This graceful, great-order five-bed period des-res has credentials and charm after careful minding and conservation, writes Tommy Barker.
Sunday’s Well, Cork €1.85 million
Size: 4,500 sq ft (5,800 sq ft inc apartment and garage)
Bedrooms: 5 plus 1/2
Bathrooms: 3 plus 1
Best Feature: Georgian grace on the Lee
THE very best seats in the house are the very first ones to get snapped up, whether in private homes or in grand theatres – and it’s not so very different when sites to build the best homes come along.
That’s why some of Cork city’s very best family homes are the historic ones, sort of ‘first in, best dressed’ – and, they can be the best ad-dressed too.
These occupy the prime slots on the hills running east-west above the River Lee, from Sunday’s Well through St Luke’s and on to Montenotte.
They are within a walk of the city, are elevated above it and the river, are south-facing and thus warmed by the sun, and they have views that rightly earn the description ‘commanding.’
An even more fortunate sub-set – in Sunday’s Well – have another bonus, river frontage to the Lee, facing the leafy green city lung that is Fitzgeralds Park.
Dating to the Georgian era, with its earliest portion built around 1806, Verulam (or, more prosaically, No 58) on Sunday’s Well Road, ticks all those top home, ‘des res’ boxes, and then has a few more hugely appealing attributes to boot.
You can add superb condition, graceful rooms for entertaining and family alike, close on 0.75 acre of manicured gardens, enormous privacy and off-street parking, plus a guest mews, on top of those afore-mentioned locational requisites.
The house name, Verulam, comes from Verulamium, the Roman capital of Ancient Britain, now St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire, where St Alban’s Verulam Golf Club is the home of the Ryder Cup.
Five-bedroomed Cork’s Verulam last changed hands back in the 1980s, and that was in an off-market deal when its previous owners were tempted into a trading-down sale.
It had been in their hands since the 1920s, and the owners before that (thought to have been titled) left after the War of Independence.
So, while this pedigree property Verulam changed hands a few times in the 19th century, 2015 is the first time in almost a century that it has come openly for sale.
Last bought in that astute off-market deal by a relocating couple (one Dublin, one from Cork,) they were on the point of coming back to Cork for work, with a then-fledgling family to rear.
“When we were thinking of moving to Cork, we walked through Fitzgerald’s Park, looking at the houses and gardens, and said ‘that would be the place to live’,” recalls one of the owners today of the wish that came true, delivering on hopes and promise.
All of a sudden now, a few short decades on, their own family nest is empty, some migrated to foreign climes, grandchildren have arrived, and with 4,500 sq ft of main house, plus garage and guest apartment making for some 5,800 sq all-in, Verulam feels huge again, all ready for a new family and clutch.
A rare bird, it’s new to the autumn market with estate agent Sheila O’Flynn of Sherry FitzGerald, who guides this great-order five-bed home at €1.85 million.
Despite having had several multi-million euro Cork house sales secured in 2015 (one, in Blackrock is just on the Price Register at €2.6 million) she’s enraptured by its charms and credentials.
Simply, Verulam has all the grace it ever had, building in layers over centuries: after careful minding and conservation and investment, it’s probably in a more comfortable state than at any time in its two centuries (thus far) of life.
There’s been steady investment over a quarter century or so, most notably at the lower ground level, where new concrete floors gave the venerable old home a new base to work from, and it has slowly been filling up with family, furniture, art, craft and collections.
“There were paintings on the walls before there were carpets on the floors,” say the owners, who won’t ever again have as much wall space to fill.
Among the quality investments made here is a remarkable, painstakingly-laid parquet floor in the family room, laid in a series of diagonal boxes, in glistening burnished oak, salvaged from beams in the North Monastery, looking right at home in this luxe setting by one of the several marble fireplaces.
There’s been huge attention paid to using appropriate materials for a house of this quality, although windows in the main elevation were replaced in previous ownership with aluminium frames, and despite plans, the owners haven’t gotten around to putting back in more sensitive glazing.
While it’s a big family home, and in top order with five bedrooms (one en suite with dressing room) and three bathrooms all upgraded, it’s far from overwhelming, and all of it has been used and enjoyed, improved to 21st century standards, but with deference to authenticity.
It has its four reception rooms over two levels, with upper level drawing room and study/library side by side, and below are a family room, and a formal dining room, with a kitchen/family dining on the city end, with lovely rustic Mexican terracotta tiled floor and a warming Aga, in regular service and well-used to feeding the masses.
