TRAVEL along the glorious Lee valley west of Cork city, passing river, reservoir and neat villages like Dripsey and Coachford, and — only if you get lost, or lucky with navigation — you’ll come to St Olan’s.
You’ll have to be lucky, really, as even with simple directions, you could get gloriously lost. However, the compensation is, every back road around here is a joy to meander, with surprises like the glen-set Mullinhassig falls a sudden joy.
Even asking for directions could be tricky: the townland Ahavrin sounds like whatever you’re having yourself, while Aghabullogue? Really, you’d nearly have to be born to it to pronounce it. St Olan is the patron saint to the parish, which is home to a holy well, and to a round-capped ogham stone.
When (or if) you eventually get to the former Church of Ireland rectory St Olan’s which is now a private home with three lodges, and wander its private 10 acres of woodland, there’s another watery gem. Deep in its bowers is a hideaway, stream-fed pond, with ducks (whisper it, or the men with guns will be around), lots of paddling, taking off, landing and just plain old sitting ducks. It’s a woodland and wild fowl paradise, amid lofty beech, oak, chestnut, pines and cedar trees.
The upgraded Georgian over-basement period home dates to 1840, built by the C of I on 30 acres of glebe land; its non-clergy owners in recent decades have been from overseas mostly, Continental Europeans, very much into horses, and in the past 15 years, a West of Ireland family with horse interests (and a small passion for horse-power cars) have relished it.
So, apart being from the most comfortable family home, withthree self-contained courtyard cottages for friends and guests, and the odd gazebo and garden seat, there are several oak-framed secure garages, three stables, and a large multi-purpose workshed for boats and hobbies within the old walled garden all to enjoy, with the remains of a small folly tower at its eastern end.
This is a propertyat which to indulge outdoor living. St Olan’s is a late-in-the-year market arrival, for sale with country home specialist Michael H Daniels who has previous sales form of period houses around Coachford.
In fact, he previously had listed St Olan’s back around 2001 for its current owners who, instead, stayed put and upgraded, with three children graduating from the local national school and living the life, with pond swims and garden roaming and tree climbing and the like. Now they are headed into college-going years, and with a parental consultancy job move up country, St Olan’s is up for new ownership, carrying a €1.25m-plus guide, for a fully restored large-ish Georgian home of over 5,000 sq ft, fit for purpose and with a warm and quirky personality from top to bottom.
For those worried about older houses and their upkeep, it’s already been re-roofed, has replacement sash windows, central heating and a nice mix of inviting reception rooms, interlinking via internal arches with glazed divides. It’s packed with internal arches and grace, with a barrell-ceilinged stairwell and all with intact period trim, from doors and shutters to cornices, ceiling roses and fine, large original fireplaces, fed by an abundance of timber.
“There’s more wood on the grounds than you could burn in a lifetime, particularly after last winter’s storms,” says one of the owners, throwing another wind-felled bough in the drawing room’s gaping grate, as its kicks back the kilojoules to grateful, sleeping dogs left lie on a hearth rug.
This is in one of the two main linked reception rooms, each of which have views past small paned sash windows to a spreading tall cedar on the front lawn, likely to be as old as the house itself. There’s a dining room with rich red walls for embracing evening character, and a larger adjacent drawing room with fine, grey-veined marble fireplace and high ceilings. This, in turn, leads to a more modern sun-room addition, with pitched ceilings and some exposed beams, and walls just about everywhere are adorned with quirky art, sculpture and cheerful colour everywhere.
The main facade is four-bay overlooking the grounds, with entrance to the side, and there’s a choice of two approach avenues, one formal, the other passing the castellated courtyard entrance and pony paddock.
There’s only a few vantage points where you get to realise the house has a very functional basement with several external access points. This lower ground level is home to a suite of rooms, all with plain tiled floors, that include a gym, sauna, home office, games room, wine store and a guest bedroom, with garden views.
St Olan’s layout is entirely asymmetrical on each of the three levels, and you sort of mooch and meander around to get the hang of it all, finding rooms in almost incidental corners. Upstairs, all but one of the five bedrooms has a double aspect,with green garden views all about, and several bedrooms have fireplaces.
The main, family bathroom has a double ended cast iron slipper bath and Victorian style sanitary ware, with high cistern, tumbled marble tiled floor and walls, while the main, large master bedroom has a separate, en suite and the best of garden views from its several windows.
The condition of the period detailing is impressive, but the occupants haven’t entirely doffed their caps to it or followed a decor theme slavishly, so what’s here is eclectic: you’re as likely to find framed posters for classic and collectable cars and Dinkies as you are period-appropriate paintings in gilded frames. Books are everywhere, and apart from the three linked main receptions there’s an oddly sited cosy family room with doors to lots of other rooms (but no windows,) there’s a home office that has been appropriated by the younger generations, and a large rear hall/pantry/utility off the capacious kitchen.
The kitchen, as you might expect, is entirely the heart of this family home, with large island home to a double Belfast sink, with Fisher and Paykel double dishwasher, and masses of units (but not big, familiar brands) topped with muted marbles, and in pride of place is a large, four oven Aga range cooker. It’s all cheerful and bright, with windows on three sides, and two overhead Veluxes for extra good measure, and there’s a big bank of padded corner windows for simply lounging and letting down on.
The house is more than big enough for most families, and the full basement is a massive bonus — you could be hard pressed to find enough uses for it. Then, in addition, there are the three guest cottages out in the courtyard, called Courtyard Cottage, Stable Cottage and Robyn’s Nest, all three self-contained so visitors and extended family can be parked there without too much imposition. For new owners there could be scope for rental income — after all, the setting in the Lee Valley is an as-yet underplayed visitor attraction, home to lots of water-borne activity (the National Rowing Centre’s a stroke away over the lake past Coachford) there’s a boating centre on the reservoir above the Inniscarra dam, and there’s even water-skiing.
Then, in terms of more quiet pursuits, there is angling on the Lee, walks, cycling, walks, wilderness and heritage. Heritage? Aghabullogue won Cork’s first hurling All Ireland, back in 1890, so the ash trees here still possibly possess a magical spirit.
St Olan’s came to market in August, and the pitch via agent Michael H Daniels who’s based in
north Cork is broad, both to Irish relocaters looking for a rural home, and it’s also going to have an Irish country house appeal to overseas buyers, with a rounded c £1m UK price tag going to carry a particular appeal also. And, given its latter-day 20th century pedigree, it’s going to suit a Continental buyer looking for privacy, within easy access of an airport.
Location-wise, this mid-Cork setting just a couple of miles north-west of Coachford is probably half an hour/20 miles or more out from Cork city and a bit more from the airport, with routes back by the river, and Macroom’s about seven miles the other direction, whileKerry’s bounteous glories are over the County Bounds.
When first and stoutly constructed, a glebe of 30 acres was acquired here by the Church of Ireland’s Board of First Fruits to provide a rectory, and it was known as the Glebe of Ahavrin: it’s recorded its first rector initially refused to move in, as he felt the rent sought was too high. It was later occupied by a Rev Welland, leased from a Capt Crooke, and by the mid 1900s it was owned by the Devlin family, members of which were County Council engineers.
St Olan’s is a lovely balance of comfortable private house, guest cottages, practical outbuildings in a walled garden, divine small lake and saintly grounds.