Three houses and special gardens at West Cork seaside spread

Our family were probably the first tourists in Baltimore,” quips Stuart Musgrave, as he prepares to sell his family’s current base on Cove Road in this appealing West Cork village, known far and wide, and over the seas, for its tourism, sailing, ferries and fishing.

Three houses and special gardens at West Cork seaside spread

Baltimore, West Cork €1.4 million

Size: 514 sq m (5,500 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 5+4

Bathrooms: 4+2


Best Feature: Sizeable spread in special Baltimore setting

Generations of the Musgrave clan (of Musgrave Group/SuperValu repute) have been Baltimore visitors and guests since the 1890s, he recalls, able to point out house after house which members of the extended Musgrave family have stayed in, rented or owned within compact Baltimore, moving and leap-frogging down the adjacent Salisbury Terrace, and rows of homes, over a century and more.

Now, he is selling the family’s current pretty impressive large property mix here, right in the very heart of Baltimore. But, they are only down-sizing - and not cutting local links - , he stresses, and they may buy again, or build once more. Only smaller.

There’s a touch of serendipity in the fact Stuart Musgrave and his wife Avril developed this much-visited holiday home back in 1989 when they bought an old flat-roofed village roadside sweet-shop, O’Driscolls: it’s highly appropriate given the Musgrave family’s long links with retailing.

The Musgrave retail empire started in 1876, when brothers Thomas and Stuart Musgrave set up shop - now, the Musgrave group employs tens of thousands in Ireland, the UK and Spain, across a series of brands like SuperValue, Centra, Mace, Londis, Budgens, Daybreak, and DialPrix - none of which includes O’Driscolls old Baltimore shop orTeddy Brown’s old bar, oil store and garage.

What’s here now in the sweet-shop’s stead is a long, low-slung modern, and almost modest-looking, comfortable 3,800 sq ft main house with five bedrooms and set up for hospitality and family entertaining. It comes with two c 800 sq ft self-contained guest cottages, backing onto to the Cove Road, and looking over grounds, gardens and towards the harbour below.

The property carries the slightly unusual name of Sydney, and got this appellation from the West Cork habit of associating family names with distinctive events or traits to distinguish one family from another: that’s vital enough to be sure in the case of a West Cork surname like O’Driscoll.

In this instance, it came after an O’Driscoll family member was transported to Australia: once established there, he began sending back remittances to his mother Mary, who set up the shop. She became known - of course - as Mary ‘Sydney’ O’Driscoll, so that’s celebrated still in this property’s title.

Sydney is for sale now with joint agents Charlie and Maeve McCarthy of Charles P McCarthy in Skibbereen, who had it quietly on offer pre-Christmas, guiding an even €1m. But, too late!

That price has been revised - upwards - to €1.4m, as spring comes around and as McCarthys in nearby Skibbereen are joined in the sales push by Catherine McAuliffe and Michael O’Donovan of Savills in Cork city.

That Skib/city office pairing already has one or two €1m-plus West Cork sales under its collective belts, and hope to reprise that sale success here.

There’s already early interest, says Charlie McCarthy, who reckons it’s one of the best house set-ups in Baltimore - where standards (and expectations) are high, and where there’s considerable wealth: a small number of Cork families such as the Musgraves have set up sizeable Baltimore ’base camps’ down the decades.

The redesign here and adaptation to a cluster of sympathetic linked houses was done by architect Brian Murphy O’Connor, also a long-time visitor to Baltimore, and the look - with its stone facades, dark pvc double glazing, slate roofs and chimney pots (fueled by a half dozen wood-burning stoves) - definitely veers toward the traditional.

Despite the proximity of Baltimore’s famed harbour, sheltered by Sherkin Island, and water and sailing views, windows have been kept small and simple, there’s no mad expanse of glass or viewing corners capitalising on the aspect.

In fact, you sort of have to go up to the windows and look out to catch the views of a glimpse of boats, very much a case of ‘we know it’s there, it’s always there, aren’t we out in it most the time.’

The notable exception is the very large, glass-roofed conservatory - and that relates best to the pristine, tended gardens where daffs are in full flower, thanks to an early start to the season, down here by sea level.

Key to Sydney’s appeal is the sheer amount of space, right in the village, with about 0.75 of an acre in all, and about 5,500 sq ft all-in of quality buildings, along with practical additions like a roofed and sheltered garden terrace (perfect for drying clothes, wet-weather gear, sails and assorted clobber, including dogs), garden sheds, pagoda garden room and sundry stores.

There’s also plenty of off-street parking on a large sweep of cobbled drive, with enough room left over for backing in a boat or two on a trailer.

It could all almost be described as a holiday compound, except for the welcome fact the family chose not to put up electric gates or any fancy screening, so they have free run up to the village and back down again.

