A stretch of extravagance at Willowbank in Rochestown, Cork

Willowbank is new to market this weekend and holds its own against its neighbours, writes Tommy Barker.

Rochestown Rd, Cork €1.25m

Size: 320 sq m (2,500 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 4

BER: N/A

Best feature: classic location

THERE’S a stretch of Cork’s fabled Rochestown Road that has always been noted for great houses, on equally great or even greater gardens.

The stretch, from the Fingerpost in Douglas village to the entrance to Limetrees estate by the Rochestown Park Hotel, is home to perhaps 10 or 12 classic homes built in the first half of the 1900s, on sites of a half acre to as much as four acres.

Those grounds are now yielding valuable 21st century house sites for their fortunate owners, many of them trading down or handing over to family members.

For the most part, proposed new builds are likely to go behind or next to existing homes, but in one case just being completed, the owners of one large house have built a smaller, trading down spot for themselves right out the road, with a younger family taking over the larger and older house to the back.

This Rochestown Road section is very much Cork’s version of Foxrock, in miniature, though some of these southern houses could hold their heads up proudly with many of the best of their leafy Dublin cousins.

One of the largest-ever house sales in the city and suburbs was Gortalough, a magnificent rebuild up to 10,500 sq ft of luxury with swimming pool, on a couple of acres, back in 2003.

Gortalough made just under €4m via Lisney, a record at the time and still one of the city’s top three price records, with another on this precious row also making the same sort of €4m sum in an off-market deal in the early 2000s, also with Lisney.

Things calmed a bit during the downturn, but one of Cork’s strongest sales post-recovery was the arts and crafts gem called Windyridge, selling in 2013 for €1.6m via Sherry FitzGerald on three of the best garden acres along this Millionaires’ Row, having only had two families in occupation since 1939.

And, just last month, another two-owner prize, Ben Truda, came to market: built for Gerald Goldberg and his wife Sheila, Ben Truda was bought in 2004 for €2m by architect Donogh O’Riordan and his wife Geraldine who did a super-sensitive extension and upgrade before hiving off a rear-garden quarter acre site for their own new home.

The 1930s-built Ben Truda went to market again just last month, with Cohalan Downing, now guiding at €1.45m for a 3,200 sq ft immaculate, contemporary five-bed home on 0.75 acres. It’s under- active and appreciates viewings, and early offers.

Now, comes a rival in the same, broad price range: in fact, it’s a not-inconsiderable €200,000 cheaper.

Dating to 1939, and also a five-bed on a similar size 0.7-acre site, Willowbank is new to market this weekend with Sheila O’Flynn and Ann O’Mahony of Sherry FitzGerald, who guide at €1.25m for a property just shy of 2,500 sq ft.

Ms O’Flynn also sold Windyridge (to a medic, who hasn’t made any alterations to it yet) closer to Douglas Village, so she’s hoping to reprise another strong sale here.

These ten or so quite special early/pre-war buys were built on lands originally associated with Maryborough House, which is now a top hotel with yet further big houses built closer to it in the 2000s, albeit on far smaller sites — as was the Limetrees estate in the mid-1900s.

Dating back to the early 1930s Willowbank is detached, and private, and in recent decades its side garden bordering the Limetrees estate entrance was home to a tennis court.

This has now been forsaken, with a new detached house currently under construction for Willowbank’s vendors who’ve been here for the last quarter century.

They’ve wisely decided to keep an entrance to their new home on the Rochestown Road (for any eventual resale cachet?) and so now Willowbank’s original entrance splits left and right off the Rochestown Road; left to the new home, right for the 1930s original and extended home, seen here in its summer garden glories.

The drive now sweeps around a curve to the right of the so-mature and colourful site, up to the Douglas/west end of the two-storey home, which was previously extended to its far/east end, and to the back.

It feels bigger than its measured 2,500 sq ft, mostly thanks to a 2001 rear extension, where a bright living/dining room with high, wood-panelled ceilings, of mini-cathedral proportions, has been grafted on, designed by architect Jim Leahy.

It’s reached off the kitchen, which itself is home to an Aga range, and the high-ceilinged add-on (used for all occasions, from family gatherings to full-on parties) is a decent 28’ by almost 14 wide’, and over 20’ high at its maximum point.

Even though the varnished wood panelling sort of gives the room a dated 1980s/1990s look initially, it could be transformed to New England beach house with a lick of crisp white paint, a temptation encouraged by the fact its protruding bay of small-paned windows faces due south, sucking in that light from across the back gardens and terrace, with a further set of double doors to the patio/terrace from the adjacent kitchen via an arch, to this single storey wing/add-on.

Kitchen units are white, with black granite tops, and the dark green Aga’s a warming anchor to it all.

Willowbank’s main block is two storey, with two more traditional bay windows on the rear facade for each of the two other formal 15’ by 12’ reception rooms, one of

which is a family room, the other a drawing room.

Each of those two reception rooms has a fireplace, and there’s another, further fireplace in the hall, facing what’s now the main entrance door after a rooms reconfiguration, as a result of which the hall’s practically a room in its own right.

Elsewhere at ground level is a back hall, a pantry, utility, a guest WC, and a study, almost entirely with wood-panelled walls. A practical gas fire insert makes this room a particularly cosy spot, and it leads next to a ground floor, en suite bedroom.

This configuration of ground floor en suite bedroom and reception room makes this end of the house ideal for an au pair, grandparent, or other visiting friends or relatives, and giving it its own external/garden access would be a relatively straightforward job, suggest Sherry FitzGerald.

Upstairs has less space than the very accommodating ground level, but still fits in four double bedrooms, two to the front, two to the back, or one per corner.

The back two bedrooms have south-facing garden views from their bay windows, one of these rooms has an en suite shower room, and there’s also a main family bathroom at this upper level.

Overall condition on both levels is good, without being slavishly fashionable. Its core seems to have kept faith with its 1930s origins.

Brightness is a key attribute — that, and its mature gardens, with some of its tree specimens older than the house itself, going back to earlier Maryborough House days, most likely.

Sherry FitzGerald describe the grounds as a real piéce de résistance of the property, with privacy given from the road beyond thanks to the screening presence of so many flowering trees and shrubs.

Rhododendron are a strong presence here, along with other acid-loving plants like camellias, azaleas, and hydrangeas, with a Liscannor stone-paved back terrace a good suntrap spot from which to take stock, before heading off down wending and fragrant paths and along stepping stones.

Fresh out of the sale blocks, any aspiring owners can get comfort from the fact there’s still plenty of ground and privacy at Willowbank after its side garden/tennis court was annexed for the vendor’s downsizing move.

The new boundary is all screened off and planted up, so there’ll be no surprises when next door is finished up and occupied.

Location-wise, this stretch of road has held its own for nigh-on a century, within a walk of Douglas suburb’s many amenities and attractions, schools, and shops, with the south city Ring Road also readily accessible.

VERDICT: One of a special cadre of Cork suburban homes — this is the part of the Rochestown Road that gave the area its cachet in previous decades, and its still home to some of Cork best old stock.

“It feels bigger than its measured2,500 sq ft, mostly thanks to a 2001 rear extension

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