Curragh House was brought back to life with blood, sweat and toil, says Tommy Barker
Pictures: Denis Minihane
It's all been done, and done well, at this Donoughmore stone home, one steeped in local history, and with an unusual family angle to its past.
Bought 20 years ago as a sad ruin which had been empty since 1909 by which time it had already been 100 years old, the local expectation was that Curragh House, north of Blarney and Tower in Cork near Donoughmore, would be demolished, and redeveloped as a site.
Not so, not so at all. It’s back, bigger, better, with enhanced comforts and barely a stone left unturned, or unpointed, or aesthetically reset.
And, now, after immense graft, it’s up for sale as the family who’ve pulled it back from a parlous state to create something with a strong presence and an assured future, are on the move. Auctioneer Robert O’Keeffe of Irish and European guides at what seems a very reasonable €465,000. It’s a work of some admirable masonry skill, done by the couple who’d bought as a project, prior to the arrival of children. It took four years of graft, from 1999 to 2003, involving hand-on labour, generations of family, siblings, friends, and much scouring of salvage yards, and antique shops.
The woman of the house is a local, born and reared nearby, and knew of this then-abandoned house’s presence when the couple went to knock on the door of the house’s landowner, to ask would he sell.
“When my father heard we wanted to buy, he said ‘well, I presume you’ll knock it?’” she recalls, and her dad later revealed the house was used by children decades earlier, as a secret hide, a doss house or a place to mitch from school.
He ‘fessed up to his own occasional truancy even, at a young age. When the house was theirs, and work was starting, they actually found his own youthful, literary handiwork scraped on an upstairs wall: ‘Patrick Murphy, 1939’ it boasted.
He’d scratched it there when he was on the lang from class, aged 10 years old: never could he have imagine that 60 years later, his daughter would be buying it, that he’d be roped into help out with the fetching and carrying of tools and hire equipment, or, even more far-fetched, that the house would go on to the the family home of his three grandchildren, a granddaughter aged 10, and twin boys who one year, 11 months, and four days older than her (these things matter at a certain age), heading next year to secondary school.
If stone walls could talk, and tell tales, even that might all seem a tale too tall for a boy back in 1939, hiding out from school, and ironic that his daughter and the ‘woman of Curragh House’ is now herself a school teacher.
Curragh House had a hide and seek history far earlier than this, though, as it and its sheltered outbuildings had been a focus for IRA activities back in the time of the War of Independence, having been used for training and storing arms at that period: some of that cache, including grenades, was unearthed post 1990, when rebuilding works got into gear, the now-owners reveal.
The house’s setting is elevated, and sheltered, above the River Shournagh, which flows down from the Boggeragh mountains to join the River Lee by Carrigrohane, picking up the Blarney and Martin rivers along its route, in an area of ancient settlement history. The field next to Curragh House contains a souterrain, and the property’s current owners reckon it dates to the 1820s as a farm house, later added to in that same century, and had been associated for generations of the Ruby (or, Rubie) family, originally from the town of Roubaix in northern France, but long domiciled in Ireland.
Its last occupant was a Townsend Beamish Ruby, born in 1821, and who died in 1909. After his death, it went into a long, and slow, decline, and images of it in a forlorn state appear in the quite recently published book, Ancient Sweet Donoughmore, by Gerard O’Rourke.
The Ruby name is recalled still, at Ruby’s Bridge, and the book notes another link with France, when during the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the people of Donoughmore donated £31 3s in aid to the sick and wounded of Paris – a generous act on international solidarity.
There’s a generosity to Curragh House itself, swollen now up to c 2,600 sq ft for quality home, with an immense ‘heft’ to its build and construction and reconstruction.
Very much a labour of love by the hands-on owners, with a love of stone and clearly a knowledge of how to work it, it’s now a home that combines old world authenticity, the best of natural materials such as quarried slate and hardwood double glazed windows (sashes, in the main) and doors, plus cast iron radiators, and some quirky layout, and modern com
forts. They drafted in experts only for things like the roof, with its red ridge tiles in contrast to the slate, plumbing and electrical, and all the rest was done by themselves, with a large photo album full of prints as a reminder of just how engaging the process was, over the three to four years.
Virtually all of the stone came from the site (bar some super-deep limestone sills that would not be out of place in a castle,) while an old cattle shed supplied much of the sandstone as a sort of ‘donor’ building.
Then, about 10 years ago, they added on, grafting a bright new single storey kitchen/dining room onto the back of the original structure which itself had been built in two stages, judging by the roof profiles and old B&W photography from its heyday.
This double aspect space, now the new heart of the home and the brightest room by far, saw them set out the proportions to suit the kitchen units they had already got made day one for the original rebuild, by cabinet maker Nick Moody of Coach House Kitchens, so they had that transplanted to its new quarters, in a room about 35’ by 18’, with vaulted ceilings and six overhead Velux windows.
This room has a reclaimed pitch pine floor, island unit with oak top, oil-fired black Rayburn range as well as electric cooker and hobs, and has black stone worktops and a curved Belfast ceramic sink, all country style with practicality at its core.
The room backs into a lounge/family area with solid fuel stove set into a inglenook-like recess with stout beam or mantle, and further along is the main house sections, with the property’s age indicated by slight different internal level, and halls running in two directions.
Ranged off those circulation spaces are a ground floor bedroom (it used to be the kitchen until 10 years ago) and it now has an en suite wet room, making it very adaptable for guests, older relatives, an au pair, and is currently used as a semi-independent section, with the added-on conservatory acting as a living room, close to this bedroom.
Along the other direction, closer to the main or formal entrance, are two reception rooms, each with very good quality period fireplaces, one in sandstone in the drawing rooms (or, the green room, as the family call it, as there was a tree growing in here 20 years ago).
There’s now a well-constructed staircase, with graceful curving hardwood handrail, which is carpeted with polished brass stair rods serving the first floor’s main family bathroom (shower over cast iron bath) three bedrooms, split with two at one end of the house, and the third is the other direction, with high ceilings and which has the attic access.
The master bedroom, about 15’ by 13’, has a double aspect, all three bedrooms have varnished wood floors and storage is in an array of very large, period wardrobes – the owners love their antique furniture as much as they love old buildings (they are moving on to another project, by Carrigrohane, coincidentally where the Shornaugh river winds up meeting the Lee.)
Curragh House is on a very private 0.8 of an acre, elevated above the road between Donoughmore/Firmount and New Tipperary, and the grounds include a great, spreading mature evergreen oak, beech, willow, ash, alder and maple. Needless to say, at this stage, much of the boundary and approach avenue is lined with dry-stone walling.
There’s a large sit-out terrace to the front, overlooking lawns, landscaping and the Shournaugh valley below and beyond the road, and the terrace has been paved withe very large old, thick slates taken of the original house’s roof, another example of instinctive conserving and repurposing of materials.
In addition, there’s now an orchard planted up in a sheltered garden section ringed by stone wall boundaries, and there’s an array of garden sheds and multi-purpose out-buildings, with power supply.
Piece de resistance, however, has to be the large, Victorian glasshouse, a truly impressive build, and one fashioned for the long haul.
Having googled for design ideas and proportions, the owners built it themselves, using old red bricks for a base, and then had a local fabricator steel worker make up the frame in galvanised steel, finally fitting it with toughened glass throughout for an incredibly robust construction to withstand most assaults.
So far, this horticulturally productive 21st century take on the Victorian classic has survived footballs kicked at it, sliotars gone awry from games of hurling, and the odd child has been known to climb on its roof, possibly displaying as much trust as naivety.
VERDICT: Rock solid, and history in spades.