Developers return to their roots with €14m residential project on historic Youghal site, writes Tommy Barker.
Size: 65 – 128 sq m (695 sq ft-1,369 sq ft)
IN A 150 year long history of the ups and downs of a prominent building in the East Cork town of Youghal comes a new life chapter, courtesy of a €14 million residential property development. In itself, it’s a beacon of the return to better times for the coastal community and historic seaport with centuries’ long tourism draw.
Underactive and ramping up construction is the 44-unit Ashton Court project on the prominent site of the former Loreto Convent and Secondary School, on the western approach to the scenically set town (main image here is a CGI).
The development, incorporates a 19th-century red-brick large home associated with many prosperous Youghal families such as Hydes, Merricks and Condons, as well as a mid-1900s, five-storey concrete-framed school building. They overlook Youghal’s much-photographed Victorian bandstand by the compact public Green Park, by the start of five kilometres of Blue Flag beaches, right by the estuarine meeting of the mighty swollen Blackwater river with the sea.
Strong tides surge past in the engrossing views from here, as does marine life and maritime traffic; visible is the Waterford coast and the Ferry Point at Monatrea. The backers and promoters of this multi-million euro Ashton Court project (now said to be one-third sold,) also say that Youghal itself is on a positive, incoming tide of prosperity and appreciation.
Among those beacons of optimism are things like the arrival in 2019 of the gruelling Ironman sporting event and its continuation for at least two more years; the commitment to a new €15 million Greenway cycle and walking route linking Youghal to Midleton along a 23km section of former rail line; and a resurgence in the local housing market, as well as in new uses for many of the buildings and shop units along the long, long North Main Street.
Almost against a tide and trend of cinema closures, one of the reinvigorated properties on that main Youghal strip was the reopening of the Art Deco-style 1936 Regal Cinema, bought for a mere €90,000 but which necessitated a €500,000 total spend before reopening in 2018 as a three-screen movie house, cafe and wine bar.
That project was taken on by the O’Rourke family/Redbarn Construction, originally with local Youghal roots but now Leinster-based in the main, and represented by Dermot O’Rourke, and his sons David and Iain, the latter both aged in their 30s.
Naas’ signal Millenium Park project (with its enormous Kerry Group occupier on the 230 acre campus) was a Celtic Tiger times boon for the O’Rourke family who were among its early developers, selling out reportedly and getting over €100m as their share of a €320m sale deal just before the market’s peak in the later 2000s.
Other deals, with varying levels of sole ownership/joint development and/or syndicate ownership in the past five years, included the €119m sale of the Hermes fashion house HQ in Paris, the Newhall Retail Park in Naas, various development lands and more, and then they sold a share in a syndicate in Seoul, North Korea, that included the Seoul International Finance Centre and a Conrad Hotel, as part of a €2.7bn deal with Brookvale Asset Management.
And, now, slightly more modestly, there’s Youghal, Co Cork.
The family’s Redbarn Construction Ltd has been making waves around Youghal, separate to their intriguing Regal cinema side show, having taken on and completed the former ghost estate, Parklands with 37 houses and 12 apartments sold for €7.5m. Parklands house resales in the last few years alone have risen 50% in value, from average of €140,000 for three-bed semi-ds to the latest resale at €210,000.
In the next month or so, Redbarn will launch Youghal’s Lios an Óir, with 15 three-bed semis in a €3m development. They have other East Cork and West Waterford schemes in their sights and are completing 20 homes at Glenall, in Borris on Ossory, Laois.
But, clearly, Ashton Court is their current major focus or flagship, and are now offering 44 residential units in all, including apartments and townhouses, at prices from €210,000 for a one-bed of almost 700 sq ft, to two-beds, averaging €300,000 and with some of twice the size, of 1,369 sq ft, at €410,000. (Reported sales to date include a double unit at €500,000, and some prime penthouse two-beds at €320,000/€360,000.)
Design and redesign is by Cork city-based Meitheal Design Partnerships, who’ve adapted the original 1960s-70s five level school block (now stripped back to skeletal form before refitting and finishing) to hold 24 A-rated apartments, including five at penthouse/fourth floor level, served by two lifts, most with balconies, and views spanning the sea and old town walls.
Separately, there’ll be three house sites at the former convent school ground of 4.2 acres, a three-bed detached house in a building previously used as the convent school’s gym/games room, and some later phases of two and three units in other settings.
But, most likely to carry most
kudos and appeal will be the seven characterful apartments going into the original red brick, and visually appealing and aesthetic 19th century dwelling, now christened Hyde House, and several of whom will have graceful deep bay windows, with bay/sea views.
Today’s Hyde House has some roots dating to the early 1800s, most notably its rear section which has a gracious curving cantilevered Georgian staircase, redolent of that in the fire-ravaged Vernon Mount House by Cork city.
Originally owned on 12 wooded acres by a Miss Belinda Hyde, an aunt of Douglas Hyde, Ireland’s first President who had his own home, now Michael Flatley’s mansion Castlehyde, further up the River Blackwater, it was later largely demolished by local Youghal merchant Samuel Merrick.
It was replaced in the late 1800s with the bulk of the current two-storey (plus attic) over basement structure, in glazed English red brick completed at one stage with ornate conservatory, cupola-topped and feature fenestration, to a design by Cork architect William Henry Hill: only the original west entrance, west hall and library remain of the earliest residence.
Later owners, between the 20th century war years, were the Condon family, and in the Loreto Order’s ownership it served as both convent and school rooms.
It got later, 21st Century additions and access linkages to the sides, and the overall property ceased as a school in 2006 when the convent school amalgamated with the local CBS boys’ school, all vacated by 2008.
It was several years on the market, offered at a sub €1m sum all-in on 4.2 acres with nearly 50,000 sq ft of buildings, selling to the O’Rourke family/Redbarn Construction, for an undisclosed sum.
Features such as its turret/tower, and oval/oculus window in an ornate, Dutch-style brick gable front remain, and in fact the rounded window and gable feature is now the Ashton Court development’s logo, and with construction ramping up in recent weeks on site (the crane arrived pre-Christmas) substantial completion is expected by the end of 2020.
Meitheal architect Paul Sidley says the project is “an opportunity to bring these buildings back to life with a new use as a way of preserving their history and local significance,” with some contemporary buildings within the grounds sitting “harmoniously with the existing historical protected structures.”
Joint agents Brian Gleeson and DNG Spillane say about one third of the 44 units are now booked, and buyers are in the main so far traders-down/downsizers, where many have long and fond links to Youghal, and even to the convent school. Two are UK based, one’s ex-Kinsale, and there’s even a Canadian pilot so far landed among the buyers.
Hyde House’s previous owners, the Condon family, wrote their own account of Ashton Court/Hyde House, and noted the initial unwillingness of its then owner Miss Belinda Hyde to sell to Samuel Merrick.
The deal then agreed saw Mr Merrick purchase Ashton Court but as part of the agreement Miss Hyde remained in residence to the end of her days, receiving as part of the bargain the annual sum of £200.
Being already a lady of some wealth, and not fussed about the £200pa, she told her physician, Dr Charlie Ronan, that sum was his for as long as he could keep her alive. Later, the same doctor would regale his pals saying “and I kept her alive for twenty years, my boy, twenty years old Sam Merrick had to wait before he could build his dream home.”
VERDICT: A venerable slice of old Youghal, indeed.