Country home has 'Aga can-do' attitude as birthplace of Coolmore Foods

With a landscape straight out of a Constable painting this historic Brinny farmhouse on seven acres is picture perfect, writes Tommy Barker.

THERE’S an Aga cooker in the homely kitchen of this 18th century house that really has helped to earn its keep: it was the starting point for a farmhouse baking venture founded 30 years ago,and now an internationalconfectionary business, turning over millions of euro a year.

Welcome to Mishells House, a freshly reskinned period home of close on 5,000sq ft, in a wooded and valley setting, that has a long historic pedigree, but also more latterly a commercial one. It was the birthplace of Coolmore Foods, set up in 1998 by Thecla and Shea O’Dwyer, after they bought this 300-year-old property in their 20s.

Set out at Mishells, by Brinny between Crossbarry and Bandon 25km west of Cork city, Mishells House has long links back to the likes of William Cavendish, the sixth Duke of Devonshire, and to the Arnopp family who leased it while it stood at the centre of an 800-acre estate.

Later, it was lived in for a period by the former Fine Gael TD and government minister, Jim O’Keeffe, and while owned by a neighbouring farmer, lay idle for a number of years, until taken in hand and made very much their own by the O’Dwyers.

Incredibly, they bought it towards the end of a long recession while out in a local pub near Brinny, where they were told about this empty property. They visited, under the cover of darknesses, with torches, and there and then went to the neighbouring farmer owner, woke him up, and struck a deal, over just a tincture or two of more ‘good’ spirits.

Ah, the impetuosity of youth.

At the time, Shea was an officer in the Irish navy, and he and Thecla had been living in one of the quaint and tiny lodges to the Coolmore Estate by Carrigaline and Currabinny, on the Owenabue Estuary.

They moved from little to large, began a family, began a highly successful baking business using the Coolmore moniker, which flourished in the back rooms of Mishells House before transferring a few kilometres away to the Laragh Industrial Estate near Bandon. It now employs 50 people and exports to 10 countries across Europe, to the United States also, as well as to the United Arab Emirates, where tales of the business starting off at the family’s Aga oven still go down a treat.

Tragically, Thecla died a number of years ago, with a still-young family, while her business continued to develop; Coolmore Foods was sold only a few years ago to West Cork-based Lisavaird Co-op, which has acquired a number of food-related businesses (including seafood) as part of its diversification strategy.

Apart from being a family home, and a start-up farmhouse hub of a cake ‘empire,’ under the family’s ownership, Mishells House added another few strings of note to it bow.

At one stage, the paddock in front of the house leading over the seven-acre holding towards a stream (it’s a bit like a Constable painting, on a fine day and in the right light) was the grazing home of top brood mare, a horse called Masterstown Lucy, none other than the dam of Jodami, an Irish-born, British-trained horse that had a particularly good year, in 1993, which culminated in a Cheltenham Gold Cup win: cake and champers all around?

The O’Dwyer family, now at various early career and college- going stages and scattering, are selling up, trading down and moving to a city suburb, and Shea, and his second wife Colette have just engaged Bandon estate agent Roy Lee to sell Mishells House.

They seem to have given him an easy property to show off (bar its size, which takes some time to navigate!) as it’s now so freshly presented, after very considerable work and expenditure, done in two or more tranches, with the first wave in 2005 when it was re-roofed, windows were replaced with PVC; it was rewired and replumbed, with five of its six bedrooms now en suite.

The second wave of upgrades came more recently, when the entire house was externally insulated and reskinned, plastered and painted blue, quite the visual change form its previous mid-1900s pebble dash.

The insulation work alone took a crew nearly three months to complete, and added too were photovoltaic panels for energy generating, and solar panels for water heating (thanks in part to the proceeds of the sale of the Coolmore brand and business).

The proof of the pudding, like in a Coolmore cake, is in digesting the fact it now scores a highly impressive B3 energy rating, quite exceptional for a place of this scale, first started in the 1700s and added to in the 1800s, and whose fortune had gone down as well as up in the intervening centuries.

Guiding the large home, on seven acres with woodland section, paddocks, five stables, other outbuildings and courtyard at €695,000, estate agent Roy Lee says the home’s now exceptionally comfortable, with three reception rooms, a courtyard-facing conservatory, gym/stores, along with two staircases serving six bedrooms, and five en suites.

The top floor master bedroom alone, under the redone roof with slightly altered exposed beams and spread of Velux windows, is now a whopper of over 600sq ft, and includes a large bathroom, and his and hers dressing rooms, all reached by a second level staircase, narrower than the other two flights, as it would typically have been used in the earlier days by servants, and for storage.

Storage? What about an attic level find back 30 years ago when Shea and Thecla found portraits of William Gladstone and his wife up here, possibly from the Arnopps time, as they were both pro-Irish and supporters of the Liberal Party. “Sadly, they were beyond economic restoration”, says Shea, adding that when redoing the main staircase, they also found unearthed a basement room which may have been used as a hiding out spot during the War of Independence.

Little wonder, then, that auctioneer Roy Lee describes Mishells House as being “rich in history, as well as being “completely restored and beautifully presented throughout, with all of the elegance of yesteryear, with every modern comfort.”

VERDICT: B3 BER is the icing on top

Brinny, Bandon, West Cork

€695,000

Size: 5,000sq ft/seven acres

Bedrooms: 6

Bathrooms: 6

BER: B3

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