Ummera could be perfect rural idyll

With its manageable size and €600,000 guide price, Tommy Barker finds a piece of West Cork that exudes charm and a lot of potential

Ummera could be perfect rural idyll

Like the cider ad, there hasn’t been much added at Ummera House, except time.

A lovely example of softly faded, and soft-focus period living, by a river’s edge, the Georgian home by the Argideen River above Timoleague in West Cork could make for quite a perfect rural idyll — especially given the land and setting.

It has been home to the Creswell family since the 1960s, and lent its name to a doorstep business, Ummera Smoked Products, by the early 1970s, with a fish smokery business that continues to thrive in the second-generation hands of Anthony Creswell.

Anthony was but a teenager when the family of four arrived on Irish shores. His entrepreneurial father Keith, who’d fought with the RAF in the Second World War, had brought his young brood to southern Ireland, at the time looking to set up a chicken rearing business for British investors, but fell foul of changes in policy under then prime minister Harold Wilson.

Consequently, the Creswells spent six months travelling about and staying in a caravan, looking for a place to put down roots. Ummera House popped its aged head up, was seized upon, and only now is back as part of an executor sale after the death of Mrs Primrose Creswell. It’s largely untouched, just appreciated in the interim.

What had started as a bit of an experiment in smoking salmon caught by Keith Creswell and friends in the rivers Bandon and Blackwater, as well as sea trout from the Argideen, initially was a business operated out of Ummera House’s accommodating old stone out-buildings and stables.

Later, the fish, game and bacon smoking business was moved a kilometre up the Argideen river, by about 2000, after son Anthony took it over, so now there’s a complete separation of house and the food-smoking business that carries the Ummera name.

The house, steel barn and farm buildings with 12 fertile acres comes for sale with Bandon estate agent Roy Lee, who realises that he has something quite special on his hands, but hasn’t over-egged it on the price side.

A guide of €600,000 for a manageable, yet sizeable period home on 12 acres with West Cork woodland and water aspects, within a 40 minute drive from Cork city and airport, are Ummera’ trump cards. The house exerts its own charms too, from its half-glazed entry porch draped in wisteria and jasmine onwards and inwards.

Although the auctioneer only dates it to circa 1870, it does seem older, and more Georgian than Victorian, with high gables on one end suggesting a Queen Anne provenance, but it is clearly a place that has had changes made down the years.

Of course, it all needs work and ministering now, but it has its own dignity and integrity, and has been lived in continuously. Earlier owners were the O’Donovan family, and before that, the Travers family, whose surname is well known locally, and who own the 1920s-rebuilt Timoleague House nearby, were Ummera’s owners (Ummera, also a Co Fermanagh townland, means ‘Hill of the Ridge’).

This house has a grand, large high-ceilinged drawing room overlooking lawns and an approach avenue, but apart from its size, and some old Creswell family portraits in oils, some of the grandeur needs reinstating — the fireplace, for example. The current chimney-piece is worked in rough stone, rather than a more customary marble, and the central ceiling plasterwork/tracery was done by none other than a teenage Anthony Creswell, who recalls moving scaffolding around the room with the scaffold mounted on roller skates!

Accommodation in the house includes two other cosier reception rooms, with wood-burning stoves. There’s a dated 1960s kitchen with black and white vinyl floor contrasting with an era-perfect Formica table, with a breakfast room off via an arch, plus pantry/utilities leading to a car-port — a space with modern kitchen extension potential.

Upstairs are five bedrooms, with one en suite, separated front and back of the rambling house (it somehow seems larger inside than out) by a split staircase.

Gardens and grounds have some feature and specimen native hardwood trees including some more exotic winter-chill surviving palms, and seem minded, yet gently time-trapped, too. A fine, spreading and abundant walnut tree in a former walled garden section now turned into a paddock is an example, and walnuts are starting their autumn harvest drop right now. Nearby, several mature fig trees are well-placed for shelter by a high old courtyard stone wall, but the lack of sun in 2012 means little ripening and swelling of these great fruits has taken place.

The grounds include a substantial corrugated barn, and old stables and stores where the commercial smokery operated from here for years.

The 12 acres with the house, though not enough for farming, means lots of scope for those into their horses and ponies, and there’s land for some cattle or other livestock too as a bit of an income stream or hobby-farm interest.

The land is excellent quality, with an attractive avenue up to the house, with trimmed grass in the middle of the drive, leading past several fields once past modest stone pillars off a back road along the Argideen to Timoleague road.

And, very much in keeping with the gentle, step-back-in-time pastoral feel of the valley setting is the adjacent Argideen Vale Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, with its several grass courts and old pavilion, redolent of cucumber sandwiches and afternoon Pimms after games.

Ummera House’s private grounds extend down to the line of the old Bandon-Timoleague rail line, which closed in the 1960s, just before the Creswells’ arrival.

The tidal section of the Argideen is just down a steep embankment from the house’s formal front lawn, and the river then flows past the mudflats by Timoleague’s old abbey, and discharges to the sea out by Courtmacsherry.

Thankfully, it’s all still good fishing territory, and the writer and adventurer Tim Severin (of Brendan Voyage and Sinbad Voyage fame, among his many expeditionary titles, plus historical fiction) lives just along the river, and runs a small rental complex of fishing lodges at wooded Inchybridge.

Ummera House could also have tourism/restaurant use, and accommodation scope, and Timoleague has always had a special appeal for foodies; witness the trek made down the years to the likes of Lettercollum House, or Dillons in the village.

However, at the guided price, there’s going to be private buyers out there tempted to take on its restoration. It’s a manageable size, with nice acreage, with river frontage, outbuildings, country lifestyle and all in a very easily-accessed West Cork location, less than an hour from Cork City.

VERDICT: It has been almost half a century since the house last came up for sale. Ummera could be a lovely project - and what a place to rear a family.

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