IT sounds quite a boast, but the Crescent, overlooking Cork harbour in Cobh, is one of Ireland’s most intact works of quality domestic architecture.
The fact that there are 13 houses here in this gentle curving terrace with its sweep of scenic harbour views could have been ominous for the deterioration of a 160-year old run of individually-owned large private homes: but, against the odds, the row of 13 homes is quite sublime, so beguiling it naturally features on Cobh’s tourism trail.
The row’s homogeneity is possibly down to the fact that the large houses here only very rarely change hands, they’re inclined to get handed down through the generations, and are minded.
So it was with No 4 The Crescent, which was first occupied by the Consul of Austria, who kept close and powerful links with the Irish Catholic hierarchy, reportedly making good use of a passageway from the Crescent up to the bishop’s palace near where the Pugin and Ashlin’s landmark Gothic revival St Colman’s Cathedral (built from 1867 to 1919) now stands sentinel. A later occupant was the English-born composer Arnold Bax, who developed a love affair with Ireland, and a long friendship with Cork’s late, great musical maestro, Aloys Fleischmann and family.
This house was last sold back in 1959, bought at the time by the parents of the current occupant, Paul Whelan who’s now downsizing.
He’s a scientist, his partner is an artist, and No 4 exhibits the best of both sides of the equation, a careful academic respect for history and building integrity, but one burnished with an artistic talent and individual flair.
The house, towards the eastern run of the Crescent near the Cathedral, has c 3,000 sq ft of living space over three floors, two principal ones over a lower ground or garden level one, with access from here to the carefully-kept communal Victorian gardens in Cobh’s prime hillside perch.
There’s a private south-facing section with a beach-pebble mosaic patio, and a glasshouse for summer produce, and beyond that brick steps drop to the fanned-out communal curtilage area, with original pathways lined by sympathetic planting like yew, yuccas, mimosa and hydrangeas.
In earlier days, the flat section in the Crescent’s cocoon was graced by a croquet lawn, and later a tennis court. Back on the outer curve side, the mid-level entry point level has its Doric column door case painted with a marble vein effect, a foretaste of some of the features to watch out for inside.
Internally, some incredible ceilings have been done as murals and frescoes by decorative artist Anna O’Connor, originally of Monkstown, latterly of Cobh. Organ pipes in a hall ceiling corner have you wondering are they real, or painted. Another Cobh artist, Mark Hathaway has a large work, a super-realist view of Fota Island, taking up most on one wall in the lower ground floor reception room, painted on board and demountable.
Yet another artist, Eamon Donnelly, has done stained glass work by the front door, and standing by the entrance here you can glimpse down to the lower ground level with external stair access to some barrel-vaulted storage areas and functioning coal hole for deliveries. Out on the south sheltering concave side, the gardens are private and peaceful. A flat green area by the steps leads down to Casement Square and the harbour town’s promenade.
Selling agent is Michael Russell of Russell Property in nearby Midleton, who gives it a €550,000 asking price, noting in particular its proportions, classical styling, references, and retained features.
Work done down the years was restrained, bar some of the exuberance of the decorative painting, so new owners will want to spend a bit on adding to creature comforts. Windows are original sashes and there’s no central heating, for example, as the occupants love open fires and had some electric storage heating on the lower ground floor.
Internally the hall and staircase is at the heart, with deep bay windows off the main living spaces giving 180-degree views of Cobh.
The layout is adaptable with three big large bedrooms plus bathroom on the top floor. There’s a WC on the return, and the ground/middle floor is home to a drawing/music room, sitting room and kitchen, plus pantry and WC.
Drop down another floor, and there are three more large rooms, a south facing reception with bay window, another kitchen, a breakfast room, a WC, laundry and a range of outhouses and stores almost under the road.