Catherine Shanahan hears of a heartbreaking decision to leave a lovingly restored home in Cobh, made for children. Pictures: Dan Linehan
No 2 Riviera Terrace is a house with a long and riveting history, recounted with great gusto by the current owner who would love nothing more than to stay put.
“It’s taken me a full year to make the decision, for me to be able to say to myself ‘You cannot live here anymore’. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s time to downsize,” she says.
No 2 has the unusual distinction of featuring in the 1974 obituary of one Professor Walter Sherard Vines, known mostly as Sherard Vines, novelist, critic and poet, who was associated with the Bloomsbury Group and taught English Literature at various universities, including in Japan where he became a tutor to the brother of the Showa Emperor.
Despite extensive travels, including a period in the Highland Light Infantry, he retired to Ireland, to Riviera Terrace, c1952, where, as his obituary notes “he found a house with a luxuriant garden” (he was an ardent botanist).
The obituary goes on to say that the house was “in some respects as unusual as the owner”.
“For instance, the dining room chairs were upholstered in an attractive tartan which was reported to be that of the Highland Light Infantry, in which he served during the World War I.
“Whether this had been done as an act of homage or in levity or for aesthetic reasons only, was never quite clear.”
The house retains much of it original character — original tiles in the hall, original fireplaces, pitch pine floorboards, cornicing, great thick walls, a magnificent coloured and etched glass window on the return of the stairs as you approach the first floor, windows with shutters, all of them working. The first floor bathroom has a 6ft enamel bath — “they don’t make them like that anymore” says the owner.
She bought the house in Rushbrooke 30 years ago when she had a young family because she wanted an old house. It had been unoccupied for some time.
“It was in a cruel state, the cobwebs were coming down to meet us,” she says “but we’d been looking for an old property for a long time and this was it.
“It became our project, we re-roofed the front of the house, put in oil heating (zoned, so that it can be turned on separately on each floor), replaced chimneys, hacked the ceilings and walls back to the brick work and replastered it. I even did a furniture restoration course.”
The owner has photographs of what the interior looked like 30 years ago, and it was in a cruel state. The photos also capture features of an earlier era — light bulbs in the corners of bedrooms where the ladies of the house had their boudoirs and where they would have dressed behind a boudoir screen.
These ladies would have been the wives of military men — the owner has in her possession deeds which show one Dr William Christopher Townsend acquired the land in 1883 from the Smith Barry Estate, Anglo-Irish landlords who owned half of Cork, including the Fota Estate.
The four houses on Riviera Terrace, built by Dr Townsend, were home to medics attached to the British Army over the years. Dr Townsend himself, a military commander and doctor, lived in nearby Oakhurst, a huge property, while collecting rent from Riviera Terrace. His will stipulates that his daughters were to get the rent from No 1 as long as they remained spinsters. He also dictated the fortunes of his parlour maid, Lena Linehan, in Oakhurst, leaving her IR£50 in his Will.
This information,courtesy of the current owner of No 2, gives real context to this fabulous property. It also reflects her passion for the house. Much love has gone in to keeping it as true to form as possible. The gardens remain luxuriant and were an absolute paradise for her three now grown-up children, she says.
She points out a sloping pathway that runs from the front patio to the end of a very long tiered garden with access to the railway line. Her neighbours also have access to this pathway.
“I would be able to see the train leaving Cobh and I would shout to my son ‘the train is coming’ and he would run at top speed and make the train to take him into town,” she says.
The railway line is not the only feature visible from the patio. There’s also the harbour, and at night, the twinkling lights of Monkstown across the water.
Next door, the neighbours are really capitalising on those views with a glass-fronted treehouse, on stilts.
Back inside No 2, the owner throws open the doors to her reception rooms which run along the front of the house. She points out the high ceilings, the gigantic bay window and original fireplaces. “It was a great room for parties,” she says.
She especially loved this room at Christmas and went all out for the biggest tree possible.
“Christmas was magical,” she says.
No 2 is a semi -detached three storey house with access via steps at the rear leading onto a side entrance via a sizeable sunroom — added on a good number of years ago and for which an planning exemption certificate exists.
At the end of the hall is the kitchen and dining area, painted a “Campbell’s Tomato Soup” orange, and retaining original features, and with a dresser built from two separate pieces by a chap who worked near the owner when she was in AIB on South Mall.
The kitchen opens onto a private courtyard.
“It’s a suntrap in the morning, I eat breakfast there,” she says. She also points out an outdoor WC, installed when the kids were tearing around the garden all day, so that there was no need to traipse through the house.
Upstairs, all the bedrooms are a fine size and reflect a faded grandeur. The views are beautiful.
Selling agent Johanna Murphy of Johanna Murphy & Sons Auctioneers says No 2 has all the charm, character and space of a sound Victorian home.
“They make a lovely family home and the proportion of the rooms are just right,” she says.
The owner is hopeful that whoever buys it will appreciate its period style. She fervently hopes it will be a family.
“It needs a family. It needs to be full of children, full of life. I hope whoever buys it will love the style because every inch of it was lovingly restored.”
VERDICT: Cobh history in spades.