Algonquin is big enough to rear a tribe, beautiful throughout and set in lush surroundings. It also comes packed with history. Catherine Shanahan raises a glass to its decoration and design.
Some homes are destined for supporting roles, but not Algonquin: it’s star material.
You could say it has a “spirited” history given its long links with the drinks industry, starting as a home in the 1930s for the Nicholson family, UK immigrants who took over the Woodford Bourne company towards the latter end of the 19th century.
Importers of wine, spirits and tea, the Woodford Bourne grocery store, at the junction of Daunt Square and Patrick’s St, was where Cork’s more well-heeled citizens shopped for exotic items such as green tea, rare coffee blends, cocoa and chocolate, as outlined in miniature almanacs produced by Woodford Bourne at Christmas for their customers, when they also sold turkeys, cake, plum pudding and wax candles.
These fascinating details are contained in the Woodford Bourne Collection donated by the late David Nicholson to the library at University College Cork in 2005.
Algonquin, in leafy Glounthaune, continued its links with the drinks industry when it was purchased to house senior executives of Carling-O’Keefe Ltd in the ‘60s, after the Canadian brewing giant acquired Cork brewery Beamish and Crawford.
These executives came and went from the UK and Canada over the years and it’s thought likely the Canadian connection led to the house name, as the Algonquin are a small native Canadian tribe.
At one time it was home to Tony Halpin, the first Irish managing director of Beamish and Crawford following the Canadian takeover. Mr Halpin came from distillers Seagrams, where he had been MD for Munster, and brought with him the Munster distribution rights for Seagrams whiskey. Mr Halpin remained MD of Beamish and Crawford from 1977 until 1989 and was at one time considered a possible candidate for Fianna Fáil.
Back in the present day and spurred by the Canadian connection, the current owners took a trip to Algonquin National Park in Ontario in recent years and travelled on up through Newfoundland to the fishing town of Heart’s Content in Trinity Bay. The woman of the house says they chose that route because it was to the cable station at Heart’s Content that the first transatlantic telegraph cable was run, across the Atlantic Ocean floor, from another holiday destination close to her heart — Valentia Island, off the south west coast of Kerry.
Prior to the laying of the cable in 1866, getting a message across 1,686 nautical miles took approximately two weeks.
The current owners’ love of Kerry is reflected in some of the stunning artwork that decorates Algonquin’s walls, with yet more connections to Valentia Island.
Two striking pieces hanging in a gorgeous gable end room — unglamously nicknamed “the Lego Room”— are by Helen Richmond, an artist originally from Blackrock in Dublin, now living a short distance from Valentia Island. The fireplace in this room is Valentia slate. The woman of the house says a Connemara marble fireplace left with the original owner, who built a smaller retirement home for himself further down Factory Hill, where Algonquin sits.
Algonquin, on the market for €795,000, is a period 1930s home that the current owners have reconfigured substantially internally, especially downstairs, while being careful to retain original features such as the quintessentially 1930s staircase with a bold orange carpet and a tall bay window that allows buckets of natural light to flood a gallery at first floor level.
The gallery overlooks the front of the house where original windows were retained. They also kept original doors with handles at a height not designed to be easily opened by children.
One particular window in the house deserves special mention. It’s at the gable end, looking westwards. It’s exactly the right size and location to frame a wonderful view of the magnificent garden, and creates a kind of landscape painting of its own. It is magnificent in early summer when overhanging wisteria blooms. “We get two displays,” the owner says “to the south outside the bay window and then to the west, around the window in the Lego Room”.
The Lego Room looks anything but with its very fine artwork —the owner studied art history — and some one-off pieces of furniture. However the woman of the house says “every child on the road” had their own lego patch in that sunlit room.
In fact everyone living on Factory Hill probably ventured into Algonquin at some stage because as the owner admits, it was “terrific for parties”.
The internal reconfiguring —both pragmatic and pleasurable —was crucial in this respect. Where there was once a morning room, maid’s scullery and small playroom, there is now an open plan contemporary kitchen/dining area with giant sliding doors on to a to-die-for veranda. In a house with lots of competition for No 1 Killer Feature, this is probably it. It’s south-facing, the garden view is amazing and it’s just the most perfect spot for entertaining, or relaxing, or doing yoga or birdwatching or whatever it is that gets you out of bed in the morning.
A living room that is part of this open party space has a beautiful bay window for more garden views and the floor throughout this central living area is polished concrete.
A hidden pantry runs behind the kitchen cabinets with oceans of storage, and there’s underfloor heating and a new boiler. A small hallway/cloakroom off the kitchen, previously the old boiler house, also has lots of storage and two cupboards, one of which has proved ideal for storing fine wine.
A generous back kitchen — now more a utility room — is just the business on those party days and nights. “It’s the original kitchen and the best room in the house for parties because you can clear out the main living space and set up a table here for food and drink,” the owner says.
The fabulous manner in which dimensions of the house were exploited by the current owners after they bought in 2004, and the interconnectivity they created downstairs, will more than accommodate 50 people for a party. In any event, the party is likely to move to the fabulous gardens which are not overlooked, providing sanctuary and total privacy, as selling agent Lawrence Sweeney of Savills Estate Agents points out.
From the outside, much of the house hasn’t changed since the 1930s, apart from a two-storey extension which the original owner built on to one side. This was to accommodate his bedbound mother-in-law who moved over from the UK. Now extensive glazing and that veranda have replaced the old breeze block of the original extension to create a much more accommodating and stylish space.
There’s more practicality in the form of a downstairs study/office, a new “must-have” in pandemic times while there was a deliberate decision not to go overboard with bathrooms. Two of the bedrooms are ensuite and there’s also a family bathroom upstairs -as well as a downstairs loo), but as the woman of the house points out — more bathrooms means more cleaning.
All of the five bedrooms are doubles. As Mr Sweeney points out the guest room is ensuite, and is ideal for a live-in nanny or au pair, or perhaps just for granny to stay over.
The master bedroom has a walk-in wardrobe and all of the bedrooms overlook the garden which is approximately 0.72 acres with three tiers.
One of the many lovely garden features is a 1930s pond, ideal for aquatic plants — there are lots of frogs and fish — but which “can be very easily covered in if a young family buys the house”, the owner says.
The planting is exquisite — magnolias, camellias, begonias. The owner says they recently discovered a rockery when she and her son turned Covid boredom into constructive gardening.
The woman of the house has a keen interest in herbs, many growing within easy reach of the kitchen by way of containers on the veranda. There’s also a vegetable garden which was previously a rose garden. Right now it’s rife with peas.
Just inside the drive, tucked away in a corner, is a double garage which Lawrence Sweeney says would make an ideal workshop or studio, or, with offices in high demand, another home office.
The owner says it was originally used as a stables and she believes Algonquin originally came with more lands which was sold off over time.
All of the houses on Factory Hill are one-offs, although Mr Sweeney says most of them date to the ‘60s and ‘70s “so it’s unusual to have a 1930s period style house”..
He anticipates strong interest in Algonquin both locally and from abroad. He’s already had queries from ex-pats.
The owner says she is “very sad to be leaving” but with family flying the coop, the house has outgrown their needs. She hopes it will go to a family: Mr Sweeney concurs.
“It’s a great family home for the kids and for the grown-ups. There’s even a spare room for granny.” Location-wise, Cork city is 6.7km away and Glounthaune Train Station is 1.45km.
VERDICT: Enough room to rear a tribe.
Size: 253 sq m/2.723 sq ft