A Beara Peninsula home offers privacy and luxury in a prized coastal setting, writes Tommy Barker.
Price: €2 million
Size: 426 sq m (4,500 sq ft) on seven acres
Best Feature: a glorious setting
Arising tide has come in to lift west Cork’s far-flung outpost, Castletownbere.
It’s being credited to a pick up in the economy, the 2015 sale of a long-disused waterfronting hotel now back in business as the Beara Coast, and most of all it is thanks to the dramatic impact of the Wild Atlantic Way, and its drive to put tourists on the road to the country’s furthest, most scenic, and memorable extremities.
“I’d have been sceptical at the start when it was announced, the road was always there, but the Wild Atlantic Way has made the Beara Peninsula once more, it’s such a huge success,” says local estate agent JJ O’Sullivan.
His day-to-day auctioneering business encompasses all of the beauties and wonders of Beara, a peninsula tip and trip 125km miles from Cork city, with Allihies, a Buddhist retreat centre, and Dursey’s cable car among its notable extra attractions. The distance from city and airport to this port town stretches to well over 100 miles if you go the WAW coastal route, via Skibbereen.
Oh, and right to hand also is the seasonal presence of movie maker Neil Jordan here as a visitor for almost 20 years: he filmed the 2009 romantic, fantasty movie Ondine with Colin Farrell just a few miles out the jagged and cliff-fringed shoreline from his home, and from this neighbouring house, Otterbank, where marine passers-by include dolphins, porpoises, shoals of fish, seals, and yes, the occasional resident otters.
Flitting across its lawns and nooks on dry land, meanwhile are foxes and rabbits, and birdlife is equally rich, thanks to sheltering groves of trees and adjacent woodland.
Otterbank’s currently for sale with agents Dominic Daly in Cork city, and with Knight Frank in London on the more global front, guiding a cool €2 million, having once had high (but unrealised) hopes of selling for €4m.
It’s quite an exceptional setting and slice of West Cork property, however it remains to be seen if the locality has risen to such heady price heights of ‘even’ €2m once more. “We’re open to offers,” accepts Dominic Daly diplomatically, acting for Irish owners and vendors who have lived abroad most of the year in the Middle East.
They built Otterbank after selling their neighbouring home, the Hermitage, and they kept back this seven, special, sentinel acres of Bantry Bay-scanning frontage and promontory-like viewing perch.
Meanwhile, on the wider local front, JJ O’Sullivan pays tribute to the dynamism of the new co-owners of the Beara Coast Hotel, Mark Golden and Mark Johnston, who bought the old Cametringane Hotel by the water’s edge in 2015 with local business interests such as the very successful directors of the local trawling ‘empire’, the Fast Fish processing company, Donal Kelly, Margaret Downey and Patrick Murphy.
The two Marks came west along the coast after their involvment in the niche Youghal hotel, The Old Imperial, in which they featured with the Brennan brothers, Francis and John, in RTÉ’s At Your Service programme The combination of local business nous, deep investment pockets, and skilled hoteliers Golden and Johnston made the Beara Coast an instant success in its fledgling first season in 2016.
On two acres, with 25 bedrooms ranged around an old period dwelling (it also had previously traded as the Ford Ri) but latterly down at heel, the Cametringane/Beara Coast went to an Allsops auction in July 2015, guiding at €180,000 and was sold just prior to auction to its new owners.
After the first year of trading, the owners now plan a new bedroom block to allow for larger functions and overnights. It’s credited as a huge boon to the town, and indeed to the entire peninsula (up ’til now, most local weddings have traipsed over the hills to Kenmare.
Now, C’townbere’s back in the game. Elsewhere on the streets around the busy port and harbour, cafes, galleries, shops, bakeries, and bars all did a roaring tourist business, helped by a reasonable summer and good early autumn weather.
Now, there’s even hopes that someone might find the nerve to take on the completion of the extraordinary castle restoration at Dunboy, a costly venture hit by over-ambition, disastrous downturn timing, and most of all then by a local drowning tragedy on its doorstep in 2008 which claimed three young lives.
Separately, Castletownbere has the sheltering presence of Bere Island as a still under-appreciated sanctuary, with two daily ferries and just a short hop over the bay. Bere has got a long naval history under the British Empire, and is one of the country’s busiest white fishing ports, with produce trucked and shipped to the continent almost daily.
The day the Irish Examiner visited Otterbank, one of the local trawlers was just making its maiden way back to port in west Cork after having a major surgery in a Scandinavian yard, where the boat was lengthened in its mid-ships (the opposite of a tummy tuck), at a likely cost of several million euro, to allow for larger voyages and catches. It was quite the marine metaphor for Castletownbere’s visible, tangible resurgence.
Hoping perhaps to capitalise on the uplift in Castletownbere’s fortunes and feel in the past several years are the owners of this property, Otterbank, built on seven waterfronting acres with 1,000 feet of indented shoreline with shingle and seaweed-strewn swimming coves, with paths, pier and sheltered boat mooring.
Despite being 4,000 sq ft of high-end comfort, the actual house is nearly the smallest part of the lifestyle/hideaway package which includes:
Then, there’s some sculpture dotted about, an otter or two is depicted, and used as handrails in some garden section are hawser-like thick ropes from boats, fastened to weather-bleached posts.
Otterbank is set about 500 metres off the Glengarriff-Castletownbere road, about two miles on the Cork side and near to one of the two ferry points to Bere Island.
