By Tommy Barker
The site of one of Europe’s once-great Roman/Turkish baths and hydrotherapy complexes, the Hydro in Tower, Blarney — near the world-renowned Blarney Castle which attracts nearly 500,000 visitors a year — has been earmarked for a €35m nursing home and associated house development.
A planning application for a 120-bedroom, purpose-built nursing home and facilities, plus 29 houses, mostly single storey, all on 30 wooded acres including the ruins of the long-derelict Hydro, has been lodged with Cork County Council, by Hydro Estates Ltd which is headed by local businessman Michael O’Regan.
The two-storey nursing home investment, ranged around three courtyards, is put at €25m, and the separate residential element at a further €10m, with houses in clusters at the south/eastern boundaries. The development team say that heads of terms have already been agreed with a national nursing home operator for the facility, which includes a secure dementia unit, and say they are “keen to commence development once planning has been approved.”
The promoters suggest that the proposed nursing home development “will re-introduce a land use, which is reflective of the historic significance of this site, and will incorporate remnants of the original structures including the reconstruction and reinstatement of the Belfry tower.”
The location is a mile and a half from Blarney village and castle, above the Tower road, and was first developed in the 1840s by an Irish doctor, Dr Richard Barter, as a pioneering hot baths and hydrotherapy sanitorium, after outbreaks of cholera in the 1830s.
It was further developed as a Victorian Turkish baths in the 1850s, attracting patients and visitors from all over Ireland and Continental Europe.
Its heyday was in the 1880s to the early 1900s, when it has 80 bedrooms, enormous coal-fired baths and pools, billiard rooms, tennis courts and a golf course.
Once billed as a Roman Irish baths, the highly successful St Ann’s Hydropatheic Establishment prompted a number of other similar health-inducing and physiotherapy baths across Britain and Europe, and also served as a military hospital during World War 1, before ceasing use in 1952, having left Barter family hands in the 1940s.
It has since fallen into considerable dereliction and ruin, but is regarded as a National Monument and is listed on the Cork County’s Record of Protected Structures.
The €35m Hydro site redevelopment proposal promises “to oversee the restoration of the tiered gardens to their former glory with the sweeping parkland and mature trees and woodland forming an integral part of the layout.”
Adjacent land to the former Hydro is also currently used as garden allotments.
Three years in the pipeline, the Hydro development team, headed by Blarney businessman Michael O’Regan who previously was involved in establishing the Blarney Business Park with John Bowen (now largely acquired for further development by John Cleary Developments) includes architects Deady Gahan, Horgan Lynch Engineers, planning consultants HW Planning, conservation/heritage plans by John Cronin & Associates with EIA assessment input from Atkins, a landscaping plan by AECOM, and traffic impact assessment prepared by MHL.