THE PREVIOUS owner of West Cork’s converted grain store, retired UK psychotherapist Dr Andrew Stanway, had over 30 books (plus various ‘Lovers’ Guides’ videos) to his credit, most of them regarding sex, love-making, and relationships.
He penned a few salutary titles about property also, including one on house renovations (property, the sex therapist used to observe, was a particular passion of his), quite tellingly, titled The Ups and Downs of the Property Ladder: What to do When Times are Tough.
Did he see the writing on the wall, when he came to sell this 190-year-old, sturdy, stone-built waterside warehouse, of five accessible island acres at Ringarogy near Baltimore (The MD of Google Ireland and UK, Ronan Harris, has a holiday home here, too), with triple garage, helipad, and pontoon, back in 2005?
Whether he did, or did not, his timing was astute.
Having bought a super-scenically sited West Cork wreck in 2000, and having previously viewed up to 100 property options locally in the run-up to a move to Ireland, Dr Stanway put it up for sale in 2005, with local, Irish and international estate agents doing the marketing, and guiding €3m.
It sold, quite smartly too, but what it made isn’t public knowledge, as it transacted well before the transparency of the Irish Property Price Register. It’s understood it didn’t make the €3m sum asked for, but certainly sold for well over €2m, as was the custom of the day, with a year or two of the Celtic Tiger times left to roar.
Turns out, the buyer was an Irish businessman and property developer, primarily with investments and developments in Northern Ireland, who followed the purchase of this property, on Ringarogy Island in Roaringwater Bay, with that of a restored castle in the North for over £3 million around the same time.
As Dr Stanway’s ‘other’ book has it, there are ups and well as downs on the property ladder...
Fast forward the 13 interim years of ‘tough times’, and The Grain Store is back on the open market, in as-good condition, well-sited, and spectacular as it ever was in 2005. The price guide now is €1.5m, half what it had been floated at in sunny May 2005.
This time around, it’s on the market with estate agent Maeve McCarthy of Charles P McCarthy, based in Skibbereen some seven miles up the Ilen/road, and who’ve a strong line of West Cork coastal sales to their credit, including most recently, the sale of Glandore’s Kinfinnan Castle, home of the late UK-based developer Bernard McNicholls, for a recorded €5.73m, while the adjacent land would have added a bit more to Kilfinnan’s overall selling price.
Once more, a buyer here at Ringarogy Island and its Grain Store could be local, Irish, or from overseas. It sort of reprises its earliest days, when it stored and shipped grain as a valuable currency during the Napoleonic wars.
Today, there's a triple garage for cars, boats or hobbies, there’s space in the grounds on which to safely land a helicopter, while the quite lengthy temporary floating pontoon can take RIBs and other craft: RIBs, it's clear, are sort of a de rigueur transport choice for many of the more affluent individuals, living out along the indented shoreline of Roaringwater Bay, and Carbery’s 100 Isles.
Other residents’ choices include hovercrafts; actor Jeremy Irons favours a classic sailing yacht on the bay, while closer to Skib, Olympian rowing heroes the O’Donovan brothers pull like dogs with the local Ilen club.
A local IT multi-millionaire who’s into his boats last year bought West Skeam island for an undisclosed sum. The Price Register shows a deal at €950,000, but that’s just for the main residence and one acre of the overall 33-acre island with two guest cottages, and ruins of a chapel. It had been asking €1.5m, after five years on the market.
That West Skeam island’s previous owners included writer and philosopher Edward De Bono and US artist James Turrell, indicative of the lure and appeal of this blessedly special south-coast location.
There’s no mistaking the sheer natural beauty of its setting, in high tides and low, with the extended former grain store in an enviable position, surrounded by water on three sides, where the Ilen River meets the sea, and reached at the end of a long and leafy private drive, complete with a quarter-mile of shoreline.
The five acres that come with The Grain Store act as a lovely screen on an already lovely and largely ‘private’ island, reached over a narrow, switchback-like bridge from the mainland, about five miles from Baltimore harbour.
This converted and extended grain store runs to some 6,000 sq ft of very high-end interior space, with considerable comforts and some spectacular spaces, such as the master bedroom, projecting on at the structure’s end, glazed on three sides, and backed up by two dressing rooms, and a bathroom that would not be out of place in a New York penthouse.
The Stanways used the services of locally-based architect Tony Cohu, and while the exterior is almost brooding in stone, slate and high-end glazing, the interiors are a contrast. A top-lit central atrium connects the well-matched new and old wings, making the core extra bright. Heating is underfoot and geothermally sourced, with floors a mix of sandstone, marble, and walnut, and many windows have elaborate shutter/plantation-style blinds.
Little expense was spared both in its conversion/extension and maintenance since last selling in 2005, and the professionally dictated decor now tends to the masculine, and the dark — at least in the en suite bedrooms, with very distinct grained and textured wallpapers aplenty.
It’s being offered fully furnished, too, should buyers from abroad want a walk-in, boat-up purchase proposition: if some of the stuff is too individual, well, there’s always the auction option to dispose of surplus-to requirement furniture.
Some elaborate Baccarat contemporary chandeliers have survived from one owner, the Stanways, to the next, and where before there was a simple piano/keyboard in a sun-room corner, now there’s a clear perspex Kawai baby grand piano, almost ghostly, hardly impairing the views beyond.
What has changed, though, is the kitchen: it’s now incredibly professional in look, performance, spec and fit-out.
It includes units in pale wood, with a chunky lava-stone topped unit and island, enormous stainless steel sinks, two Sub Zero wine fridges, Sub Zero fridge/freezer, twin Miele dishwashers, a Miele coffee maker, Gaggenau steam oven and warming drawers, and enormous Wolf range and extract hood, with digital controls.
Elsewhere, the house is wired for pretty much everything, especially TV and internet (and the 800 sq ft triple garage has an exterior electric car charging point), while the proximity of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen with SIRO broadband for serious IT workers is highlighted in agents Charles McCarthy’s sales spiel.
For all that. On a good day, a simple visit and walk around may well sell the property.
On the day of the Irish Examiner’s tour, the grain stores’ pathways and terraces were strewn with shells of large mussels and clams, dropped by seagulls who’d harvested them in the nearby tidal reaches to smash open the hard shells for a seafood platter.
And, then, finally, just to take the hard-sell biscuit, in the water, up pops the pale and inquiring head of a seal.
Incredibly, it reprised a note we’d made in these pages, way back in May 2005 during that first sale visit, about the presence of a curious seal by the property’s buttressing walls. It’s hardly the same seal/sale tactic, but it came right on cue, sort of the friendly Fungi of Ringarogy.
VERDICT: Forget the Ups and Downs of the Property Ladder, and embrace instead the Rise and Fall of the Tides?
This article was amended at 10.20am on July 26, 2019.