partner Anna who died in 2103, the still very active Patrick O’Hara recalls his early work years, prior to becoming a full-time artist, working for Unilever, selling seed and chicken feed to farmers.

“After selling to farmers, you can sell to anyone,” he quips of his subsequent success as a botanic sculptor and artist, and as a result his work of 600-plus painstakingly created, botanically astute pieces modelled on plants he’s travelled to around the globe is now in private collections, museums, galleries, embassies and other centres.

Prior to the putting the house up for sale this month, via estate agent Sean McCarthy of ERA Downey McCarthy, O’Hara held a major exhibition and sale of work (and materials) in Manor House in June, and among the works he borrowed back was one that has been in Michael Smurfit’s K Club foyer for 25 years... a long way from chicken feed, one imagines.

Sean McCarthy prices Manor House at €825,000, and says it’s a very impressive water-aspected period property, in a much-coveted setting, with lots of local history and with some of Currabinny’s very best views.

They range from the expanse of the outer harbour, to Camden, the Point Road, boat yard and marina, Crosshaven village, several windows frame church steeple views across the water, and everywhere there are boats, both moored and moving, pleasure craft, fishing boats, an ever-shifting panorama thanks to sheltered Crosshaven’s pre-eminence in the sailing world, appreciated since the reported arrival there of one Sir Francis Drake, using bends in the river Owenabue to hide from the Spanish Armada.

Just as you never know who might sail in and out, it’s as yet uncertain who’ll turn up to drop anchor at Manor House.

There have been one or two market arrivals of very high-end homes in Currabinny in the last year or two, each priced close to the €1m mark, and one reportedly made about €900k to a buyer coming from overseas but is not yet evident on the Price Register.

Like those other two top homes, Manor House will be seen as something of a prize to be wooed and won, but while it’s in good shape overall, it will need extra spending.

It has electric storage heating only, as no central heating was ever installed, and the kitchen will be seen as quite basic now for 21st century, well-heeled home hunters’ needs.

It has double glazing throughout, however, and the attic has recently been reinsulated, five principal rooms have a warm southerly aspect, and there’s scope for efficient geothermal heating to be installed in the gardens, suggests ERA’s Sean McCarthy.

There’s a clutch of very attractive rooms, including an oak parquet floored drawing room, a deep dining room with bay window and display units for art works and sculpture, a studio, and a large hall, with max ceiling height of 18’ into a stairwell, lit from above by a Velux and featuring some Japanese wedding kimonos, adorning the wall and banisters.

Every first floor bedroom has a view, of water or of woods, and the two, main front ones, each with bay window, are beauties. There are two bathrooms also, each with enormous, assymmetrical curved enamel steel baths, a ton weight each, surely.

In addition to the house’s 3,700 sq ft of character space and back service rooms and covered, courtyard studio and kilns, there’s a double garage, and adjoining boat store, right by the property’s entrance close to the rear access lane to the ten terraced homes to the west.

This garage cluster affords significant privacy to the approach to Manor House and has as its crowning glory, an entwined wisteria and climbing hydrangea which has been trained over 40 years to now encircle and embrace the entire rim of this garage building, and it’s a much photographed sight when in seasonal bloom.

A few scenic miles out from Carrigaline, and Ringaskiddy, and about a 30-minute commute from Cork city, Manor House is set close to the end of the cul-de-sac road into Currabinny, just beyond the pier and alongside are a small series of Edwardian semi-ds, and a timber home re-erected by the woods after the 1903 Cork Exhibition.

The ERA Downey McCarthy sale includes a boat mooring by the pier, and it’s likely that whoever lives here next will be a boat owners too.

As he prepares to sell up and ship out from his home, studio and acre of gardens, hoping to move back over the Owenabue estuary to something smaller in Crosshaven, nimble septagenarian vendor Patrick O’Hara is relishing the prospect of being able to walk to a local shop: in recent times, he’s taken to kayaying over to the Centra in Crosser, in a fold-up canoe.

VERDICT: The essence of Currabinny

 

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