THE view from the side, gable windows of 1 The Crescent in Cork harbour’s Cobh is, truly, inspiring: there are five slender sash windows on that gable, over three levels, all framing captivating views of the town’s St Colman’s Cathredral, and its soaring spire.
Funny thing is, the house that bookends the Crescent’s eastern end was built in 1850, several years before work ever started on the cathedral.
And, its sentinel spire wasn’t completed until 1915, while its carillon of 49 bells which chimes over town and water was only installed in 1916 (comprising some 35 tonnes of brass ferried in on a British navy ship in stirring war times).
So, in so many ways The Crescent was, eh, ahead of the curve. It still is, and chimes beautifully in its precious gem setting.
The whole town of Cobh and its feature Victorian architecture isn’t exactly stuck either for views, or for places and perches to catch a breathtaking harbour or cathedral aspect from, and if its swathes of terraces zig-zagging along its south-facing hillside, looking out to Roches Point are ‘the best seats in the house’, well, then, The Crescent below Spy Hill is the Grand Circle.
The three-storey houses in The Crescent date from 1850, when the first 10 were built and three more were added decades later, around 1880s, for a baker’s dozen.
The graceful architectural bow, on high, was a gated community ‘back in the day’, when a caretaker in the lodge operated the gate which ensured the fortunate residents of the day remained aloof, aloft, with access to a coccoon of a communal garden in the crescent’s embrace.
Each house had a small private south-facing garden separating the dwellings from one of the garden’s walks, with planted shared area below and whose sheltered lawn at various stages was used for tennis, or croquet.
Two houses of the 13 in total got an even-better deal, granted their own private side gardens by virtue of their terrrace book-ending status.
The side garden at No 13 is by and below the entrance to the terrace, and looks like a lovely, minded space with woven wicker fencing, glasshouse and paths.
No 1’s side garden is at the far end, a blessed oasis overlooked only by the cathedral, and has recently enough been replanted and has access from the private road along The Crescent’s outer rim, with further access from the house, and from the main gardens, via a private locked gate.
Quite simply, it’s a wonderful extra asset on the side. And, while The Crescent’s main outdoor space is a communal leafy glory, residents too enjoy a ‘secret’ garden path through it to the lower lodge and small gate (all residents have a key) which leads right into the heart of the town, by the arch, square and the Lusitania monument.
There’s been resales of perhaps four or five much coveted homes here on The Crescent in the past decade and a half, and after each market transaction, the proud new owners invest further, upgrade, and prepare to bed down for decades of bliss.
Theseare the sort of properties you become not so much an owner of, as more a custodian of, says Cobh estate agent Johanna Murphy, who’s now looking for new, caring hands for No 1 The Crescent.
It’s been in the same family’s hands for 50 or 60 years, and the family had strong harbour links over decades but now, with most living away from Cork, it’s an executor sale. It will be quite the prize.
Ms Murphy guides No 1 The Crescent at €625,000, and that clearly won’t be the end of the spending to be done to live here in quiet splendour.
It needs a fairly full renovation, and as it is more than 2,500 sq ft, over three levels, and a period property with all original architectural detailing untouched, it’s best to budget for a few hundred thousand euro more to be sure.
The house next door, No 2 shows the way, fully redone by a local professional and it’s now got the sort of sophistication a house of this calibre deserves, and would have by right with the boon of a Royal Crescent Bath, or a Kensington, London, address.
No 13 similalry has had a considerable upgrade, on the visible evidence from outside, as have quite a few more in between.
Former Lotto winner Vincent Keaney was one of the more famous recent residents, and he sold up his dramatically decorated No 11 last year, via Johanna Murphy, and he did a lot of work on his home over the best part of two decades.
Crawford Art Gallery curator Peter Murray, and artist Sarah Iremonger, were among The Crescent’s residents for a while, and there’s an annual residents’ street and garden party each summer, usually tying in with local regattas and street buzz.
“We forgot to ask the Bishop last year,” one of the current occupants ’fessed up, when the Irish Examiner visited the curvaceous slice of building grace last week.
If The Crescent is the Grand Circle in the theatre of daily life that plays out on the waters of Cork harbout below, the Cloyne Diocese Bishop’s Palace, directly above the Crescent in its stern grey stucco garb, must be the Royal Box, and a handy place to keep a custodial eye out on the Cathedral’s comings and goings.
Because a good handful of this select row of 13 homes has now had ‘makeovers,’ there’s probably a good reservoir of knowledge built up about what needs work on, what’s a maintenance ‘must’, and who are the best people to ask in for work to be done.
Notably, houses here in the terrace have had works needed on the roof valley, that dip down between the roof’s twin peaks or double hips, and while they need an eye kept on them, the upside is the roof-lights that can be inserted in the ceilings over the generous central stairwell, drawing light down deep into these houses core.
These are big homes, but not forbiddingly so, and rooms aren’t enormous.
Best views are from the two-storey bay windows facing south, at lower-ground and midships levels, giving a 180 degree, east-to-west vista, sun-up to sun-down over Cork harbour and all of its to-ings and fro-ings and busy tourist town bustles.
No 1’s layout internally is typical of the original plan, with four first floor, lofty-ceilinged bedrooms plus bathroom (with cast iron bath). The mid-level here has a basic kitchen to the side (with Cathedral views from its side gable window) and the formal room in front of it also has side/gable views, plus an elegant bay window into which to sit, and sup, and soak up the sun and the sea view.
Some of the recent arrivals at The Crescent have opened the two front reception adjacent rooms (each is c 17’ by 15’) one into the other for a truly grand space, and that’s an option here at No 1, especially if its next occupants do up the lower ground floor’s many rooms for day-to-day family life.
Selling agent Johanna Murphy says the current configuration at this house’s lower-most floor is “a bit of a warren,” but the rooms can be joined and made into a lovely, bright kitchen/dining room, with garden, patio views and access.
As well as having that vital route to the grounds to the south, the other side (back? front?) has access to a service yard with barrel vaulted store rooms, originally coal and fuel stores. There’s access to themfrom the road by a hinged gate in the rendered balusters.
Might buyers keep this lower level as a rental/guest/self-contained flat, with its independent access?
That’s worked for some on the terrace in the past, and Airbnb guests would love it, and pay handsomely given The Crescent’s central role in the heritage of Cobh town and its naval past itself. However, maintaining the best possible access to the private side and patio gardens will surely be a must for whoever lives here next.
Just a week or so on the open market now, Ms Murphy says a buyer could come from almost anywhere, and she’s not ruling out a local returnee, with Cobh or harbour roots, or a love of the sea, who’ll immediately ‘get’ just what a prospect lies in store here at the Crescent, and at No 1 in particular.
“The harbour is a hive of activity during the day and lights up like a jewel box by night, so one will never be bored of the vista. And, whilst sitting in your private garden you are blown away by the spectacle of the Cathedral — it’s superb,” she enthuses.
An early resident of No 1 The Crescent, was Daniel A Nagle, a solicitor and newspaper proprietor, who was Lord Mayor of Cork City in 1874, and chaired Queenstown Town Commissioners.
In a documentary on Cobh’s heritage and history, Cork County Council’s Architectural Conservation Officer Mona Hallinan, notes “these houses were for the elite, the way these places are designed reflects that. The Crescent itself can be seen from everywhere in Cobh and it’s overlooking the entire harbour.
So while Cobh has fantastic views, not everybody had the views that you’re getting here. And it’s prominent; it can be seen from everywhere in the town, so it gives an idea of the high status of the people that lived here.”
So, no pressure or status anxiety at all whoever’s next up at No 1?
Make The Crescent your present.