Safe harbour: the romance of life on the waterfront

In its 200 years, East Grove, on Cork’s Great Island, has had owners of many nationalities including the Glucksmans, says Tommy Barker

As East Grove comes up for sale, it is pretty as a picture, an artfully balanced package, one of the most interesting Irish property market offerings of the year.

IS EAST GROVE the most romantic house in Ireland? Well, its caretaker Edward O’Riordan thinks so. He’s been working here since 1986, when he was aged 15 — and several years ago, he met and married the artist Brenda Kelly, when she came to paint a mural here for philanthropic owners, Lewis and Loretta Glucksman.

Brenda’s murals adorn the walls of the indoor swimming pool among East Grove’s wonderful, wooded 14 acres — and she and Edward are now proud parents of a 13-month-old Juliette, who has free rein on the lawns of this great harbour home, newly up for sale.

East Grove, on Great Island near Cobh in Cork harbour, became home to the former 1980s Lehman bank CEO, Lewis Glucksman, and Loretta Brennan Glucksman when they bought it in the late 1990s from the eccentric, vagabonding German/US/Irish family, the Kellys — who had ringed East Grove with security measures and burly guards.

Edward says “the Gluckmans were the best owners in my time, nearly all of the owners improved it in some way or another and invested in it, but the Glucksmans did the most, and enjoyed it the best.”

On a waterfront site in Cork harbour, the picturesque cottage, gothic-style East Grove dates to the early 1800s, and was first associated with the Bagwell family, staying in generations of family hands until the 1950s. Since then, it has had Irish, English, American, Dutch, German and Lebanese owners, with the Gluckmans bringing a Hungarian link. Lew Glucksman — who spent most of his later years in East Grove and its gardens — died aged 80 in 2006, and now with declining usage, Loretta Brennan Glucksman has decided to sell. She is third-generation Irish-American, and headed up the American Ireland Fund around the time the couple bought and renovated East Grove.

Their philanthropic supports included Glucksman Ireland House at New York University, where Lew had studied, as well as TCD and UL, and an academic chair at the University of Aberdeen. The powerful couple were significant donors to UCC’s award-winning and architecturally acclaimed art gallery, named the Glucksman Gallery, notes former president Gerry Wrixon who said they made great use of East Grove.

As it comes up for sale in 2012, it is pretty as any picture, an artfully balanced package, and is going to be one of the most interesting Irish property market offerings of the year.

In keeping with its past 50 years of international ownership, its new residents could come from anywhere — Russia, England, the US, India, China — or Cork. The city’s only 15 miles, or 30 minutes, away, the airport a little further on, and there’s the private jetty for those who like to travel by boat.

As it waits for a new chapter of ownership, aspiring buyers might like to know some of its older history, too: attached to the northern end of the elegant, understated, low-slung, two-storey building is a rounded tower structure, a polygon, home to a quite imposing formal dining room with ornate plasterwork, while directly overhead a former bedroom has now been made over to library status by the Gluckmans; it’s one of this fine house’s finest spaces.

East Grove comes to market in great health, inside and out, on 14 acres, with the house tucked into the north-east corner, and with several hundred metres of shoreline. That vital water aspect includes two small boathouses, two safe docks ringed in stone, and a pontoon capable of accommodating several craft.

Lewis Glucksman was an old salt, and had served in the US Navy in WW2, as a teenage volunteer. His interest in boats is commemorated in East Grove by a haul of nautical and naval memorabilia and artworks, as well as by a painting of one of his boats, the 45’ Lugh IV, in pride of place on one of the dining room walls. It was painted by Brenda, who was also commissioned to paint some of Lew’s other passions. Represented on the walls in modest-sized works here are Lugh IV, New York’s Twin Towers, a collection of books and East Grove itself.

Also with a longer, bolder naval link is the name plaque on the rounded tower’s front, marked ‘Trafalgar 1805,’ recalling Admiral Nelson’s signal Napoleonic war sea victory, while another folly, a tall stone tower by the walled garden, is called the Waterloo Tower, after a subsequent battering of Napoleon by the Duke of Wellington in 1815.