Supporting rooms include a pantry, utility, several internal and external stores, and a stocked wine cellar. Condition throughout the house is impeccable, stress Sherry FitzGerald.
Set at a remove from Sunday’s Well Road by a sheltered stone-flagged terrace past a rusticated wall and simple pedimented doorway, the house proper is entered by a conservatory/bridge above a lower yard, which provides a bike store, fuel store, and an old well with the freshest supply of water – it’s fed by one of the many springs and wells that gives Sunday’s Well its name, with the water then spirited by pipes, away to the tiered gardens below – another old Roman provisioning trick, perhaps, at the appropriately-titled Verulam?
So, once past the inviting/defensive glazed bridge with its Victorian encaustic tiled floor, Verulam is entered at its upper level into a bright hall with views which draw you all the way to two lofty reception rooms, a drawing room and study with bespoke bookshelves and a barrel or domed ceiling. Both rooms face due south, overlooking immaculate and carefully reinstated gardens, sun terrace and the River Lee beneath.
The house’s western facade has graceful bow window giving rooms on this side a double aspect, and evening light to the upper floor’s drawing room, while the equally-elegant family room below it links via the bow to a sun-room/winter room.
This glazed addition replaces an earlier apple store, needed when Verulam’s gardens groaned under the weight of a suburban orchard’s fruitful harvests.
In many ways, Verulam is an exemplar of good design and layout (we’re still learning from the Georgians), as the best rooms are absolutely in the best position for daylight and view-soaking, maximising passive solar gain, open to the colours of ever-changing seasons and trees, both on its own south-sloping 0.75 acre, and beyond, gratis of the public amenity of Fitzgerald’s Park, planted by brewer Charles Beamish in the 1840s, which came to public ownership in the early 1900s after the Great Exhibition of 1902/03, when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra stayed in what’s now the City Museum.
It’s salutary to think that Verulam was almost 100 years of age, when it overlooked this royal visit.
In more recent years, the gardens hosted the reception of a family wedding, attended by 200 guests, and they’re as well presented now as for that grand occasion.
After a few decades of intelligent, and quite formal, reordering, there’s now a central box parterre encircling a small stand of cherry trees, and other planting includes beeches, maples, rowan, an evergreen oak and a magnificent Serbian spruce, myrtles and magnolias.
Then, there are herbaceuos borders, camellias, hydrangeas, roses, agapanthus, clematis, and extensive lawns running down to a wall and gate boundary with the River Lee, where there’s the low remains of a stone folly.
There’s salmon to be had from this garden, once licensed, as well as fruit and apples aplenty.
Back up at the house overlooking this private splendor, the domestic apple store of old at this still-private family home is now Verulam’s winter-sun room; on the other side an annex which previously housed the dairy is now the kitchen/casual dining with terrace access, so old ancillary sections have been cleverly repurposed and finessed.
Separately, the residence’s former coach-house which opens to the Sunday’s Well Road by the junction with Shanakiel Hill is now a lofted double garage, bins and sports gear store, and this garage serves as a link to a three-storey building on the western end.
This is now a self-contained one/two-bed guest apartment, with airy top floor living and dining room, with views not to be sniffed at, even if the grandeur isn’t quite on a par with the main house.
This multi-level apartment has its own street and gardens access, so can be used for guests, extended family, or income: allied to the real plus of off-street parking which Verulam enjoys, it’s another real asset to the property, says Sherry FitzGerald’s Sheila O’Flynn.
She’s confident of this sale getting widespread interest, and from near and far.
It will be an aspiration to trade up to, for many Cork families, and equally those thinking of relocating to the southern capital from London or beyond, who with sterling in hand, will have their way eased considerably with this prize.
(It comes to market exactly a year after Woodlawn, another glorious detached Cork house on a large 1.5 riverside acres 200 metres away, got launched at €3.8m, as-yet unsold after several subsequent price cuts.)
It’s a 15-minute walk to the city centre, either up and over Sunday’s Well and the North Mall, or over the suspension Daly’s Bridge (the 1920s built ‘Shakey bridge) to the Mardyke, and from there to UCC, the Bon Secours or the Lee Fields.
Apple’s Cork plant is just a mile up the hill, above Shanakiel, should a senior or chief executive choose to fall not far from the Apple HQ.
VERDICT: Hospitable home.
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