Perched high above the harbour and as picturesque, quaint and historic as the town itself, Kinsale’s Southwell Alms Houses are being put out to tender today with a view to preserving their antiquity and architectural integrity while giving them a new lease of life.
The alternative is for them to fall into disrepair, something that neither the trustee of the properties nor the estate agents handling the sale want to see happen.
“A lot of people have looked at them already,” says Malcolm Tyrrell of Cohalan Downing auctioneers in Cork. “They are absolutely lovely, an historical monument and they will be preserved, but they are not fit for purpose as they stand.”
The decision to sell has been taken with reluctance by the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, who is the sole trustee. The sale has to be ratified by the Charities Regulatory Authority.
The Gift Houses or Alms Houses were built in 1682 and endowed by Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702). They were originally designed to home widows of Protestant tradesmen and there was a provision also for an infirmary for the sole use of the Southwell family. Sir Robert was secretary of state for Ireland and president of the Royal Society from 1690.
The houses were built during the reign of Britain’s Charles I, approximately 80 years after the Battle of Kinsale and approximately five years after the construction of Charles Fort .
There are four houses set within a small courtyard overlooked by a two-storey supervisor’s house. The construction is of rubble limestone walls, and an ornate wrought iron gate with gate pillars marks the entrance.
Since 2003, Dr Colton has sought expressions of interest from local authorities, first with the now disbanded Kinsale Urban District Council and, latterly, Cork County Council.
“They did not even respond to his correspondence,” says Mr Tyrrell. “He was left in a bit of a hole, so he has been trying to resolve the situation for the past 10 or 15 years.
“I was there three or four years ago for the first time and had a chat with the bishop to see what could or could not be done. He is quite tied in what he can or cannot do because it is not church property and, therefore, there aren’t any church funds that could be allocated to their upkeep.”
With a guide price of €350,000 for all four houses, tenders must be submitted to Cohalan Downing at 88 South Mall, Cork by close of business today.
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