Cobh’s Ardcullen is a spacious and gracious Victorian home that has been restored but has maintained its essence, says Tommy Barker.
“Sometimes I just sits and thinks, and sometimes I just thinks.”
That quote is often attributed to AA Milne, and his creation, Winnie the Pooh, but, in fact, variations on it had been doing the rounds for a decade or two before it was uttered by the winsome, quotable and honey-loving bear.
In fact, it appears in a Punch magazine as a cartoon caption in 1906, and an earlier use of it in print is ascribed to a Maine USA fisherman, back in 1905, who quite possibly was transfixed by a sea view when he sat, or thought, or recollected, or did them all together.
Well, Ardcullen, on the High Road in Cobh, is just such a place to lose one’s thoughts, or to find one’s place, to sit, to think, or just to gaze out from.
For those who love the sea, and all things maritime, it’s quite simply a spellbinding prospect.
An original Victorian era home, accessible both from Cobh’s Lake Road and the High Road, the immaculate family home Ardcullen presides from on high over Haulbowline, and the Irish Naval base.
Back when first built, in 1860s as part of Lord Rushbrooke’s estate, it would have looked out on the might of the British naval fleet at Queenstown, as Cobh was then called.
Down the years it would have had naval and marine connections, been a witness to numerous trans-Atlantic vessels coming and goings, had a finger on the pulse of emigrations, and not been impervious to Cobh’s role with the Titanic and Lusitania among other events of global importance.
On a lesser scale, it would have overseen the day-to-day plyings of trawlers and fishing boats, seen maiden voyages of ships built at Rushbrooke’s Verolme, and on a daily basis, the enjoyment of Cork’s extraordinary outer harbour by pleasure craft.
Oh, and the arrival and departure of ferries and cargo ships and bulk carriers is another thing to watch out on and watch for, and, more latterly, the arrival of enormous cruise ships to Cobh is probably the most visually arresting sights to behold.
They berth just to the town side of Ardcullen, and turn in front of it, and disgorge thousands of tourists who traipse the town, or get bussed to many of Munster’s keenest visitor locations.
At the risk of sounding like a fatigued Winnie the Pooh, there’s a lot to watch out for: no wonder you’d need a seat, at a ‘bear’ minimum.
There’s no shortage of viewing and vantage points at a place like Ardcullen, and now, after 28 years in the careful ministrations of its family occupants, it’s new to market, as the owners prepare to downsize.
Here since 1991, they say they’ve never tired of the views, by day, by night, or by season, and quip that they know when summer is on the way once more when they see the return of the Brittany Ferries’ Pont Avon passing by their house, on its way to and from France.
While here, they’ve combined work (one works in the international marine sector, surprise, surprise,) family rearing and house restoration.
Apart from bringing back the love to a house that had been empty a few years when they bought, they also did serious ground works in the garden, to create (literally) a level playing pitch out of what had been a sloping, rocky back garden.
Their daughters played ball and tennis, on the level rear elevated lawn, created after days of work by a mechanical rock-breaker, and the fact that that play space is a bit smaller than a ‘proper’ tennis court didn’t really matter, as the property’s top gate, a pedestrian access to the Lake Road, put Norwood primary school and the Rushbrooke Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club within a few minutes’ walk away.
Also within a walk is Cobh town centre, the waterfront, and the train station.
But, really, when here in the house, or anywhere on its half acre of grounds, it’s all about looking directly south, to the water, over all of Haulbowline, and with the pincerpoints of the harbour’s mouth at Roches Point in the distant yonder.
On a sunny day, such as when visited Monday morning last, with clear skies and a winter sun turning the harbour water to shimmering shades of silver and gold, the rooms to the front are almost blindingly bright, and all of the “best rooms” are here to that purpose.
A semi-detached period home of c 2,500 sq ft, Ardcullen has its two reception rooms to the front, left and right of the entry hall, with tall windows flooding the white-painted rooms within in bounced light and sunny rays.
