Blackrock Road, Cork City
If you get it so right the first time, why change?
The world on the doorstep of Ashton Park House has changed hugely since 1918, just as World War l ended, and before the birth of the Irish State, a Civil War and more: But as for the house itself, not a lot has altered.
It’s every bit as fine as when first built; it’s got real but understated design and construction cred; it’s well-laid out, and utterly accommodating.
Behind the design of this home just off the city end of Cork’s Blackrock Road was one of the all-time great Cork architectural and engineering practices, Chillingworth & Levie, and their client was aWilliam Meagher and his family. His Meagher & Hayes company headed one of the country’s largest building firms a century or so ago, employing 1,600 in Cork and Dublin, active over several generations, into the 1950s.
Among their collaborations was the Savoy Cinema on St Patrick Street in 1932, one of a half dozen cinemas done by Chillingworth & Levie and the Savoy build employed 1,000 men. Chillingworth & Levie also did Roches Stores and several other shops post the 1920 Burning of Cork.
In Dublin, Meagher & Hayes did the Savoy and the Gresham, and, at the other end of the scale, they did local authority housing for Cork Corporation at Capwell Road, the first ‘social’ housing scheme anywhere in the country to have indoor toilets.
At Ashton Park House, the Meagher family also employed a housekeeper, who lived iits attic level, as well as a chauffeur, who lived in a red-brick lodge at the cul de sac entrance on the main road, just after the entrance to Ashton Comprehensive school.
Originally built on several acres of gardens, which adjoin the African Missions chapel and campus on its eastern boundary, the impressively solid, suitably substantial yet unostentatious and unfussy, Ashton Park House is just shy of 4,000 sq ft. That’s , all over three levels, with six bedrooms, two at attic level, and has an expansive ground floor plan and suite of rooms, mostly south-facing.
Undeniably large in every dimension, wide, deep and tall, yet it conceals much of its bulk thanks to things like double gable elevations front and back, varying roof lines and pitches all topped off seemingly with acres of natural slate, two storey bays, and a central balcony and porch entrance, flanked by scented wisteria and jasmine, left and right.
Brilliantly built, with features like stained and leaded glass, ceiling plasterwork etc, it’s been minded, polished, nudged on, and now, at 102 years of age, it’s got as much integrity as when new, out of the box, and has thus far been a family home to four families, Meaghers, most of them staying for decades.
It’s now trade-down time for the latter family of occupants, who’ve built a new home for themselves on a lower portion of the grounds, facing the Boreenmanna Road and next to the African Mission, while a second house has also sprung up, for a private site buyer, between the original and the vendor family’s new red-brick.
So, now, Ashton Park is very much in the centre of its own reduced and enclosed 0.5 acre (still a decent size so close to the city) of gardens, designed by the late Brian Cross, and complete with an acer tree-fringed pond with a mix of healthy koi, shubunkin and gold-fish. Its considerable privacy will be restored once a column of pleached tall laurels grows another couple of feet to screen out one of the new builds to the south.
Auctioneer Brian Olden of Cohalan Downing is the selling agent, quoting €1.25 million for what he predicts will probably be the best home to come to the top of the Cork market this year.
Mr Olden last sold Ashton Park House to the current owners back in 1997, when it made Ir£350,000 (equivalent to €444,000), a price which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a Cork city home, and just before prices skyrocketed on an annual basis for six or seven more years.
It’s in true walk-in condition, with a lustre, even while in a very unaltered state... as in not extended, and internal walls were not pulled down. The original timber conservatory was matched when replaced with easy-keep uPVC, vented at sloping roof level, all other windows over three levels are also now in white uPCV and double glazed (the BER’s a D2), while kitchen and bathrooms have been upgraded, with quality fixtures and not likely to date.
Fireplaces are original (marble, mostly), and some have Bakelite bell switches next to them, dating to the days when servants answered a home owner’s whim, as humanoid home-assistants, pre-Alexa, and doing real fetching and carrying.
There are hardwood floors and polished, small chequered tiles in the hall, past a wide, arched entrance, pouring light into the deep and wide hall. At the far/back end, a fine wide staircase with polished hardwood rails and newels is lit from a tall arched window with Edwardian-era stained glass insert panels.
Internal doorcases are deep, and ceilings have deep cornices and coved mouldings; the quality of finishes and materials is top, unsurprisingly as it was a big-league builder’s pet project day one as his own private residence, with the likes of mahogany brought back from Honduras for the staircase.
It’s a very wide property, with three reception rooms (one with a serving hatch to the kitchen) off the main hall in the two-store section core. This links to the side wing with several rooms more, including kitchen, next to a double aspect living/dining room with fireplace which, in turn, opens to the south-facing sun-trap conservatory.
Off on this far side are a back hall, a laundry room, second ground floor guest WC and shower room. This practical suite was ideal for when youngsters came home after games, almost as a sluicing decontamination chamber.
Even today, the set up back here lends itself to a family quarantining a member, or granting relative independence to another, and the attic level with its well-proportioned bedrooms holds scope for more adaptability.
The setting is so close to Cork city centre, the South Mall and to the new office developments popping up along the quays, with Blackrock village out the other way, and the new public Marina Park coming on stream by the Atlantic Pond from next year.
With its €1.25m price guide, and all of its attributes, it’s going to be a very interesting property sale to gauge the state of Cork’s high-end home in current Covid-19 times.
But, in other ways, there’s little to challenge it for appeal, scale, quality, privacy and sheer convenient location.
All of those key pointers were much appreciated a few years back when a significant visitor came for tea. It was none other than a Tony Meagher, whose grandfather William built Ashton Park House, in 1918, and which had accommodated also his father Thomas and, later Tony himself.
Aged in his late 70s at the time, Tony Meagher was able to appreciate the enduring appeal of a home he knew as a boy, room by unaltered room, and showed where a bullet had lodged in a front wall after the Black and Tans went on a shooting spree along the Boreenmanna Road.
Accompanied by his daughter Emma Meagher Neville, he also give the owners fascinating historical background, supplying them with old B&W family photographs, showing the house almost unchanged, likely to have been in the 1940s, some now framed on the walls by the current, but departing, owners;
And, as a nice example of serendipity and circularity, solicitor Emma Meagher - who has a second, background business in garden design - (Gorgeous Gardens) was asked to design the new home gardens for Ashton Park House’s departing owners. It’s almost finished construction, in a section of the once-enormous Ashton Park grounds between the Blackrock and Boreenmanna Roads, which housed ‘the children’s garden,’ and where previous generations of the Meagher family had sported, and played, and played.
: Building pedigree to its fingertips.