Ilen bank property: Cape Cod meets Cape Clear in West Cork

Tommy Barker visits Ilen River bank home of departing banker, AIB’s Chief Executive David Duffy, after its latest €1m-plus drop.

Ilen bank property: Cape Cod meets Cape Clear in West Cork

Ilen River, Skibbereen €2.5 million

Sq m 985 (10,000 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 8

Bathrooms: 7


Best Feature: Setting

Departing AIB chief executive David Duffy has done the State (and the taxpayers) some service during his short, three-year tenure, turning this State-owned bank around, as well as changing its rooted culture of entitlement.

Similarly, and over a marginally shorter time span in advance of his AIB brief, he turned this West Cork house at Aghadown around, but only after sizeable injections of cash, having bought it in the early 2000s for a reported €3m, and further spending heavily on it to fashion a private, 10,000 sq ft riverside retreat.

Now, with a move to Clydesdale Bank in Scotland (and, reportedly a salary which will be multiples of his capped €425,000 pa AIB pay-packet), he has added impetus to sell up this West Cork waterside home.

Mr Duffy had bought Aghadown when he worked for the ING Bank Group, and moved into it in 2004, ever before turning around the stricken ship that was AIB appeared on his banking business horizon.

This was the Duffys’ family home for a period while Mr Duffy worked in Amsterdam - with an executive-calibre 500 sq ft home office created adjacent to the main house here for home-based work, aided by a mobile phone signal booster for phone and wireless broadband.

On nine acres with water-frontage, it all went quietly up for sale two years ago, in January 2013, unofficially guiding close to €5m with Skibbereen agent Charles P McCarthy; the sale instruction later moved to Sherry FitzGerald’s David Ashmore in Dublin, and to Sherry Fitzgerald’s local office with Ray O’Neill in Clonaklity/Skibbereen: first it had a €3.7 million price guide, and that was subsequently cut further, to €2.5m.

Even after this cut, it’s still one of West Cork’s pricier offers; it has had a handful of viewings, now hopes are picking up as spring beckons at its adjusted guide and as assets like its water-frontage and floating pontoon/jetty come into their own for boating buyers.

It is on private and considerably landscaped grounds with two walled gardens, about six miles down river from Skibbereen, along the lovely Ilen, reached via Church Cross.

Near neighbours like David Puttnam and Jeremy Irons, as well as financier William Bollinger near Schull (a patron of the new West Cork Arts Centre, see feature following pages) have made real features of their own West Cork waterside properties.

A rib or other swift boat puts immediate islands like Inishbeg and Heir a short spin away, and just around and beyond them are Baltimore, Sherkin, Cape Clear, Schull and a myriad of coves and isles to explore in craggy Roaringwater Bay.

Sherry FitzGerald describe Aghadown as “a classical Georgian mansion,” although in truth its more accurately a hugely extended and enhanced Glebe House (now with luxury courtyard dwelling additions,) with 230-year pedigree, and some reported links to Scotland’s Stuart family.

It’s had a recent history of wealthy owners, but back in the 1990s it was run as a drug rehabilitation centre for young Continental Europeans, called Le Patriarch, and was bought then from that group by Irish IT entrepreneur Leonard Donnelly, who went on to buy Creagh House and Gardens near Baltimore, as well as West Skeam Island as other multi-million euo purchases.

Skeam island previously had been owned by Edward de Bono and before that by US artist James Turrell - West Cork is this sort of eclectic magnet for magnates, money and talent.

Leonard and Sarah Donnelly drafted the first plans for Aghadown’s renewal, but the finished entity is very much as a result of the Duffy family’s efforts and expenditure, with nary a stone left unturned: in fact, landscaping reportedly included removing/ a hill section or mound, to open up Ilen River views, and also created a level base for an astroturf tennis court.

Sherry FitzGerald’s David Ashmore describes it as “a perfect example of an elegant country retreat,” while to other eyes it’s also quite the American ‘luxury compound’, in a Cork setting, more Cape Cod than Cape Clear - not surprisingly, perhaps, as Mr Duffy’s wife is American, and Harvard-educated, and their children have now gravitated to the US for their own college education, having spent some time in West Cork schools.

The Duffy family used Cork architect Bill Brady, and local builder Tim Collins to effect this huge transformation, using the best of materials and skills, from natural slate roofs to 15 tonnes of oak flooring, double-glazed sash windows, limestone sills and top dry-stone work (done, in the main, to West Cork standards by Polish masons.)

The main residence is now T-shaped, with a circular stairwell created in one corner, done to exceptional standards of workmanship inside and out.

