Wild about country life

This large family home has some stunning features that lift it out of the ordinary, writes Tommy Barker

Wild about country life

This large family home has some stunning features that lift it out of the ordinary, writes Tommy Barker

Given that there’s only a small number of homes clustered around the quaint Cork harbour arched, humpback bridge at Belvelly, wow! there really is quite the mix.

It includes, almost certainly as its oldest structure, the Norman times Belvelly Castle, associated the Hodnett family from Shropshire in England, and which would have strategically controlled this narrows, scenic tidal stretch between Great Island/Cobh, and the mainland, right by where the great Fota Estate and its renowned wildlife park butts up against the harbour shoreline.

The bridge remains the only vehicular access point to Great Island (a new one is planned), and also in the Belvelly vicinity is a Martello Tower, from Napoleonic times, one of five in all of Cork harbour: three of the five are along the Belvelly channel, which is now Special Area of Conservation, and renowned for birdlife.

It’s the most easily reached and encountered Martello tower at Belvelly (the other two are by Marino Point and Rossleague) and was painstakingly restored and converted to a home by conservation minded engineer Peter Haughton over 10 years ago, later put up for sale.

Also converted is Belvelly’s former national school, now too a private family home, while the biggest project of all, the reconstruction of the shoreline-hugging Norman tower, said to have been abandoned over 365 years ago and a one time a home for Sir Walter Raleigh, is now advancing in a major investment.

It had gone up for sale in 2005, with a €150,000 asking price, and was bought by UK-based architect Peter Inston, who worked on Castlehyde House near Fermoy for dancer, artist and impresario Michael Flatley about the same time.

Belvelly Castle sold again, and now it is taken firmly in hand by a couple, Garry and Anne Wilson, who say they plan to turn it into “a fabulous holiday home”, and that it wil be beacon of welcome to future visitors to Cobh.

A sign board on the site says the ambitious project was due for completion by Summer 2017, so it’s behind schedule and there a current planning application on the site for retention of some battlement configurations, height changes, a roof level sun room as well as for a five-year permission for two roof level sculptures. As work progresses, it really is rolling back the times, if not the tides.

Probably the other big investment of recent times at Belvelly was the building of Cois Fota, a 10-house development on a three-acre gently rolling farm field, taken on by Kinsale-based builder Joe Neville back in 2003, and with sales continuing on until 2005 or thereabouts.

The launch prices in ’03 were €480,000, and up to now, there’s only ever been one resale, of No 6 Cois Fota.

It went to market in 2014, guiding €465,000 and was sold by May 2015, for a recorded €440,000 on the Price Register.

Now, as summer 2018 rolls around, No 4 Cois Fota comes up for sale, guided at €580,000 by Ann O’Mahony and Gillian McDonnell of Sherry FitzGerald: it’s expected to have an appeal to traders up from the city, across East Cork, and form relocaters from abroad, possibly coming to work in any of the region’s significant employment firms.

It’s set at top of a cul-de-sac stretch in this double cul de sac niche scheme, with farmland on one boundary, and views over land, more domesticated green spaces and, back at an angle, to its Martello tower neighbour, almost serving as rather-grand gate lodge for Cois Fota itself.

Designing of these spacious detached was by Kinsale-base architect Richard Rainey, and at the time of launch, they were said to be done to a Victorian design palette, with genuine examples dotted around Great Island and Cobh, noted for its Victorian architecture funded by the historic presence of the British Navy.

Those ‘Victorian’ touches might include things like the tall front gables, and ornate fascias, but the mere fact they are are built of modern materials, smooth cement render, double glazed windows, and low-maintenance finishes, mean there’s no mistaking them for originals, or even careful pastiche.

They’re dorers. But well-balanced ones.

Many of the buyers day one made individual alterations to the mid-2000s purchases, and the occupants of No 4 are no different, adapting ground floor layouts and bedrooms above too to suit their needs.

Cork-born, they bought No 4 Cois Fota brand new in 2005 when they moved back from living and working in London, and made initial changes, and then more alterations and improvements along the way, about seven year ago.

The result is a supremely comfortable and well-finished home, some 2,400 sq ft, on a large site with extra attention paid to landscaping, planting and feeding, nourishing both the soil, and the abundant birdlife in this quasi-rural site.

