I’m leaving the ballroom while the music is still playing,” observes Katarina Runske of the suite spot she has so individually orchestrated, at Schull’s Grove House.
The so-able Swede has run the historic Colla Road guest accommodation, restaurant and art hub with verve and good vibes, buying the 1880s built former rectory and hotel over a decade ago, taking it on just before the economy imploded.
Sheer force of her engaging and open personality, energy, enthusiasm and an innate grace as well as a love of the arts meant Grove House prospered, even as other businesses in her sector failed all around the country.
Grove House has been a temporary home for writers, artists, gourmands and music lovers, and the baby grand piano in the dining room has more than earned its passage, accompanying the likes of crooner Howard Crosby (Bing’s nephew, with local Schull roots), Mary Coughlan, Maria Doyle Kennedy and more, as well as baroque quartets by candle light.)
Now, though, and seemingly paradoxically with tourism back on the rise and the economy gathering pace once more, Katarina has decided (albeit surely with mixed feelings) to sell Grove House: the reasons are mixed, including recovery from serious illness, to the itch to try something new, and niche, once more (she has just opened a bookshop and cafe, Anna B’s, in Schull, called after her first grandchild) on a smaller scale, but also to have the time to travel and visit friends, and to get back some of the hospitality she spread so engagingly here.
And, while Katarina Runske knows there’s real heart, good karma plus a good business to be had here at Grove House, she and her selling agents Savills in Cork and Charles P McCarthy in Skibbereen know the period property may now be bought as a private home, of immense character, in a honey-spot setting within 200 yards of Schull’s Main Street, at the start of the Colla Road.
In Grove House’s times, it has been a rectory for the adjoining Church of Ireland church (the bells still wake guests on Sunday morning with unexpected vigour and peal,) private home, nursing home small hotel that ploughed its own furrow, run variously by a Capt Jagoe, local sisters the Symes and others, including at one stage a local banker who built in the side gardens.
Most latterly Grove House has been the passion of Swedish dynamo Ms Runske who has hospitality in her veins, running Grove with her sons Max (now a professional sailor) and Nico, a highly regarded chef who did the Ballymaloe Cookery Course during his school Transition Year, the youngest ever.
It has been family focused through another generation also: when Katarina took over, her brother came along for a while to assist on the start-up, and her mother also came on board.
Her mum was Catherine Noren, who ran a restaurant at Dunworley, West Cork, for a number of years and who recently passed away.
A photograph of the late Catherine Noren is on a wall in the commercial kitchen at Grove House, taken by none other than Nick Robinson, husband of former president of Ireland Mary Robinson.
If one suspects there’s quite an illustrious guest book here, well, there is; and it’s nothing new.
George Bernard Shaw stayed at Grove House, leaving a short note in its guest book in 1904. Painter Jack B Yeats also was a guest, as were literary duo Somerville and Ross, Edith Somerville and Violet Martin.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, Grove House’s five guest bedrooms bear such names as Ross, Somerville, Yeats, Carbery and Shaw.
Every now and then, Katarina gets a note, or a discrete word, to let her know a family’s latest arrival (a baby Ross?) was conceived in a certain room.
A quite recent guest was Bing’s Crosby’s nephew Howard, who planted an oak tree in Grove House’s front garden, and that Crosby tree is set in time to part-frame the view from this simply-facaded period home over lawns, to the harbour by Schull, and the waters beyond of Roaringwater Bay.
Despite a century and a half of gracious and genteel hospitality, Grove House never over-extended itself, which leaves the way open for a buyer now to possibly consider it as a private, owner-occupier rather that as a going concern: both options are there, but at 4,150 sq ft, it’s not even much larger than many houses built during the boom-time Tiger years.
Indeed, Schull and the Colla Road have more than a sprinkling of modern millionaire mansions; few, if any, have the authenticity and iconoclasm of Grove House.
Standing now an 0.8 of an acre, flooded with light and with direct sea views, it’s described by Savills and McCarthy auctioneers as “a most interesting property, steeped in history and stories of times gone by, unique in a million ways.”
Its walls are graced with art works and artefacts; there are bookshelves literally everywhere, and you’d never be stuck for something engrossing to read or browse or study, and with such an eclectic library, it’s little wonder the bedrooms haven’t been blighted by large-screen TVs.
Who’d need the telly when same walls have listened in on West Cork gossip, and affairs of State, rave food reviews plus recitals and the backdrop of the multi-talented Katarina’s own piano playing.
Almost incidentally she’s a trained classical pianist, and she taught piano for years from a cottage in Kilbrittain, up to 60 pupils a week, before she made the jump to Grove House with her then teenaged sons.
She says a piano shop in Bandon sold 30 pianos one year alone thanks to her tutelage, while she also worked in restaurants in Kinsale, and co-owned an interiors shop there, Oh, and she also did a law degree, in UCC, as you do, in any spare time between rearing sons, feeding guests early breakfasts, and seeing patrons off the premises almost 20 hours later.
In just a decade, this woman has put as much a personal and physical stamp on Grove House as did any of its owners over a preceding century and a quarter, without even intefering with its patina and sense of age and spirit.
While being treated daily, over many months, in the CUH in Cork for her illness and surgeries (with a willing rota of locals to drive her to the city,) she decided to add on a conservatory/further dining room, as a positive and life-affirming project, and now it’s an equal in appeal to the three other reception principal rooms off Grove House’s long, central hall, while the feature coloured and cut glass window (sketched by architect WA Hill) on the stairs is still stand-out.
“There a special, positive spirit to this house, you can feel it,” says its most recent caretaker, noting a few remarkable coincidences.
Several years ago, she bought an antique Chesterfield leather sofa in Bantry as she reckoned it would suit the drawing room, only to be amazed once it was in place to have a neighbour say it had been in Grove House before, but had been sold off years earlier.
A coincidence to match was an antique bed she subsequently bought, again one which had made its travels and acquaintances, only to be told that it, too, had been a Grove House fixture, sold off by earlier owners and which had, quite uncannily, made its own way back to Colla Road.
As she prepares to pack her bags, well due a deserved rest but ready for new challenges, Katarina says of opening Anna B’s bookshop last October “having long fulfilled many of my dreams in life it was time to make another one come true.”
And, judging by the full shelves and amassed tomes at Grove House, it’s probable that Anna B’s bookshop won’t be short of a supply of second-hand stock, and stories to be told, either.
: A precious place