There’s a sort of beehive-shaped cupola on the conical slate roof of this add-on, and it houses the electric motor for raising and lowering the enormous, €45,000 Waterford Crystal chandelier (not included in the sale) hanging from the domed ceiling which features ornate filigree plasterwork done by English Heritage experts after they’d completed a job at Limerick Cathedral.

Accommodation at Aghadown is a bit of a deviation from the norm, with five/six bedrooms in the main house, over its upper two levels, and there are three more good bedrooms across the paved courtyard, in two interlinked guest cottages which link also to the large home office, gym, games rooms, wine cellar and garage.

The latter’s a comfy home to a motley mix of well-fed dogs who have had acres, walled gardens, shoreline, lawns and woods to call home.

All of the main house’s rooms, off a central hall, are generous-sized, and can adapt to several uses for formal/informal dining, family relaxing, view taking, and baking - the 30’ by 20’ kitchen includes a four-oven Aga.

Worktop units are thick granite, with equally thick timber on a central island, and sinks here and in the large utility linking the main house to the garage (via a car port) are ceramic.

With over 10,000 sq ft in all, this now is no mean property, and the house can be used entirely separate to the stone and render-faced guest cottages hich, in all, probably account for one-third of the total floor area in a largely linear run, mostly one-room wide in traditional Irish vernacular style.

The main, two-story house is faced in a harling or type of dash, with pink limewash colour for character, very much from the old Georgian palette and increasingly being reintroduced around West Cork where a stand-out example is Jeremy Irons’s own Roaringwater Bay castle renovation, in peachy tones, visible from over the hills above Aghadown.

All the main ground floor rooms here have been done in solid oak, stained, and it also surfaces in the upstairs landing, with lots of rugs scattered about to visually break the sheer runs of darkened timber. Because of the house’s particular layout, practically all of the main rooms at ground and first floor levels have a double aspect.

Once up the graciously-curved, almost-turreted staircase which adds grandeur to the original Georgian glebe, the first floor layout can be tailored very indi

vidually to almost presidential suite status. The super-sized main bedroom has a double aspect for garden views, with WC, and links to a big dressing room and then, on to a considerable private bathroom, which, in turn, leads to a study/nursery/optional further bedroom.

This collection of rooms could become, if desired, almost a private first floor apartment, and the multi-use end room has some of the main house’s best views back to the Ilen river and a handy floating pontoon.

A gable- end balcony added on here would be an asset, as one would be for an overhead, second floor bedroom as, despite all the landscaping, the Ilen views aren’t as yet fully capitalised upon from the main house.

Further space on the first floor includes an en suite guest bedroom and the house’s top floor is home to a central landing/den, with three bedrooms (one en suite) and a main bathroom ranged off it, whilst many of the house and cottages’ nooks and crannies are replete with well-stocked bookshelves.

Externally, the house and buildings’ cluster-like complex provides several sheltered or secret garden like areas, screened behind high stone walls.

French doors lead, for example from a drawing room to an enclosed garden with raised beds, pergola, BBQ section and two-tiered decking, complete with inset hot-tub.

There’s a gentler feel to a further secret garden off the better of the two guest cottages, again pretty sheltered, and dotted with nesting bird boxes and planted up with clambering plants ready for spring blossoming, while the upper level of this guest cottage has a mezzanine viewing room, above an Alpine chalet-like lofty family room, heated by a huge wood-burning stove.

This mezzanine den then opens to a viewing balcony for the property’s most sweeping views: the sentinel white beacon by Baltimore harbour’s mouth can be glimpsed over the way, and evening sunsets must be spectacular.

A stream forms part of Agahdown’s rugged, gorse-strewn boundary, feeding down to the tidal Ilen river by a simple stone dock.

Local roads lead past this house’s low-key entrance (but, surveyed by lots of CCTV) and wend along lovely boreens past old farmhouses, new-builds and renovations in-train, polytunnels galore and on to Turk Head, with routes also to Cunnamore pier a few miles away, a well-known and safe pier for boat access, ferry landings and a springboard to Carbery’s magnificent 100 Isles.

Sherry FitzGerald’s Ray O’Neill notes just how perfect the setting is for outdoor enthusiasts, for walkers, bird-watchers, bathers and boaters, tennis (on your own private grounds), along with a rowing club, Aughadown’s GAA grounds at Church Cross, rugby and soccer clubs, with golf on the Baltimore Road’s West Carbery course.

Skibbereen’s about a 15 minute spin by road, with its range of restaurants, shops, galleries (and new West Cork Arts Centre) and the community caters as hospitably for blow-ins as for locals, whether they come by bus or boat, by car or by chopper.

VERDICT: A river banker

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