Montmorenci House, one of East Cork’s residential gems, has history, class, charisma and character. Its uniqueness makes it hard to value.
There are garden boundaries; then there are walls. Then, there are Youghal’s walls – some of the best examples in this country of a deliberately defensive Norman era walled town, with a pedigree and stone filigree dating to the 13th century.
And, it’s right by the historic core and still-standing walls of this picturesque East Cork harbour town, which sits at the point where the mighty Blackwater river meets the oceans of the world, where you’ll find the magically-sited Montmorenci House.
It’s freshly up for sale for the first time in decades, utterly unlike what it was at any other time, over centuries, while still keeping faith with some important remnants of architectural pedigree and 19th century craftsmanship.
The extremely comfortable and utterly engaging family home, on two exceptional two acres high above Youghal, surveying the town and the mouth of the river in all of its glories, is bounded on several sides by some of the ancient preserved walls of Youghal: it would have been considered a vital part of the walled town during turbulent decades and centuries, back ever before the 1500s, and shown on maps from 1602, known locally as Gough’s Orchard, and sometimes as Town Hill.
A sliding electric gate draws back in a breach on the long, tall western boundary wall, to reveal access to this property alone, Montmorenci House, called after one of the towers dotting the original fortified town.
The two wholly private acres have a sloping field of pasture, currently home to a herd of grazing sheep and a goat (we’re in a town setting, remember!) and it’s all lined by old hardwood and deciduous trees, including holly and yew among the more familiar oaks, beeches, rhodos, sycamore and many of them close to specimen size. Paths scythe down from the house to a gate in the wall, with swifter pedestrian access to the town of Youghal proper, right by St Mary’s RC parish church.
This is all, by the way, contained within an integral and private part of the increasingly popular Youghal town walking routes and which, bizarrely enough, seems to be more discovered and appreciated by tourists and visitors from around the world, than by native Irish and Corkonians.
Might its as-yet insufficiently widely appreciated old streets, walls and truly ancient St Mary’s Collegiate Church (dating to 1220, check its nave’s oak, scissors braced rafters for a feat of building!) be off-radar, as the oldest part of this Anglo Norman founded town is set back behind the long, long main road and thoroughfare, now Youghal’s latter century spine?
Passers-by and passers through, will of course note the 1770s-built Clock Gate, once a gaol, but many may never realise that there are buildings 500 years older, within a five minute stroll. Truly, there’s as much to admire and to delve into, as there is in Cork’s bustling, (nearly over-visited?) Kinsale.
Points and historical references will matter too to whoever ends up in the priviliged position of buying and living in Montmonrenci House, they’ll just ‘get it.’
It’s up for sale with estate agent Brian Gleeson, whose own professional offices are across the river Blackwater in west Waterford’s Ardmore and Dungarvan, which also (like Youghal) feature now on the recently established Ireland’s Ancient East tourist trail.
Mr Gleeson describes Montmorenci House as “one of the residential East Cork gems to come to market in 2018, it’s a property that has history, class, charisma and character.”
Not a man who’s often stuck for words, (wearing his other hat, Brian Gleeson’s also a racing commentator, having done work variously for RTÉ, TV3, BBC and ITV, and was part of last month’s award of a Bafta for ITV’s Grand National coverage for 2017, watched by eight million people) he admits “describing it as ‘unique,’ just doesn’t cut it, that’s said too often, and too, easily of too many properties.”
So, he’s inclined to let the house’s history and multiple images start to tell some of its tale. But a visit kind of seals the deal, especially if seen on a bright, sunny day.
It’s guided at €850,000, and its, eh, uniqueness makes it hard to value in monetary terms, and suffice to say there haven’t been too many sales at this level in east Cork/west Waterford in recent times.
Mr Gleeson expects interest to possibly surface locally, among a certain cognoscenti, as well as from Cork, Dublin and overseas/returning Irish.
Montmonrenci House’s vendors are here 20 years and have reared a family of three boys, now all teens and twenties and moving on. Having moved up here from a house by the sea in Youghal, making a snap decision to buy as soon as they saw what it comprised, they now expect to build from scratch, once a deal is struck.
It has been both restored and extended, and they bought from a German gentleman who’s now in his 90s and also living east of Cork city. The couple have jobs in Cork city (her), while he commutes internationally, out of the country for 20, 30 and 40 weeks of the year, while time at home sees work done too from the attached lofted and self-contained c 300 sq ft home office/guest cottage.