On the doorstep are several great bars, shops, restaurants, sailing club, fishing, piers and pontoons, slips, ferry access points - all the accoutrements for summer-long enjoyment and activities. In case it all goes awry, there’s even a lifeboat service.

Almost needless to say, Sydney’s all immaculate, inside and out, on carefully tended gardens, with a pond, an old orchard and a stream running through its lush lawns on its way to the sea 200 yards away: the gardens were laid out by neighbours John and Betty Cross, another city family with long Baltimore links.

The Savills/McCarthy sales spiel notes “this architect-designed property has been completed to the highest standard and

specification, equally suited as a full-time residence or an upmarket holiday home..” and, it adds the rider that it’s “one of the best to come to market in this unique coastal village for some time.”

A stand-out feature of the main, split-level house which steps neatly down its sloping site is the quality of the build, done by highly regarded local man Tim Collins, and especially its carpentry.

There’s some top class joinery going on, not so much in the quite ubiquitous pine panelling upstairs (though that too is well-delivered, up and around peaky dormer windows): it’s best observed in the superior timber pitch-pine panelled library (with stove) and in the adjacent study, called the chart room as it’s home to a number of captivating old nautical charts of West Cork harbours and approaches.

(The Musgrave family have been sailors for generations too, and another common thread is their recycling of the Christian name ‘Stuart’, recalling the business’s original co-founder, a Stuart.

The latest Stuart, now London-based, is married to the singer Gemma Hayes: they’ve a young family, and when he visits Sydney, he fashions magical, tiny fairy houses which he sets in the grounds, and places up trees to cause wonder in young-at-heart minds)

Back on a more prosaic level, this well-grounded house’s ground floor layout is quite sensible, with the smaller rooms to the back/approach, such as the afore-mentioned study, library and utility room with its adjoining wet-room/shower to one side of the hall.

Across the hall are the kitchen, dining room and - up several steps - the sitting room, and all of those key rooms open to the sunny terrace, or to the quite properly over-sized conservatory, a decent 32’ long the house’s front wall, with its three sets of French doors back to the interior.

It’s a real heat draw in sunny times, and to avoid overheating it can vent into the house, while four electrically- controlled roof sections hinge open to leave super-heated air out.

That expansive sunroom opens, in turn, to a part-crazy-paved patio and to a far larger decked section, which has a maintenance-free composite material used in place of slippy timbers.

A raised seating section has sinuous curves, inviting lingering, with the garden just beyond where there’s a feature horse chestnut, some pines of course, a myrtle, camellias, and very old apple trees. One old apple tree was felled in last year’s storms, cut back, left to lie on the ground with some root contact remaining and now there’s fresh growth shooting up from this almost sculptural trunk (see pic p8).

Inside once more, the kitchen and dining room are quite properly the heart of this home; it’s graced by an old, white Aga range, backed up on the side by an Aga gas-hobbed adjunct for summer cooking when the main beast is turned off.

Kitchen units and larder presses again are in quite timeless pitch pine, with a granite-topped pine island unit.

Floor finishes across a swathe of the ground level (hall, kitchen, conservatory, utility etc) are in dusky, pale terracotta, while the dining room steps up a bit with rugs covering quality American oak boards: interior walls here have an attractive wainscoting/dado, done in pitch pine.

Out in the central spine/hall, stairs up to an upper section of the house are in ash, and flooring above continues the American oak theme. Rooms at this upper level include a music room with high apex ceiling in white deal T&G, and alongside is a guest bedroom, with great views, plus terrace access and has an en suite shower room up overhead, making for a quite self-contained wing.

The main upstairs section of Sydney has four bedrooms, with master en suite and a main family bathroom serving the other three bedrooms. The family aren’t great believers in all en suite bedrooms - too much cleaning, Stuart sensibly reckons.

All of the bedrooms have distinctive, doubled-up ceiling beams, with ceilings lowered down from the apex to create a more flat surface in between the beams, safer for adventurous children and more effective for heating/insulation too.

For those who’ll find the amount of pine sheeting too knotty on the eye, a few tins of paint will put paid any perceived surplus.

This upper house section has a double hip roof (all in slate), so the central corridor gets to have a few roof lights dotted along its length and so is super-bright, whilst the gable end is punctured by a properly maritime-feel porthole window, with Baltimore harbour views off in the mid-distance.

Some of the best views to be had are from up above, here in the master bedroom where there’s a floor-to-ceiling window, served with a telescope. It’s handy for spotting when various family members might be voyaging home from sailing, for lunch, tea or dinner, or when a buyer might come over the horizon.

VERDICT: Sweet spot, fashioned from an old Baltimore sweet shop.

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