History on the hoof at Cork's Walton Court sale

There’s always been a sort of wayward independence attached to the coastal Cork property Walton Court — and, little wonder really, as this historically colourful house dates back to 1776, the same year as the US Declaration of Independence.

That seminal date is inscribed in stone on a gable pediment of this mixed-breed, stone-built Georgian property, in a sheltered crook within Oysterhaven Bay by the highly successful Oysterhaven Centre, running outdoor and marine activities since 1981, 10 minutes (8km) from Kinsale, 20 minutes from Cork Airport and city the other direction, and is a world away from the hustle and bustle of both.

The stone bears the legend ‘TW 1776’, and refers to Walton Court’s first owner, a Thomas Walton, whose family archives show an entrepreneurial spirit, smuggling silk and brandy from France, evading English coastguard cutters along the route with hazards every step of the way.... the sail training ship the Astrid was wrecked along Oysterhaven’s headland cliffs as recently as 2014, if you want a locational ‘marker’.

When built back 243 years ago, this main house was only an ‘extension’ added by the Walton clan to a pre-existing tower house, whose roots went way further back, 200 years more, to 1576, when it was associated with the Roche family, Norman arrivals to Cork in the 12th century.

Between the house and tower, it carried a Walton family link for 300 years, who carved out quite a reputation for wealth-creation, via smuggling, and still ‘proudly’ carries their name, after several diverse ownerships and many transformations.

To say Walton Court is steeped in the history of the south Cork locality around Kinsale is clearly an understatement: its fortunes seem to have ebbed and flowed as much as the tides that now lap its 200 metres of sheltered shoreline, in an inner stretch along scenic Oysterhaven Bay, on five acres.

It has hardly stopped changing, and growing, ever since, and got a recent burst of building in the course of its current ownership, over the past 20 years, effectively a mere ‘blip’ in its long existence.

Walton Court was bought by UK/Irish couple Paul and Janis Rafferty, after they met in Kenya, in 1996, when it reportedly had planning permission for a hotel and leisure centre, and which had been lived in by two retired priests from Scotland, and their sister.

With a prior background in renovating Victorian properties in the UK among other activities, the Raffertys started a process of restoration and upgrades to the main house, and then made various guest accommodation expansions into its courtyard and stable buildings, creating five self-catering cottages or apartments.

Later, in 2006, they added seven townhouses further above on the property’s grounds, with separate road access, and variously to-ed and fro-ed with other projects, including adding a covered courtyard swimming pool, a meeting room for small conferences, and a cafe, which won the Georgina Campbell ‘Best Cafe’ national award about five years ago.

Prior to that, though, Walton Court’s incremental expansions created planning waves, and hit national headlines, after the Raffertys put in a jetty and slipway into the bay.

It was objected to, and deemed unauthorised in both planning and foreshore licence terms, given the bay’s scenic status as well as other issues. Court action was mooted, it was addressed by TDs and ministers, and had to be removed under 21st-century pressures that the smuggler family, the Waltons would have been utterly indifferent to.

It’s now for sale, following the passing away of Janis Rafferty, with a guide price of €4.25m quoted by estate agent Malcolm Tyrrell of Cohalan Downing Associates, acting jointly with Callum Bain of Colliers International, and that guide is very much driven by a Kinsale ‘halo’ effect.

The wider Kinsale and coastal area is much favoured by a wealthy international elite, evidenced by the clientele visiting the Old Head of Kinsale, some of whom return to put down property roots. Fly-bys of Walton Court by helicopter over the summer months may not be unknown, as those with golf bags and money bags take a slight headland-hopping detour, along the indented coastline.

Despite the difficulty of valuing something quite so unique, with an exceptional setting and an income stream, a buyer could come from, quite literally anywhere, and with any sort of ambitions for it. They may rock up from overseas, come out of Kinsale, or come out of the woodwork, and there may be interest in it in lots, but it’s offered primarily as an entire.

So, five acres of land and gardens with good tidal water frontage, a main six-bed home steeped in history and with all the right feel of its antiquity, are the key, along with a couple of staff houses, plus 12 self-catering units which have been used in the main for long-term lets, cafe and more are all on the table.

The joint agents describe it as a delightful Georgian country house, noting it has “substantial ongoing income, with potential for further expansion should the main house be used commercially.”

“Walton Court is truly a unique and interesting property,” they add, saying there’s “untold potential, in a location that is unsurpassable.”

Further up along Oysterhaven inlet, well in from the one passed coincidentally, is another Separately, and in more recent times, the late Heide Roche oversaw the painstaking complete renewal, between 2013 and 2017, of Newborough House at Ballinclashet Creek, upriver from Walton Court, at a multi-million euro cost. That period property had been gutted by fire in 1960.

Centuries earlier, in previous Roche clan times and the Irish Confederacy time of insurrection, James Oge Roche was beheaded, executed for treason, and the lands went to the English Crown (another reason to beware of Oysterhaven’s Sovereigns?) , with other owners being Barrys, generations of Waltons, Roberts, Gumbleton, and most recently Rafferty.

Also passing through, interim, were an Irish retired tea planter back from India, an eccentric Church of Ireland minister the Rev Harold Hadden, whose obsession with tales of the Waltons’ smuggling exploits saw him map and excavate parts of the land in search of buried treasure.

It also includes “two colourful, retired Catholic priests from Glasgow, who ran the local bar at Walton Court,” according to the Raffertys’ researches and records on the property they’ve reworked, using the skills of international craftworkers and materials from home and abroad. Silks from France, even.

VERDICT: Yet another chapter beckons: who’s next?

Oysterhaven, Cork

Price: €4.25m

Size: 660 sq m (7,105 sq ft) main house/ 5 acres, 12 self-catering apartments

Bedrooms: 6 + 24

BER: Exempt

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