The vendors are moving to Cork city, to be close to extended family, and have bought smaller, period property where the challenge will be to fit in as much as they can of what they’ve carefully amassed, assembled, hunted down as antiques and art finds, as well as bespoke commissions.

It’s all in tastily immaculate almost curated condition, and the challenge for some will be to imagine No 4 looking as good in next ownership and occupation: it might be worth making a bid for some of the art, or contents for continuity’s sake, or at least to rob some of the design ideas......

Fortunately (just in case the vendors remain possessive of their furniture ‘n’ stuff ) much of what they invested will pass over naturally and can, in fact, work as well with period home trimmings and contemporary flair.

These builds were good day one, and altered since are deft, stand out touches like stunning bifold glazed internal doors between the kitchen and the sun room, and an extra-high glazed and sandblasted door between hall and kitchen, almost big enough perhaps for one of Fota Wildlife Park’s giraffes to poke a head through, from the double height feature hall.

(Belvelly’s residents are used to all sorts of sounds coming over the water from the Wildlife Park, from chattering monkeys in trees to the roar of big cats, and even more exotic birds. One of No 4’s owners nonchalantly says she walks within feet of the lions’ enormous enclosure on days when she walks to the jewel-set Fota Railway Station, inside the great island estate’s high walls. Dart and Luas-like commuting company this is not).

It’s all quite tamer, and more hushed, and safe within No 4’s block-built walls and double glazing, and Sherry FitzGerald say the property was built to the highest specifications, with original features like an exception curving staircase with hardwood rails ringing an overhead landing and sunny seating spot.

Back day-one, these were sold as four/five bed homes, but the current configuration at this spot is a layout of three first floor bedrooms with ground floor study.

That’s because the master suite has been doubled up, taking over another, adjoining bedroom for use as a real room-sized dressing room, with a full long wall of built-ins and has luxurious en suite and bathroom.

This masterful suite set-up is at one end of a corridor, and converting back to a four-bed layout would be easy, say Sherry FitzGerald and, depending on who lives here next, and what ages they are accommodating, there’s also immediate scope for a further ground floor bedroom, by/instead of the study (which now links to a dining/living room) or by upgrading the integrated garage, reached via the utility.

The house’s two front reception rooms each have bay windows, and one, a sitting room, has a solid oak floor, second side window and coved ceiling, with recessed light.

A metal, nine-pane mirror is a feature over this room’s fireplace, and may even have encouraged the design commission of a feature, hanging metal and glass pendant light holding three exposed filigree bulbs over the 10-seat dining table in the sun room.

Good and all as the living and bedrooms are, for guests and family, it’s back here, in the linked kitchen/breakfast room and sun rooms, next to the study, and with those stunning bifold doors, that most day-to-day life will take place.

The spaces are all unified by the use of the same, square, sort of burnished glaze floor tiles: in the kitchen proper, the units are by SieMatic, as fresh and timeless looking today as in 2005, and the owner recalls it took a team of eight fitters to manage to instal the 4” thick limestone worktops, with their rough ‘tumbled’ edges.

The island has pull-up sockets, and an overhead Gaggenau extractor, while the appliances include an integrated double De Dietrich oven, and dishwasher, integrated fridge and a gas hob.

Pride of place goes to a limestone sculpture on the island, created by the enormously talented and collectable Michael Quain, whose pieces adorn galleries, universities, restaurants like the Farm Gate in Cork city and Midleton, as well as public buildings, and a few fortunate private homes.

A bit of time spent living in any home suggests tweaks, and here, after a number of years, the couple decided to change a few window shapes in the kitchen, for a sort of half door in one, in timber, and they also used Cork firm Rosewood Joinery for several other projects, including the tall bifold doors, and new double doors to the conservatory/sunroom.

Externally, the gardens are as engaging, with selected seating areas, low walls in limestone and sets, grouped planting, beech, laurel and robinia hedging, roses and hydrangeas; there are a few Dicksonia tree ferns, too, one struggling to come back from winter gales and snows despite some wrap-around winter cosseting, as well as rhododendrons… almost a taster plate for some of the arboreal exotics a mile away in the Fota Estate.

Verdict: Crowned with interior flourishes.

Belvelly, Fota, Co Cork - €580,000

Size: 223 sq m (2,400 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 4

Bathrooms: 5

BER: Pending

Best Feature: High quality interiors

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