Tivoli House site a slice of Cork history

This odd-shaped, brick-faced and well-sited ‘60s Tivoli House, replaced a Palladian manor, which had its origins in the mid-1700s.

Painting: Nathaniel Grogan/NGI

CARRYING vendor hopes for high sale values due to development/site potential, the Cork property Tivoli House has, long historic roots, and varying future prospects.

The wedge/arc-shaped detached house, designed by an acclaimed local architect of the time James Buchan, was built in 1961 by a builder who was equally well-regarded, Barry Burke, for a family called O’Briens, associated with then-booming Youghal Carpets.

This odd-shaped, brick-faced and well-sited Tivoli House, however, replaced a far older original, a Palladian manner early Georgian manor home, with its origins in the 1700s and which, in its time and prime, had steep, wooded grounds cascading down to the River Lee.

Those C18th grounds have both waxed and waned since. While once they reached the river banks, intervening years saw in-fill along the Lee’s northern banks (and, on the south at the Marina/Navigation Wall) creating the Lower Glanmire Road and, later, allowing for the 19th century rail service line to expand east of the city, still serving Cobh and Midleton.

Landfill/infill also allowed for the creation of wharfs and docks and, still the industrial estate and Port of Cork operation and Tivoli container terminal, edged by the river on one side, andTivoli dual carriageway on the other. Great houses, like Lota, Lota Beg, and Lotamore, still look out on this sprawling infill ‘intruder.’ And, there are 21st century hopes now circling too, of a whole new wave of residential development at the Tivoli docks... once the port and related activities decant downriver, with footprints cleared up.

Expect to hear more, and more, of high hopes for Cork’s Tivoli. In the meantime, here’s a bit on the house(s) that gave Tivoli its name.

Design of the original, mid-1700s Tivoli House is attributed to, or at least was influence by the ‘Starchitect’ of his day, Davis Duckart, who designed Cork’s Lota House in the 1760s, facing south to Blackrock Castle, and next to the Glanmire river where it meets the Lee.

They were, indeed, different times - back, two and a half centuries ago, when Cork persons of enormous weath had notions to match their fortunes (we still have a few?), and when just a handful of mansions and Italianate villas these merchants commissioned to be built adorned the verdant, south-facing hillsides and sandstone ridge running east out of the marshy Cork city centre.

The original 1700s Tivoli House mansion was built for a merchant family, the Morrisons, and its originator James Morrison was a one-time Lord Mayor of Cork, and clearly a classicist.

Apart from Palladian-style house, he had had a copy of the great Roman circular Temple of Vesta built in Tivoli House’s grounds. Ancient Italy had several temples to Vesta, including one at the Forum in Rome, which vanished by the mid 16th century, while 30 kilometres away another at Tivoli, about 30kms inland in a gorge-like valley, saw a Temple of Vesta built in the first century BC.

Morrison not only reproduced the temple, in a smaller scale, but he also took the name ‘Tivoli’ to Cork, according to architectural historian and chronicler of Ireland’s great houses, the late Mark Bence-Jones, but he also added “a larger and more elaborate temple in the Gothic taste” in his romantic, woodland gardens. Bence-Jones says “the estate was ideally depicted in Nathaniel Grogan’s large painting of the Lee estuary, in the National Gallery of Ireland.” See pic above: A Views of Boats At Tivoli.

Time, and fire, stole a march on all these hubris-inspired edifices. Tivoli House largely burned down 200 years ago, in 1820, and was rebuilt, only for its later iteration to be demolished in the mid 1900s, long after its follies had fallen in.

Its once-great grounds and gardens got carved up in the mid 1900s, and today are home to the Tivoli Estate, a collection of several dozen still-substantial detached houses, on private sites on the hill’s zig-zag tiers, and around internal chicane-like bends. Some at Woodhill Park, and Tivoli Estate, have gardens snuggling up to old estate walls, or warm brick walls, which at one stage supported lean-to glasshouses.

We’ve taken as circuitous a route through time, as a visitor will physically have to do, to get to the entrance pillars of the 1960s originated Tivoli House, as it now comes up for sale/resale.

It’s still set on over three acres of land, quite central in its private ground and is probably one of the largest single plots in the vicinity: about the only larger land on his hill section is probably St Dominic’s Retreat Centre, Ennismore, whose many acres (20?) indeed form a boundary to the north of Tivoli House. Five acres sold at St Dominic’s over a year ago, to builders Murnane & O’Shea for c€2m, with 41 houses set to be built there, accessed from Montenotte.

There are development prospects too, clearly, for Tivoli House’s 3.15 acres.

It last went for sale in 2012, on the same acreage, guiding €950,000, but didn’t appear on the Price Register until 2015, at a reported €910,000. However, as the Price Register generally only values houses on an acre, it may have fetched a bit over that visible figure thanks to the couple of extra acres it was sold with.

Keen to preserve and respect Tivoli House Mark 11, the purchasers did an upgrade and what agents Sherry FitzGerald quite fairly describe as “a complete renovation in 2017.” That considerable work included a new Thrutone slate roof around its boomerang shape (architect Jim Buchan designed it to track the sun’s movements from east to west,) insulating of cavity walls, new triple glazing, new external doors, window boards, new heating with Ember EPH controls, new rads, as well as more mundane things like fascias, soffits and drainpipes.

There’s also a new kitchen, redone bathrooms and showers, rewiring with floor sockets for lighting, new flooring and/or redone, gleaming original solid oak floors.

Also original are the internal panel timber doors, original solid wood bifold doors, and the curving staircase, meaning the best of the old (well, the recent 1960s in Tivoli’s case) has been mingled with the best of the new and energy efficiency all around.

The proof of the concoction is a B3 BER, pretty fancy (ever wondered about the running costs of a Palladian mansion, with or without the additional burden/luxury of hot and cold running servants?) Selling agents for the fully reworked house, Gillian McDonald and Ann O’Mahony of Sherry FitzGerald described the job done as “first-class, and delivered to a turnkey finish.” They point out that “aside from its attractiveness as an exclusive and very private dwelling, the property also offers the buyer the opportunity of development potential, for possibly up to 10 detached houses.” (Also in the top of the Tivoli Estate, almost alongside and entirely separate, Sherry Fitz also have a single, one-acre site for sale for one house, for €425,000.)

Accommodation at ‘this’ Tivoli House includes interconnected living/dining room in the central core with new marble fireplace and Henley stove, a family room on the western fringe, a new kitchen and utility on the eastern side, while the spacious, oak floored (north-facing) entrance hall takes up the ‘thin end of the wedge’.

Above are five bedrooms, main bathroom, and guest shower room, while the fan-shaped centre master bedroom has an en suite, plus access to a south-aspected balcony, finished with maintenance-free deck boards. From here, the view is over expanses of lawns, and perhaps in winter down to the Lee and Tivoli docks.

What may fill these immediate green spaces, in a year or two’s time, will be up to the new owners, be they private buyers, developers, or a mix of both. And, what that same balcony looks out on, over and down upon by the river and docks, in future decades, will tell very much about the next chapters of Cork’s downriver developments, and vauntin ambitions.

VERDICT: a wedge-shaped slice of Cork history and future.

Tivoli House, Lovers Walk, Cork

€2.65m

Size:2,256 sq ft/three acres

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 4

BER: B3


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