House of the Week: A property with a 200-year link with a romantic and ultimately doomed pairing in Irish history

A tree in the grounds of Garrybeg is said to have a 200-year link with a key, romantic and ultimately doomed pairing in Irish history — that of Irish rebel patriot Robert Emmet and his lover Sarah Curran — long predating the house itself.

Set up at the top of the sloping, 0.7-acre private grounds of Garrybeg, in Cork’s elevated Tivoli, is a gnarly old lime, or linden tree, with bushy sapling growth around its base.

The tree (pic, above) was part of the expansive, south-aspected hillside original grounds of Cork’s once-mighty 18th century home, Woodhill House, owned by the wealthy Penrose family, and was a place where Sarah Curran regularly sought solace after Emmet’s arrest and execution.

A family member associated with this house, Garrybeg, says that, at one earlier stage at least, Robert Emmet had even visited Sarah Curran at Woodhill, meeting in secret under this very lime tree.

The original Woodhill house accommodated many visitors, over its long life, including figures like Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and Mary Pike in 1797, who was abducted from Woodhill and married against her will to the ‘dastardly’ Sir Henry Hayes of Vernon Mount: Hayes was sent to Botany Bay, Australia, after a trial prosecuted by John Philpott Curran, father of Sarah Curran.

Woodhill House was filled with art, and stories and links to extraordinary events, but was abandoned in the 1930s, and its last vestiges only eventually demolished in the 1980s.

It was to Woodhill that Cork-born but Rathfarnham resident Sarah Curran was sent in huge distress after her father discovered she was secretly engaged to Robert Emmet. And, after the 1803 execution in London of Emmet, Sarah Curran spent several years at Woodhill, before eventually agreeing to marry, living abroad and later dying, in Ireland, in 1808.

Today, a handful of private, one-off houses built at various stages in the 20th century, occupy much of the grounds of the original Woodhill House on Tivoli’s Lovers Walk.

Among them is this elegantly-faded, almost Arts and Craft styled dormer, the 1935-built Garrybeg, given as a wedding present to the scion on one of Cork’s latter-day wealthy merchant and professions families, the Morroghs.

It then sold to a retired nurse, a Miss Beasley, in the late 1940s, and sold once more in 1955, to a young couple, the Matson family, who moved in October 1 after their wedding and honeymoon in Paris. It’s been in Matson family hands since, and during their tenure was extensively further planted, with detailed documents kept of what was planted, when and how they progressed size-wise.

Gracing the very extensive grounds is an ancient Spanish oak, close to the house underplanted with daffs, while elms from previous centuries were eradicated about 50 years ago, by Dutch elm disease.

The Matsons also put in extensive terraces and patios, a simple glasshouse, a vegetable garden, beds of camellias and more, all interconnected via paths lined with old cobblestones or sets.

It’s now for sale, regretfully so says the next generation of the family, who say it was a privilege to grow up with so much freedom and grounds, in such a special setting too, keen to stress the appeal of the verdant hillside, its historical resonances and making the clear distinction that “it’s not Montenotte, it’s Tivoli.”

Set above a bend within the quite chic Woodhill Park, on a wide and deep upward sloping site, Tivoli’s Garrybeg carries a price guide of €495,000 with estate agent Hugh McPhillips of Marsh's auctioneers.

That’s relatively cheap for the setting, but it’s pitched at this because it needs a fairly full upgrade now, is short on the bedrooms tally, and is likely to get extended also.

Right next door, the previously upgraded and later-built Dun Rua on a 0.45-acre site sold in 2017 via Savills, to overseas buyers, for a recorded €670,000.

Just beyond Dun Rua, on even more extensive former Woodhill House grounds which include a 300-year-old brick back boundary wall, another one-off called Robin Hill has gone sale agreed, for over its asking price with Cohalan Downing, and is understood to have fetched c€800,000.

Robin Hill’s in already excellent condition, but is likely to see a very considerable extension and upgrades and is likely to be very considerably further invested in.

Nearby, on Lovers Walk, Savills have relaunched the luxury 6,000 sq ft five-bed, Lee Mount, at €1.25m, under offer at €1.2m, while the ‘replacement’ Woodhill House, built in the 1990s and stretching to about 6,000 sq ft, went for sale in 2015, guiding €2.4m, later withdrawn unsold.

Just now available, though, is Marshs’ Garrybeg, with a certain lime or linden tree, and immense prospects. It has lots of original features from its construction 80-plus years ago, including dark wood wall panelling in the hall, picture rails, tiled fireplaces, floor tiles and pitch pine hall floor.

It has two reception rooms, each facing south looking directly over the Lee and Marina to the GAA’s new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, with even better views from one of the two overhead bedrooms (bed three was made into a second bathroom) — a vista that spans over Blackrock Village towards Passage West and the harbour, and upriver to the Elysian and further up the Lee valley towards County Hall.

It feels rock solid on its site perch, up a pedestrian path from a detached garage at the garden’s eastern boundary, its drains externally have been replaced of late, and the garage holds a stock of spare early 1900s terracotta roof tiles, of a vaguely French appearance, a type also seen across the city in spots like Blackrock’s Menloe Gardens.

VERDICT: Renewed glories await this Tivoli home and grounds.

Tivoli, Cork City


Size: 128 sq m (1,375 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 2/3

Bathrooms: 3

BER: Pending

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