Art dealers, the Waddingtons, are selling up their elevated Ballycotton home, Tommy Barker reports on a seaside house that's chock full of collectibles.
Carrigaun is on two acres and is one of the better viewing perches around east Cork,
ART dealer, educator, raconteur and bon viveur Theo Waddington has lived and worked all over the world, but “if I spent the rest of my life in Ballycotton, and couldn’t leave it, it wouldn’t be a hardship.”
Yet, he says that just as he prepares to leave his beloved Ballycotton, events have somewhat overtaken him (well, a car crash with a tractor did, read on), but his heart’s going to remain firmly in its grasp.
The Waddington family has been steeped in Irish cultural life since the early days of the State: his grandfather who had Scottish blood decided after our 1916 Rebellion that a cultural revolution would follow, so to these shores he came, around 1920.
Theo’s father the late Victor Waddington became selling agent and friend to Ireland’s most recognised artist Jack B Yeats. Victor Waddington became known as ’The Yeats Man,’ and that title has sometimes been bestowed upon the sons, who went about their father’s business.
Since the 1930s, several generations and members of the Waddington family have had their own art galleries, from Dublin to London, to Montreal and Toronto, to New York and to Florida, with the art works they’d placed ending in some of the world’s top private art collections.
Names like Moore, Matisse, Dufy, Soutine and Pascin have an internation ring, while top Irish names sold have included Yeats, le Brocquy, O’Neill, Dillon, Fallon, Middleton, Keating, O’Sullivan, Jellett, Hone and a whole host more, including Kenneth Hall and Basi Rakoczi of the so-called White Stag Group.
A well-known collector was race trainer Vincent O’Brien, who promised to buy a Jack Yeats painting if he won a particular derby race. O’Brien came good on his promise, and ended up with seven derby winners (and as many Gold Cups), and collected seven Yeats paintings as a result.
Not surprisingly, given the circles the Waddington family moved in (Samuel Becklett would play chess with Theo and his brother Leslie when they were in Paris), “my father introduced me to a world that was magical,” says Dublin-born Theo, who hasn’t yet lost a sense of fun, mystery and magic.
Theo went on to develop a love of horses and racing: “I haven’t missed a single Cheltenham in 51 years, even when I was living in Canada,” he exclaims, though he adds “Cheltenham is all champagne and Englishmen, while Punchestown is Guinness and Irishmen. There’s more spilled in Punchestown than is drunk in Cheltenham!”
So, 51 Cheltenham festivals, and still standing? Clearly, a born survivor, and he was lucky to survive a car crash after being T-boned by a tractor. He was told he’d never walk again, defied the odds, but now has a right arm largely made of titanium, and a gammy right leg that drives him to a wheel chair. It affects how often and how easily he can get back to Ballycotton from London, where most of his family live, as well as precious grandchildren, so he and Vivienne have decided to sell up.
They’ll maintain links with the area and their friends throughout Ireland without the need to own their home here.
Carrigaun is on two acres and is one of the better viewing perches around east Cork, so good that guests staying at Ballymaloe House sometimes get brought here by the Allen family for the panorama, and a chat.
Art aside, the sights that most stir Theo and Vivienne Waddingtons’ hearts are the views from their Ballycotton hill-crowing eyrie, down to the lighthouse and Ballycotton one way, and to Garryvoe beach the other.
Back when he and Vivienne bought Carrigaun, in the late 1990s, it had been earning its keep as a B&B, run by an Australian couple, and at the time Vivienne saw little to recommend it the way it was.
“She said No, but I asked her to close her eyes, step outside, and open them again to the views, in three directions. Then we bought it,” says this able, upmarket dealer.
“We assumed we would be allowed to knock it, but were told if we did we wouldn’t get permission again as it was so high on the hill, so we decided to extend it, which we did twice, first to a T-shape and then to the J- shape it is now,” says Theo of the extra 1,800 sq ft or so they added on in tranches, around 2005 and 2006. It gave them four more bedrooms, and three bathrooms, so now they use the house’s original bedrooms as home office, study and more, so this could as easily be a six as a four-bed home.
And, if there’s an upside in not having been able to knock and rebuild from scratch, it means that all of the available accommodation is now on the one level — which makes chair access much easier for Theo.
The couple have managed to completely colonise the large house with what Theo calls “my eccentric collection” — full of varied stuff from all of the continents, from high-brow and figurative to non-representational, and from African art to pre-Colombian works. There’s also craft, as well as art, in sculpture, wall hangings and floor coverings, but it’s of a worth far below any Yeats. Mostly, it’s things that took his or Vivienne’s eye, and ended up here in this east Cork pad.
Some of the purchases even suggested needing a house of this size, such as the very large and sturdy eight-seater dining table.
“I was leaving an auction when I spotted it and I said to Vivienne we should buy it for our place in Ireland. She pointed out at the time that we didn’t have any place in Ireland, but I said ‘we will have’.”
Many pieces in this comfortable, large and accommodating home are sheer fun, such as a giant fibreglass Mad Hatter from a 1960s exhibition on Alice in Wonderland. Another show-stopper is the great rocking horse that started its life as a fairground carousel carving.
“It was a merry-go-round horse that was never painted, and I bought it about 38 years ago, probably for around $5,000. I said I’d make it into a rocking horse for my children. We hadn’t had any children yet at the time, of course,” he admits of a peculiar version of Irish family planning, sort of putting the horse before the carriage.
The couple’s grown children are in London, as are their grandchildren, with a son Chris in Los Angeles who reckons Ballycotton is his favourite place in the world.
The house where they’ve holidayed, sported and played, wined and dined, painted and partied comes up for sale with estate agent Michael Russell in Midleton, who quotes an AMV of €745,000 and, like any able dealer, will be open to sensible offers.
There’ll be an appeal to an international moneyed set, to be sure, and the Ballymaloe connection and hore racing set could pay dividends. Mr Russell’s main problem will be to keep viewers’ eyes from straying from room sizes and bathroom quality to the art and artefacts in abundance.
Elevated Carrigaun is set just under the crown of a hill overlooking Garryvoe’s expanse strand, and the two acres of lawn and landscaped gardens roll down to the view and to the road in between. It’s a short enough spin to Midleton town, and Cork city is about a 40 minute drive away.
Its main room is a superbly comfortable 32’ by 18’ living room, with fireplace, and with patio doors to the sun terrace just outside. More spacious again is the 34’ by 21’ kitchen/dining room, and then there are the spacious studies and offices that the couple have used to prepare shows and do some private dealing from. (Theo’s acclaimed Irish Art Project in the mid 2000s was curated from Ballycotton. Coincidentally, their London gallery is at an appropriate address 5 Cork Street.)
“Cork is special,” stresses this international envoy of art and of Cork’s Ballycotton’s charms; as he talks to the Irish Examiner the coincidence of the Cork Ireland Cork and the Cork Street London nomenclature doesn’t even come up — because he’s got a better one.
He knew the famous Chilean painter Roberto Matta, who’d lost a huge body of work after it was despatched by plane from the Bahamas to Paris, and the airline said the haul had been lost for good.
Theo insisted every airport that the airline used be physically searched for a large 10’ by 3’ red drum of massive rolled up paintings. It turned up, within hours, in Paris, Paris Texas.
In gratitude, the surrealist Matta presented Theo with one of his works, and put a postcard of an Irish scene in a fairly revealing part of a nude woman’s anatomy. The postcard was of Ballycotton.
VERDICT: Pictures tell a thousand words. This place speak volumes
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