Ripples from Brexit are causing long-time residents of Ferrybank to set a new course in life across the channel, hears Tommy Barker.
In a peculiar, almost perverse way, ripples from Brexit are prompting the sale of this artistically-imbued Cork harbour home, a spot where its fortunate occupants have been able to swim from the end of their garden, as and when the mood and tides take them.
Despite its expanse, there’s only a modest number of harbour residences in Cork with direct sea access and shoreline frontage. Currabinny has a handful, so too does Crosshaven, along its Point Road where about a dozen individual properties have boundaries butting up to the water. And, even of these, only a couple have slipways, and a way to dive in the sea, or to get onto a boat.
Fernbank is one of these rarest breeds, with slipway and moorings, frontage and privacy, and it’s only now for sale, for the first time since, oh, when it was built around the 1940s.
It’s been associated with generations of the Crowley family for pretty much all of its life, or lives, as what was built originally was later added to, in the 1970s, so now it’s a home of two halves, stepped down on its steep site, and is a joy to behold most of all, in its lowermost ‘quarters.’
It was originally taken on by a Dr Pat Crowley, with Cork roots but who worked most of his life in the UK, and was a weekend home for him and his family, since just after the ‘war years’... the ones before the Brexit battles.
The next generation similarly used and enjoyed it, over and back from Britain, and eventually some of the clan got to make it more practically a full-time residence, dropping a more permanent anchor, while also throwing open the doors to the wider family for holidays, Christmas and special occasions.
Now, though, the ugly Hydra heads of Brexit have thrown a spanner in the works and the way the house works for the Crowleys, one and all.
An enforced job move, in the financial sector, has seen some of the next generation discommoded and uprooted, from London.
‘He’s’ gone to Paris, ‘she’s’ buying outside London. And, the couple who’ve lived here in recent years in Fernbank are selling up, to buy back in the UK, in order to be close to and of support to their daughter and grandchildren, after her hubbie’s Brexit-driven move to France.
“Living here is like being on holidays, all the time, and has been like that for the past 52 years, it’s been so enriching” says one of the occupants, in high regard for their time in Fernbank, before segueing into a measure of frustrated desperation at the mention of the ‘B’ word, and at the prospect of the imminent, extended Crowley family next life chapter upheaval, back to Britain.
So, that’s the background to the wrench decision to let Fernbank go to new occupants.
It’s listed with the Carrigaline offices of Sherry FitzGerald O’Donovan, and auctioneer Michael O’Donovan jnr guides it at €850,000, very much at the upper end of the price scale for Crosshaven: (close by, on the upper Camden Road en route to Meagher Fort, now a visitor attraction), local agents Dennehy Auctioneers have a 0.13 acre site with full planning for contemporary 2,500 sq ft one-off, split level with car port, designed by Cook Architects.
The already well-rooted and established Fernbank meanwhile is essentially a three-bed, c 1,700 sq ft home, extremely well-kept and which almost takes the description ‘split level’ to a whole new level, but those basics alone don’t justify the €850k price expectation.
But, the site, the water aspect and proximity, the views, the privacy and the character are what sets it apart. That, and the slipway.
Fernbank, and its next door neighbour (a far larger build,) each have slender concrete slipways jutting just into the mouth of Crosshaven harbour/inlet/the Owenabue estuary, across a rocky shelf which gets very exposed by low tides in other sections; it means they get clear water access at most points of the tides, at least good enough to launch kayaks, punts or a small dinghy.
Sea swimming is made easy too, a factor readily taken into account, and as for the convenience of being able to trot up a few steps, go up the garden and go ‘home’ for a hot shower afterwards..... Aaah.
For a number of years, the family kept a Drascombe lugger, a type of dayboat and an internationally popular design for over 50 years. It was on a mooring off Fernbank, able to reach via their own private slipway by way of rope pulleys, before later on trading to a bigger boat, now kept closer to Crosshaven’s marinas and the boatyard, just around the Point Road corner.
As lovers of the sea, they’ve literally been in their element, every day, able to watch the comings and going of craft of all sizes, race nights, regattas and big, blow-out events like Cork Week.