Selling agents for East Grove are Dominic Daly in Cork City, who has handled the last several successful sales of what is assuredly one of Cork’s (if not Munster’s,) best properties, jointly with Harriet Grant of Knight Frank in Dublin City.

Guide price is €3 million, which also makes it one of the stronger market offerings of the moment — but it’s a good ’un, a quite perfect package.

Location is picture-perfect, at the sheltered Cork harbour tidal inlet of East Ferry, on the east side of Great Island, a backwater reached via Marlogue and Cuskinny, with oyster farming nearby — and all the signs of rich mussel beds, as well as sea birds who use East Grove’s paved areas to smash open mollusc shells.

There’s a constant sweeping up of shells, says Edward, who started at East Grove when he was sent here to sweep leaves. And stayed.

Lots of leaves.

Now, he knows and cares for just about every rood and perch of its 14 acres, and every floorboard of the built properties.

They include a two-bed gate lodge by the half-mile-long wooded approach drive past a stone arch, while a walking route circles the grounds, linking up with the tennis court, paddocks and newly enclosed swimming pool, built with glulam beams and triple glazing, with its solid wall adorned by woodland murals by Brenda.

Trees here are specimen status, and include rhododendron, laurel, oak, beech, pines, macrocarpa or Monterey cypress, magnolia, ash and limes. The more recent planting was by previous owner Jack Oppenheim, and by the Glucksmans, who also made sure the walled garden and orchard were maintained, fruiting and productive (the list of soft fruits grown would fill a column).

In addition to the boathouses and gate lodge, there’s an excellent-quality one-bedroom, two-storey guest cottage by the lofted and cobbled stable yard, with three stables, tack room, work room and a large coachhouse, recently reroofed after the rare snows of two winters ago brought the old one down.

And, like parts of the main house, the yard’s buildings are draped in climbing plants like wisteria and Virginia creeper, with stems as thick as tree trunks.

Every part of East Grove is redolent of graceful age and thoughtful care, the main house most of all. It’s in quite excellent order, decoratively and otherwise, and dressed to impress.

As the departing family have already taken most of what’s important to them, there’s the option to buy East Grove complete, with furniture, paintings, and more — ready to move into, by negotiation.

When last put up for sale, East Grove had nine bedrooms; now that tally is reduced to seven, as other uses have been found for some, but, in any case, it is an accommodating and adaptable home, with new oil-heating boiler, and working window shutters in the main. There doesn’t seem to be a room that hasn’t been looked after in the past decade, and decor is low-key, appropriate, and in keeping with aged stone and timber floors, huge fireplaces and lots and lots of French doors and tall windows. Adding to the house’s overall bright and healthy feel is the enclosed central atrium, separating the formal, main reception rooms (which face east) from the west-facing smaller private rooms.

The house, incidentally, has three staircases, so getting around is never hard, plus there’s a lift for those with mobility issues, or loads to tote.

Main rooms here all look towards the water (the compromise of the house’s open aspect is that it is prominent to those passing in boats and through picturesque East Ferry across the way): those rooms include one of the two studies, the smaller of the two libraries, and the immense 32’ by 23’ drawing room with Adam-style fireplace, graceful arch and bay window.

To the house’s far end, in the curvaceous Trafalgar Tower, is the 650 sq ft dining room, with ornate plasterwork in high ceilings, set off by a 6’ tall black marble chimney piece, and with three sets of French doors to the gardens.

Off outside, nearby, is a walled yard, ornamental pond with fountain, and lawns separately planted with bluebells and daffodils: the next few month are East Grove’s glory days in the gardens, says O’Riordan, who’s seen 26 years of change, and seasonality, here.

As East Grove comes afresh to market, with the setting the equal of the house in a quite perfect package, lovers of stunningly-located houses might entertain dreams of significant Lotto wins: if there’s any justice, the winning ticket will be in O’Riordan’s young family hands.

If not, he may be willing to work on for another while yet.

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