Elegance has returned to the house, graced by high ceilings, ceiling plasterwork, fireplaces and, in some rooms, working shutters, windows are double glazed almost throughout, and internally there’s some very attractive stained glass also.
There’s a wood-burning stove now in pride of place in the 22’ by 13’ living room, which is double aspect (front to back), and has a wood-burning stove in a large, white chimneypiece.
Over on the other side is an 18’ by 14’ dining room/family room, with bay window, hardwood floor, another fireplace with smaller wood-burning stove.
It, too, is double aspect, south and east, where there are much-used French doors for access to the side of the house, the drive, to a 450 sq ft studio/workshop, and just for taking out a chair and for sipping a coffee in the morning sun, while watching the world float by, quite literally.
Ardcullen has its bright, homely and hard-working kitchen behind the dining room, and accessible to and from it, and in pride of place is a modern, La Nordica ‘Mamy’ wood-fired double oven/range, for a real ‘hearth of the home’ heating output.
It also serves to heat water, while the home’s main central heating is provided by a SEAI-grant assisted wood pellet burner (switching back to oil is also an option.)
Spacious and gracious, Ardcullen is fresh to the 2019 market with local auctioneer Johanna Murphy, who guides the walk-in condition five/six bed home on its well-kept half acre at €570,000.
Ms Murphy says it’s very uncommon to find a period era home coming to market in Cobh (Ardcullen is right on the divide line of Rushbrooke and Cobh) in such good order, so comfortable and upgraded, yet without losing its essence or being over-modernised.
“It’s just oozing with charm and character; the minute you walk in you can feel the warmth and brightness of the house, all its originality has been maintained and retained to perfection and this is very easily seen,” she adds.
It’s a three storeyed home, a listed or a protected structure given its age, period provenance and appeal, and was, the owners say, one of about 100 ‘villas’ built at Rushbrooke between 1860 and 1899, when things like sea views and southerly aspect came hugely into favour, putting Cobh/Queenstown on quite the suburban development radar.
Ardcullen has three first floor bedrooms (two of them are now are en suite, sensitively inserted in original proportioned rooms,) the mid level also is home to a modern family bathroom, and the top floor has two dormer-style bedrooms, landing and a store room with cast iron fireplace, and this is the house’s only uncompleted restoration project.
Separately, there’s a utility/laundry on a half landing/return between the two lower floors, which gives further access to the upper, rear garden and the steps and long pedestrian path leading up to the Lake Road.
To the front is plenty of parking and a turning drive to access High Road, on its last straight run into the town of Cobh itself.
On the broader front, estate agent Johanna Murphy says a lot of Cobh’s best period homes are now being bought by buyers from far outside the immediate catchment, and even from overseas and by returnees from abroad, with the town enjoying its ‘moment in the sun’ due to it lifestyle attributes, topography, quality of architecture, expansive vistas, and sea-faring tradition.
Confident of a good sale here, she says Ardcullen is quite the perfect size too for its next family: “not too big, and not too small.”
And, the sales agent who’s also Commodore of Cobh’s Great Island Sailing Club, predicts it will have new owners well berthed down by sumer 2020, when a yacht race takes place, from Dun Laoghaire to Cobh (from the former ‘Kingstown’ to the former ‘Queenstown’, to tie in with the 300th anniversary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, which had started its days at Queenstown.
Those place names changed during the momentous national events of 1920...sort of the ‘Irexit’ of the day, a century ago next year.
“That Kingstown to Queenstown race was last run in 1862, that was the decade when Ardcullen was built, and the prize at the time was £15,” Ms Murphy reveals, adding that the prize is being upped now, for 2020 honours, to a crisp €50 note.
VERDICT: A place to sit, and think, and to drink in those views.
High Road, Rushbrooke/Cobh, Cork Harbour
Guide price: €570,000
Size: 233 sq m (2,500 sq ft)