And, as sound travels so much better over water than over land, they’ve also been privy to conversations those on boats might think were private, as well as getting earfuls of on-board commands during more competitive races, just over their ‘back wall.’
At other times, shipping hoves into their visual frame, and they’ve a clear view from the house, garden and several strategic viewing points between Haulbowline and Spike islands, right over to Cobh, to its cathedral spire, and to the quays where huge cruise ships increasingly frequently dock. There’s updates too on the movements of the Irish naval fleet, from its base on Haulbowline, and, in more recent years, there’s the hypnotic spin of some of the enormous energy-generating windmills, at some of Ringaskiddy’s pharma plants behind Currabinny.
SFOD auctioneer Michael O’Donovan jnr notes the house evolved, over its two halves, to take maximum advantage of the harbour sweep and panorama and reckons “it gets some of the finest views available from Crosshaven.” Thanks to the intergenerational artistic bent of many in the Crowley family, there’s plenty to look at and admire right now too on viewings, with many framed paintings, drawings, ceramics and sculpture.
It appears to be quite a competitive scene internally also, and the bar is set quite high, with work by at least three generations having pieces on on thoughtful display:
grandchildren of the current occupants would be about to make it four generations, but for the fact Fernbank is about to set sail from family ownership. Example of the calibre already here on display? One family member, Jill Crowley, a ceramacist of considerable renown in the UK, even has work in the permanent collection in the V&A in London: follow that!
Fernbank has eye-engaging art displayed just about everywhere, in the hall, stairwell, landing, kitchen/dining living room, and especially in the main 19’ by 16’ drawing room, which is a bit of cracker.
It’s got a triple aspect, lofted, wood-beamed ceilings, burly wood-burning stove with large hewn timber overmantle, has a hardwood floor, and two large ‘picture windows’ for the views, flanked by packed bookcases and walls all interspersed with art.
This room’s gable end has French doors to a side patio, sheltered and draped in greenery including a pergola clad in clematis, and also at this lower level (which has the biggest picture windows) is a lower hall, stairwell with guest WC, utility with engrossing views through a compact window. Then, there’s scene setter, the 30’ deep kitchen/dining room,about 17’ wide to the front, where there’s a virtual wall of glass, four large sections, two of them sliders, opening to the lower patio, which is about 20’ square, stone surfaced, and with uninterrupted harbour views and with the garden dropping out of view below.
There’s a more elevated terrace too, of course. Fernbank’s upper section (and its main entry point) is home to three laminate floored bedrooms, and main bathrooms.
The bedrooms are quite standard sized all of them capable of taking double beds, and two of them have water and harbour views. In fact, the en suite master bedroom goes one better having had a sliding patio door inserted on its front wall, to allow access to the uppermost roof terrace, edged in steel rails and timber handrails. It must be a lovely spot to slip out to on a moonlit night, when Cork harbour dials down the work-a-day activity, and marine and pleasure craft traffic.
Overall condition at Fernbank is quite pristine, indoors and outdoors, the gardens provide plenty of interest for those jaded with sea views, while the access is down a short, steep chicane from the Point Road to a parking section.
That’s almost forgetting there’s also the option to come and go by boat (dinghy, kayak, RIB, whatever’ll bob happily enough on a mooring within reach of the slip and pulleys) with the tides, for those with a bit of boating skill and a modicum of caution, as and when conditions dictate. Easing the access is a raised and railed timber protrusion, like the small afterdeck of some vessel, with a dozen or so secure concrete steps leading down to a slender slip, where there’s just enough space to store a small punt or kayaks.
For those with an interest in maritime lore and memorabilia, Fenrbank has quite the special object on display, an old timber and brass ship’s wheel, from one of the several Innisfallen ships which plied the Irish Sea from Cork to Wales.
There were five Innisfallens in all, from the 1890s up to the 1970s, and only one still sails. One was torpedoed in WW1, another hit a mine in WW11, and two were broken up, so this 12-spoke ship’s wheel has a definite berth in Cork harbour’s history.
VERDICT: The wheel turns, and time now for a changing of the crew at Fernbank’s helm.
Point Road, Crosshaven
Size: 158 sq m (1,700 sq ft)