Wheel turns again for historic mill

A long renovation process has finally borne fruit for this beautiful 400-year-old complex near Kinsale, writes Tommy Barker

Wheel turns again for historic mill

THERE’S been plenty of history pass the door of Brownsmills in its 400-plus years of existence — including the bloody skirmishes of the 1601 Battle of Kinsale right on its doorstep — but the past few years have practically been as dramatic as any.

Just rescued after a purchase from a receiver after an initial salvation job had sadly ground to a halt, this mill conversion is now in better heath than at any time in its centuries of existence.

With an old mill wheel just back in place outside, and seven luxury apartments inside, this complex has had a reversal of fortunes after salvation from ageing and creeping dereliction, by several bouts of intensive care.

Key to completion was the input of Tricia and Peter Gray who bought Brownsmills a year ago as a bank/distressed asset sale, and have single-mindedly seen it to completion working flat-out all this year, back now to rude health, great style, full of characterful and individual spaces — and it’s ready to rent and roll.

One of a small handful of mills that would have provisioned Kinsale town and its environs, what’s now Brownsmills (associated with the Brown family, another mill on the same stream/millrace feeding into Belgooly Creek is Jagoes Mills about a mile away) is a mix of two buildings. One is the former mill with reinstated wheel, and the other’s what would have been the miller’s family home.

The couple (Peter is British, Tricia is Irish, and both have a passion and evident flair for renovation) had done other apartment conversions in London, and had moved to live in Kinsale where they restored a period townhouse.

They had their curiosity piqued, and appetite whetted, by the arrival to market of Brownsmills, over two years ago as a distressed sale, guiding €850,000 at the time, and they eventually managed to buy the 10,000 sq ft complex of buildings for a whole lot less, probably between €400,000 and €500,000, and they probably spent as much again to get it to precision completion.

What had been done by the previous owners was to a high standard, targeting an upmarket rental clientele given its proximity to Kinsale (a mile or so over the hill) and markers were laid down by things like the use of natural slate, quality timbers, expensive white marble tiling and good bathroom fitting, and some kitchens had uber-expensive US Viking brand kitchen appliances which, quite incredibly, remained in the building after it got locked up in an unfinished state.

The Grays’ bravery was taking a leap of faith into someone else’s dream project, taking on who knows what behind unfinished partition walls — but they took that leap, and made it all pay off.

Back in winter 2010 we wrote here of whoever might take on any trouble and travails at the mill “that person will need funds to buy, more funds to finish, plus a skillset that includes building and business, and who wants a manageable challenge to occupy them while the world goes through current tough times.” Peter and Tricia were the perfect fit for that bill.

They drafted in the assistance of interior designer Ber Pey (whose own heroic house renovation feat in Cork city’s Newenham Terrace featured extensively in these pages a few years ago) as well as re-engaging original mill conversion/renovation architect Richard Rainey who lives nearby at Brownsmills. along with skilled trades in Goleen Developments as build and civil engineering contractors,

They also used Nash Brothers for electrical, Glenview Green Energy and QS Kevin Keogh, while completing the picture were letting agents James Murphy, Kinsale, and Trish Stokes of Lisney in Cork City, who are letting the seven completed units, one of which is a new build.

They have started viewings and lettings, and they are being quickly snapped up. “We aren’t used to seeing buildings done to such a high standard for the rental market. Anyone looking at them says there’s just nothing like them, or their quality, available in the sector,” says Lisney’s Ms Stokes. Rents go from €975 a month for a one-bed (the biggest is already gone) to €1,800 a month.

There are seven in all, each utterly different, from one-beds to four-beds, 1,100 sq ft to 2,500 sq ft, some are spread over three levels, most have private outdoor spaces, a couple look over a pond, and one has an attic-level shower with a glass enclosure large enough for a whole rugby team from the Kinsale Sevens. All are distinguished by top-notch joinery, airiness, quirks and the sensation of being in a building that, if its walls could talk, would tell stories, of English garrisons, fever fields, centuries of milling and barges in Belgooly creek, of economic tides ebbing and flowing — and a latest chapter tale of confidence and grit.

LOCATION: Brownsmills, Kinsale

PRICE: €975-€1,800 pm rent

SIZE: Sq m 100-220

BEDROOMS: 1-4

BER RATING: C1-C3

BEST ASSET: Painstaking renovation

VERDICT: There is a life for some unfinished or stalled projects after grinding blows like receiverships, Nama, banks sales and the like for those who choose well, buy smart - and know what they are doing.

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