Once past the electric access gate, its dead-stright private drive undulates down a long column of mature pines and cedar, taking a sharp left then to the gravelled drive to the house when the enormity and immovabilty of one particular boulder becomes obvious.
And, once here by, and within, the broad-based dormer house built in 2005, there are views to every point of the compass, with the Sheeps Head peninsula across the bay.
Behind and inland is Hungry Hill, where winter cataracts can be seen in full foaming spate, and it’s little wonder the local Felane East townland address shared with some neighbours (including Neil Jordan) is Waterfall. All around elsewhere is water, and island, and boats of all sorts, pleasure craft, working boats and non-working ones too.
Castletownbere’s a notorious bed of shipwrecks, and in almost most tides still visible as a warning to sea farers is the tip of the 1980s motor wreck, the Bardini Reefer (the website irishwrecksonline.net has pages of Berehaven wreck listings, going back to the 1600s, encompasing sloops, smacks and brigantines, as well as more humble trawlers.)
Almost ominously, directly across the bay’s rip of tides (about a kilometre away) is Bere Island’s entrance to the Lawrence Cove marina, one of a range of local amenities.
Bere has always been associated with fishing and watersports. The French sailing school Glenans had an Irish presence in Clew Bay, Mayo, Baltimore and Bere Island, on the latter from 1969 to 1993, and — in a further example of rising tide lifting all boats — last year, in 2015, locals and regular island visitors rekindled a sailing school for local children on the island and for holiday makers alike, and among the instructors are those who learned to sail via Glenans over earlier decades.
Other amenities and attractions include a vibrant art and crafts community, galleries and walks and cycles on the Beara Way, and the local Berhehaven Golf Club is almost a long drive away from Otterbank.
Otterbank’s owners have appreciated much, and indeed all of this on their doorstep, and recall adult children and grandchildren kayaking from this home’s shingle shorline to Bere Island — and, deciding to swim back, a proud achievement for one granddaughter in particular, to live long in family lore.
Such a lengthy immersion in the sea is in complete contrast to the human comforts inside this slate roofed, and part-slate hung, and low-slung dormer. Design was by local eco architect Tony Cohu, and this must surely be one of his larger outputs, done by local labour and ground moving crew.
It’s quite un-Irish inside, especially if you enter by the formal front door: it leads directly into a central reception room of about 600 sq ft, with strong Gulf State and Middle Eastern influences and furnishings, including several polished Corintinan columns, topped with gilt-finished carvings.
The same column motif is picked up for the raised fireplace mantle, and light flows in from the room’s double aspect, as well as from voids leading right up to the roof’s apex windows and Veluxes.
Directly overhead is a galleried landing and library, a quiet music and reading space with many hundreds of reference books, illustrated books, history books and coffee table titles in neat banks of low-lying shelves.
To the east at both ground and first floors is the bedroom wing, two per floor, both en suite downstairs (including the master bedroom) and there’s a further bathroom for the top floor’s two bedrooms, gallery and enormous lounge-office/playroom at the far end of the house.
It’s all wired for Bang and Olufsen sound and CDs, and the office/playroom also has a void section overlooking the house’s main informal dining section; both levels feature exceptional water views.
In addition, at ground level there’s a kitchen with bespoke kitchen and pantry units as well as stools in granite-topped maple and oak, by Ballincollig joiner Larry Twomey, while the dining table is book-ended by free-form greenwood seats made by West Cork’s craftsperson Alison Ospina.
There’s also a formal dining room, decked out in deep shapes of blue, a utility, guest WC, cloakroom and a study, and heating is delivered underfloor, benath marble and other tiles, as well as under Junkers hardwood floors.
Custom-built for the house was the wide, winding staircase, in wrought iron with much polished brass and statuary: you could imagine it being on some five-star cruise liner, or equally in some Gulf state hotel.
Also quite personal are some of the interior and exterior colours and the owner says she chose purple to reflect the area’s heathers and rock, blue for the water and green for the land. There’s also bold reds and yellow, some of it picked out from the vibrant naive art from their travels, adorning the walls.
Otterbank’s been a second home, mostly, for its owners, but it’s all been filled, finished and much appreciated, and joint agents Dom Daly and Knight Frank in a pretty swanky 16-page sales brochure suggest that due to its privacy and security, and quality of build: “It’s the perfect lock-up-and-leave, in arguably one of the UK and Ireland’s prized coastal locations.”
Their brochure has a half dozen aerial/drone shots to prove their point.
Verdict: The Bere essentials
Get the look
Some great ideas for you to use in your home and where to get them.
Do the rope walk. These hawsers or hefty marine ropes have served their time at sea, now they are rolled out to gentler pastures as hand-rail guides at Otterbank’s shingle beach access steps by a a BBQ cabana.
Heads up. Make a virtue of necessity and cluster coats, scarves and hats with some aplomb, making Otterbank very much a ‘just hang your hat’ job.
Brass tacks. This home’s owners got their stairs custom-built, with wrought iron spindles, brass hand rails and red, cut-glass newel tops.
What’s in a name? Otterbank includes some appropriate garden sculpture and statuary in its grounds.
Did we say statuary and sculpture? Enormous boulders unearthed during ground works have been pressed into shape, service and positioning as a reminder of times long, long past. This dolmen might make a druid feel at home.
Bank account. Otters are generally nocturnal and sightings are generally uncommon. Here at Otterbank, its owners’ many, many reference books include ones like this to tell younger visitors a bit about the origin of the house’s name, and a bit about the area’s inhabitants.
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