Time to drop anchor at Cork harbour’s shipshape Roscuan, says Tommy Barker. Pictures: Eddie O’Hare
GREAT Island and the town of Cobh in Cork harbour have some of Cork’s best examples of period homes, especially Victorian ones, many of them associated with the one-time powerful and ocean-conquering British naval presence on what’s now Haulbowline Island, a harbour home to the more reduced-in-scale Irish navy.
As a result of those days of empire, many of the harbour-scanning houses built in Cobh/Queenstown are large, very large, often multi-level, some with basements, many more with attic levels.
However, the simple fact is many of today’s families don’t quite need three, four and even five internal levels: often, entire levels, either tops or tails, just fade from day-to-day 21st century use.
None of that will ever be the case at the period-rooted Rushbrook home called Roscuan, a postcard- pretty early 1800s build, associated in its first years with the Smith Barry’s sprawling and highly efficient Fota Estate at Fota Island.
Facing due west, it surveys all passing marine traffic going from the world’s oceans via Cork’s outer harbour to the inner harbour, to Tivoli for container ships, or to the city centre and quays for bulk goods, yachts, super yachts and assorted craft.
The last month alone has seen the former private yacht of Russian oligarch Roman Abramavoich, Le Grand Bleu (valued at up to €150m) and the sail training Tall Ships barque the Lord Nelson pass by Roscuan’s picturesque front door and Gothic windows.
One of a small handful (three? four?) of similar, lodge-style ornate cottages facing west and towards the waters of the harbour near the Lee’s Cross River Glenbrook/Carrigaloe ferry, and blessed with Gothic ornamentation and features, Roscuan may have originally been used for estate staff, or for visitors to Fota and its guests, and was a farm manager’s home for a period also.
And, now that it come for resale after several decades in one local family’s mindful ministrations, Cobh-based estate agent Johanna Murphy says the 2,500 sq ft five-bed house is ready to do domestic and residential service for a new family of 21st century occupants.
It’s already extended in a seamless blend, and with due regard for conserving the old and the original, and adding contemporary comforts, behind lovingly crafted additions.
Attention to detail is evident in things like the way the owners reused the distinctive terracotta tiles from the back, moving them to the front, when they added on.
“This is a house I have always admired; it just oozes character and charm and is very attractive to the eye — it looks like it has come out of a children’s fairy-tale book,” auctioneer Ms Murphy enthuses of a place that, indeed, has immense ‘kerb appeal:’ passers-by with an eye for the aesthetic and the simply pretty even stop to photograph it, oft’ times.
It’s done its jobs of family rearing, the nest is emptying, the owners — who used to moor a yacht in full view of their home and garden 100 metres from their front gate - are hoping to build a modest one-off elsewhere, and they cut their construction teeth when they upgraded and extended Roscuan about 17 years ago: it has served them well since.
Originally a modest-sized two storey detached on large gardens, it has small but perfectly ‘informed’ reception rooms left and right of a central, tiled hall, once past an exquisite stained glass rose-themed window, set into a fire-engine red half doors, recreated and re-purposed by the owners.
Each has a period appropriate fireplace, cast iron with brass hood in the 11’ by 17’ library, with built in shelving, while across the way the dining room has an arched, generous-sized Victorian piece with marble inserts.
Both rooms have coved ceilings, timber floors and original, well-maintained Gothic-style and small paned sliding sash windows, which set such a tone to the house’s external facade, and to the interior grace too.
When extending to the side, for a modern airy and high-ceilinged 23’ by 17’ family room next to the kitchen, the owners took the brave and costly step of getting new windows made by craftsmen as very exact copies of the house’s original beauties.
Not only did they do them in hardwood, and with weights in some, and snugly sliding, they also opted to keep them single glazed for authenticity (builder was Cormac McCarthy of Turnkey Construction).
This new, gable-end add on has floor to roof apex heights in a portion, and virtually a triple aspect, as there are French doors on the southern gable opening to a sun-trap patio, raised terrace and decking, but as it keys into a rear kitchen/breakfast room, it also gets eastern light, by default.
Heating in this expanse of area (central heating is from mains gas with a modern boiler, and is supplied underfloor in a portion) is via a large, integrated wood-burning stove in an interior wall, with a Liscannor stone hearth.
The high walls are great for display, the floors are hardwood and there’s just a slight step up then to the tiled kitchen, with bespoke quality kitchen units, made by the Old Pine Stores just across the river by specialists in Passage West.
Surprisingly spacious, Roscuan has a double hipped roof, and the main, original stairs now serves both the front and rear house sections with a split in the mid-ships.
There are up to five bedrooms, four of them doubles, and one’s currently used as a music room.
The main family bathroom has a superb, large claw-footed cast iron bath, re-enamelled with shining antique brass taps sourced for it, plus separate shower, and is both spacious and high-ceilinged.
Several of the bedrooms have captivating harbour views from the Gothic-framed windows, including some glimpsed during morning shaves or make-up application, from the basin in the master bedroom’s sanctuary-like en suite bathroom, reached past a walk-through dressing room.
Adding to the excellent balance of bedrooms and living rooms, are back-ups like a rear hall, utility room and guest WC, and a converted stable.
That original stable or outhouse, with faux-castellated ridge over the front wall, new Gothic-style sash windows framed above by stucco work, and in-situ poured sills, deliberately has external/side access only, and is now upgraded and used as a home office by one of the couple.
The decision was made to keep it independently-accessed, to draw a demarcation line between ‘work’ space and ‘home’ space.
Now for sale and in walk-in order for new residents and users, with well-tended and tiered gardens with some very mature trees, shrubs and climbers, the family-friendly Roscuan is price-guided at €545,000 by Johanna Murphy.
She says the current bulk of her buyers are appreciative relocaters to Cobh and Great Island, keen on the water amenities, quality of architecture, local lifestyle amenities (eh, Hullo, the harbour’s on its doorstep!) and access options, such as road, rail and ferry.
VERDICT: views, aspect, history, tended condition, space, quality – and pretty too, to boot.
Rushbrook, Cork Harbour
Size: 233 sq m (2,500 sq ft)