Harbour views from secret Almorah Villa

Go Spy with your little eye, a ‘secrets Villa’ that always gives Almorah, Tommy Barker reports.

Spy Hill, Cobh, Cork Harbour


Size: 286 sq m (3,076 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 2+2

Bathrooms: 3

BER: Exempt

ONE ensemble overlooks another this morning, from Cobh’s appropriately-titled Spy Hill, in Cork’s Safe Harbour

Up on high here in the grandstanding town with grand circle harbour views is Almorah Villa, effectively an ensemble of two Victorian era houses rolled into one, an eyerie above Spy Hill, with commanding views over Cobh’s Crescent, the town, the expanse of harbour, Haulbowline and especially Spike Island.

And, as part of this weekend’s Sounds from a Safe Harbour

Festival, at noon today, Spike Island hosts another first: two live music premieres by the innovative Crash Ensemble troupe of musicians. They’ve been marking their 20th anniversary by performing a series of new commissions, on many of Ireland’s offshore islands, all being filmed for a rock-the-socks off documentary to air next year.

So, as Crash Ensemble ferry fans out to Spike from Cobh today for a sold-out/free concert, might stray notes waft up to Almorah Villa’s tiered and tended grounds, and breeze in the open windows?

Stranger things have happend in the 150-plus years this ‘house of two halves’, with two entrances, two kitchens, more than two staircases and secret doors, has evolved over.

Named after a spot in India, one report has linked it to a German princess, it wasalso linked to the Royal Navy during Empire years of ‘safe harbour’ dominance in Queenstown, and it was the private home during the US Civil War in the 1860s to then US envoy Edwin G Eastman.

It was owned for from 1869 to 1969, by a family of jewellers, the Loanes, and has changed hands once or twice as a family home since then, surfacing on the market in 2010 with an asking price of €585,000.

A semi-detached Victorian with front and back sections, and able to be sub-divided/rented in part/Airbnb’d or simply used by an extended family, it shows on the Price Register as a sale in 2014, at €280,000. Its buyer from then has done a full, thorough and impressive overhaul and upgrade, while it has still kept charm, and fun, and secret passages and doors, hidden stairs, and hideaway nooks.

It took three years, she says, and with the work all done, she’s up for another challenge, hence its arrival for sale with impressed agent Johann Murphy. Ms Murphy guides at €595,000, and is spell-bound by it, adding it’s very rare to get a period home in Cobh done to this high level of comfort and decorative finish.

It’s reached through a sturdy solid door, and up steps and a winding front garden path from Spy Hill. It’s impressively Victorian, with well proportioned rooms, with pristine redone plasterwork on ceilings, some walls now have mounted friezes, and the front portion has two bedrooms with Spike Island views, a bathroom with innovative use made of subtle Spanish tiles plus a Jacuzzi bath, kitchen, with sunny seating area and two studio rooms, plus stairs to a fascinating cellar.

Able to be entirely self-contained is a rear portion, with two more charming bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, sunny hall/entry and main living room with mezzaine and wood-burning stove: guests just love it.

Auctioneer Johanna Murphy seems tohave fallen hard for it: she want to bring her mother, estate agent and antiques seller Victoria Murphy to view, and she might as well bring her own sons to charge around too as she says “Almorah Villas is a perfect example of how a period property should be, a child’s paradise with secret stairs and secret doors, it’s just spellbinding.”

VERDICT: A hideout, with hiding spaces, on Spy Hill, overseeing all of Cork’s Safe Harbour.

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