Funnily enough, it takes a bit of time to get one’s bearings at Montmorenci House, and possibly that’s because of the way it has been refashioned into a larger, two-storey home than heretofore, having gone up an extra floor with a timber (cedar) clad upper level to weigh in now at nearly 2,600 sq ft.
Part of the house may have portions going back several centuries, but mostly at its ground level, the feel is Victorian, only 21st century comfortable.
Records show the orchard property leased in the 1820s to Elizabeth T Harvey and described as ‘gardens with two cabins or tenements’, and the current owners feel one may have been the building shown on the early 1600s map and also depicted on Chearnley’s View of Youghal of 1750.
Experts feel the architectural style of the house is quite Victorain, (especially at lower ground level, where there’s a simple fanlit door with side columns enclosed by a 100 year old porch, while a small, square tower at the northern end of the building “almost certainly dates from an earlier
period.” It stayed in Harvey family ownership until close to the end of the 19th century, when it was bought by a skilled glass artist, architect and antiquarian, Michael Buckley, in 1890.
A member of the Bruges Guild of Master Craftsmen, he was also a director of a London firm of ecclesiastical furnishers called Cox and Buckley, he set up a stained glass manufacturing business to Youghal, with work later transferring to the well-known firm James Watson & Son.
Some exemplary stained glass works, such as heads of heroes of Irish folklore and history adorn 19th retained windows at Montmorenci, and other windows include later leaded and coloured glass panes and panels.
Also done by Michael Buckley are carved bog oak panels in the top of door frames, depicting vines and grapes, and preserved under layers of lead paint.
As currently configured, this home’s top floor runs to c 1,000 sq ft, mostly comprising an open plan living/dining room, with kitchen in a back corner behind a curved stone counter, while there’s a bedroom down a few steps to one end.
The main area’s quite spectacular, almost ‘bridge of ship-like’, thanks to an angled full wall of glazing looking down over the heart of Youghal, over roofscapes to the sea, with the pull of the tides and white horses rushing in the Blackwater bay, while on the other side landfall is at Monatray.
The new upper floor was set on a poured concrete ring beam, and the room feels cosy and warm thanks to a stove, and copious amounts of honeyed pitch pine salvaged timbers, much of it coming from old mills in Newcastle.
The material palette includes pitch pine, feature glass panels and cleverly set panes, old stone walls and very old ‘slob bricks,’ most likely made locally in Youghal’s former brick works.
There are modern touches too: two toughened glass panels serve as part of a floor in the living room, set amid the pitch pine floor, and drawing light down into the c 145 sq metres lower level’s mid-ships hall/library, where there’s second, even larger, wood chomping stove (a gentleman will tell any skirt-wearing lady standing on the glass floor about any potential threat of unwitting exposure.....).
Ranged off this lower level, viewing point/look up, are three more bedrooms, two of which are en suite, a main family bathroom, a sitting room, a second lobby and an enclosed porch by the original front doors.
Many of the ornate and handworked windows at this lower level are very old, in rock-hard seasoned casement frames (some with stained glass) and as a clever way of preserving these, new pvc hinged windows are set in the outside wall, unseen once shut from inside, and giving total weather protection to the venerable frames themselves.
Also thoroughly modern is the provision of geothermal heating, under new floors, and powered by an air to water set-up, the roof now is quality Spanish slate, while a reminder of the house’s original roots and age are several low-slung doors and arches at ground level.
Decor levels are definitely at the upper end of the scale, while outside the immediate grounds are pristine, with gravelled paths and walkways, some decking, and currently unplanted veg beds, as well as rockeries, shrubs and flower beds.
The house can be as easily entered from the upper or lower level, but the current owners tend to come in upstairs, where once past glazed, and leaded, double doors you are immediately greeted by the Youghal panorama beyond, exerting a magnetic draw to the angled windows, to survey all the town and Blackwater harbour mouth has to offer, all the riches that drew Sir Walter Raleigh, Richard Boyle and Edmond Spencer, amongst other notables, to put down roots in east Cork.
If Youghal’s walls could talk.......
- Size: 240 sq m (2,580 sq ft) plus 300 sq ft office
- Bedrooms: 4
- Bathrooms: 4
- BER: C1