SOME of us dream of buying particular houses if (or if we’re incurably optimistic, when) we win the Lotto.
However, former Lotto winner Cobh’s Vincent Keaney already had his dream home, it’s just it was huge, and run down, and he was a single parent on the dole, when his ship came in, in 1994, to the tune of Ir£1 million at the time.
Keaney became one of the country’s best-known Lotto millionaires, the 26th big winner at the time, and despite the fact there have been over 400 Irish Lotto million-plus winners to date, he’s still up there with Ireland’s Euromillions winner Dolores McNamara — who got a staggering €113m windfall — in terms of readily recognised lottery winner names.
Shipping and history buff Mr Keaney (who’s currently doing a UCC degree in medieval history and archaeology) invested much of his money, time and energy into creating a Titanic-themed bar restaurant in Cobh. But, although he was an early advocate of how Cobh should ply its name and Titanic (and Lusitania) links, that business venture eventually hits its own rocks in the 90th anniversary year of the real Titanic’s loss, and the business partnership ended acrimoniously in the courts in the mid-2000s.
His investment in No 11 The Crescent in Cobh has possibly weathered the storms better than his business investments., Today, 17 years after Mr Keaney upgraded it, and 33 years after he first bought the large over-basement terraced home on the Crescent (which is in one of Cobh’s most special settings,) it is up for sale as he prepares to trade down.
Selling agent is local auctioneer Johanna Murphy, who guides at €405,000 and she says there’s going to be a huge appeal here to those who love older houses. “It’s undoubtedly the nicest place to live in Cobh; when you visit you will see why, with its view over the town and harbour, up to the cathedral itself, and the gentle curve of the Crescent is very distinctive, it’s a real feature.”
Most of the 13 homes here have variations and individuality in their internal layout, and the last three (Nos 11-13) were built at a slightly later date than the first ten, and are slightly larger with about 3,000 sq ft here in all in No 11, in generous sized rooms.
The pure Victorian Crescent’s arcing houses are quite deep, with a double roof, and No 11 was reroofed 17 years ago when Mr Keaney got stuck into work with his Lotto winnings.
He put in good stuff too, quality old timbers and pitch pine in floors, and had master joiner Leo Linehan make up kitchen units and library bookcases in old pine, topped with pink Midleton marble worktops which had served in a previous life as counters in a local pharmacy.
The company Ventrolla redid the sash windows with their old weights, fitting them with draught-proof strips and got them all ship-shape, but 17 years on, while all working fine, they’re in need of sanding back, priming and properly painting once more.
Therein lies the rub at No 11: it’s seem to have had a sort of benign neglect since that Lotto-fuelled burst of energy, husbandry and creativity; a key feature is the array of skilled paint effects deployed on many of this house’s main rooms. The services of Monkstown paint effects specialist Anna O’Connor were drafted in, and she was given large, wall-sized canvases to fill, as well as vaulted ceilings to recreate as start-studded night skies, and stairwells to cover with wood-grain, marbleing and dado trompe l’oeils.
Her work is exemplary — but as it was bespoke, commissioned and done for a man of forceful personality, how will it translate to a new occupancy and decades?
Might Ms O’Connor’s brush work be lost under new coats of Farrow and Ball paint shades? And, if so, might they be rediscovered in 100 years time, and re-exposed and exalted?
Ironically enough, given the swathes of artfully crafted paint finishes inside No 11, it is now the only house in the crescent of 13 that has an unpainted exterior: “At one stage I was looking at long rows of grey-painted houses at one end of the terrace and then ones being painted cream coming up from the other...” recalls Keaney, who characteristically decided to join neither camp nor colour-trend. However, over his own front door is a small painted legend, the logo and flag of the old White Star line, calling No 11 White Star House, and hinting at the amount of old Titanitc and shipping memorabilia he has graced its interior and furnishings with.
Within his personalised home, one mural scene — on the whimsical side of blasphemy — is biblical in tone, depicting disapproving faces turning away from a central character, who bears a remarkable roistering resemblance to a certain Mr Keaney, who is smoking roll-up cigarettes, sipping from a wine glass next to a can of Guinness. (There’s possibly a moral fable here: some of the disapproving characters appear to be wearing barristers wigs....)
In any case, some of the rich and imaginative decorative paint work now needs attention: a blocked roof valley at one stage let some rain water in, and ceiling sections over the landing are now peeling. No 11 The Crescent may challenge the auctioneering cliches about “needing decorative changes”.
Behind the admirable (and easily enough alterable) decorative motifs and gothic tracery, mostly in strong colours like crimson red, night-sky navy and darkest greens, the bones of No 11 are likely to be good. There’s robust joinery, floors and stairs, with a basement level that’s currently used as a self-contained two-bed flat, with internal as well as external access, with en suite, separate shower room and kitchenette.
That lower level has the house’s sole access to the private sun-trap garden terrace, and beyond that is the Crescent’s very large communal garden, well-kept, shared but very private from the rest of the world, with lawns, shrubs and flowering trees, as well as draped in old, scented roses. There’s a lovely community feel to it all, bookended by the cathedral to the east, and the day the Irish Examiner visited, a woman resident, who possibly has half a century’s Crescent occupancy here, was out with her pruning shears and trowel.
There’s quite a chic London/Dublin city private square vibe to The Crescent’s acre of communal ground, ringed and cris-crossed with paths, and with a private gate giving a short-cut back to Cobh’s town centre below. Each resident has a key for the gate, sort of a Promised Kingdom sort of privilege.
Back inside the ever-so slightly curving walls of the Crescent, and past the modest portico and stained glass door at No 11, this house’s hall and kitchen floors are in herringbone pitch-pine parquet, with the first of the marbling paint effects visible. Off the hall are two reception rooms, each to the sunny front of the house, and one links back to the kitchen.
There’s also a butler’s pantry, back hall/vestibule with staircase to the basement flat, and a very wide main staircase, crowned by the (slightly peeling) landing ceiling night sky.
Each of the side-by-side reception rooms has high ceilings, original fireplaces, simple cornice work and old floorboards, dead level, and the larger room is 19’ by 17’ thanks to a deep window bay. It also has double doors back to the kitchen, and some other residents have moved kitchens from back-of house to the front for the captivating cathedral, harbour and hilly Cobh town views.
There’s a guest WC with high cistern loo on the stair return, and the first floor proper is home to side-by-side wash rooms, one extensively tiled with a shower, the other home to a deep, roll-top cast-iron bath, with intricate stained glass window panels.
Tiling here was expensively done, in deep shades and heavily glazed ornate Victorian tiles, the sort put in upmarket traditional bars back in the 1990s, and rads here too are cast iron repro jobs, in keeping with the house’s age. No 11 has gas fired central heating, and all of the fireplaces seem to be in regular use too.
The first floor is home to three bedrooms, two the front with the house’s most elevated views, there’s one to the back, and added to the lower ground level there’s up to five bedrooms in all in this exceptionally accommodating house.
There have only been three or four resales in the Crescent since the 1990s and a couple are renovation works in progress, with work just apparently wrapping up on a super-stylishly finished one at the arc terrace’s far end, looking like it wouldn’t be out of place in London’s Kensington.
“When I first moved 33 years ago, I looked around the house I had just bought, and wondered ‘How will I ever furnish it and fill it,’ recalls Keaney with a chuckle, and a small measure of awe, and a bit of pride, at how time has answered his initial worry.
VERDICT: Cobh’s Crescent is special, as are the tales of No 11’s vendor, end of story.
Size: Sq. m 280 (3,000 sq ft)
Bedrooms: 3 plus 2