Tommy Barker basks in the gardens and city oasis of this hideaway home near cathedral and Bishop’s Palace.
Cork City Centre €825,000
Sq m 260 (2,800 sq ft)
Best Features: Unexpected urban delight, gardens, convenient setting, privacy
IS Vine Villa Cork City’s best kept secret home? With its eccentrically low-key access points, interior comforts, and lush, verdant walled-in urban oasis (some three-quarters of an acre,) with lofted coachhouse, in the city’s historic heart, where St Finbarr founded the southern city in the seventh century, it’s a contender.
If it isn’t the most hidden of houses, it’s probaby and literally the next best thing (and right next door) to the house that sees off all other contenders for that oasis title, the Church of Ireland’s Bishop’s Palace, by Cork’s architectural gem, St FinBarre’s Cathedral.
The Anglican cathedral, by Victorian architect William Burges, rightly is one of the city’s top tourist attractions.
It was consecrated in 1870, even though full and final decorative work to its current restored ecclesiastical glories took many more decades to complete.
St FinBarre’s Cathedral is at least the third cathedral set on this slightly elevated site just south of the River Lee, above the city’s old marsh area.
This French Gothic-inspired cathedral is a full century younger than the Georgian, 1780’s cube-shaped Bishop’s Palace on its four magnificent acres, ringed with immense beech trees.
Older too than the ‘upstart’ cathedral is this hide-away sanctuary home, called Vine Villa.
It backs up to the Bishop’s Palace grounds, next to the Crawford College of Art campus, and its ever-so discrete and all-too modest entrance looks up to the magnificence of Burges’s limestone cathedral.
A privately-owned home, Vine Villa dates to the 1850s, its current owner who is a retired medic, reckons, and she tells how a visiting Italian colleague compared its discretion to ancient palazzos in the likes of Venice and Florence, with just the most subtle of slender entrances to public streets, only fully opening up their delights to permitted guests.
Now that it comes for sale, listed with Johnny O’Flynn of Sherry FitzGerald and well priced at €825,000, there’ll be a bit of a viewing (by appointment only) and visiting flurry and appreciation, and when it sells, it will as gladly retreat back to its relative anonymity.
There’s a lot of living up to the neighbours here within Vine Villa’s walled enclave, you’d imagine....when you have a cathedral across the road, a palace behind, and an art college alongside.
However, the peculiar and satisfying thing about Vine Villa is that it really does its very own thing, so utterly self-contained does it feel.
How can that be? Well, first, it’s on the most verdant grounds heaving with fruits and flowers and shrubs and fragrant climbers.
Its 0.75 acre is all walled-in and safe, snug and secure and – extraordinarily enough – all just 500 metres west of the Grand Parade and South Mall. How urban chic is that?
Vine Villa has been home to a medical consultant who spotted its individuality and potential after she moved to Cork and it came to market in 1991. She swooped.
Before that, it had belonged to the Joyce family, of Cork sweet and confectionary company repute, and long before that it was associated with the Arnott family of brewers.
Arnotts’ St Fin Barre’s brewery (started in the early 1800s by a Samuel Abbot) was taken over in 1861 by Sir John Arnott, who went on to own The Irish Times) was eventually taken over by Murphy’s Brewery in Lady’s Well in 1901.
The Arnott’s name can still be faintly glimpsed as a commercial logo, painted onto the red-brick front of the building by the North Gate Bridge.
So, steeped in Cork merchant and trading history, robustly stout Vine Villa is a bit of a bon-bon itself, although it has to be admitted it’s not instinctively the most attractive or appetising looking on the outside. But, it quickly grows on you.
Its nicest, most appealing facade and its formal ‘front’, with ornate stained glass door panels, is actually around to the side/back of the house, blessed with full southerly aspect, but this door is rarely used.
An appropriately-styled lean-to conservatory up against this wall and accessed via this ornate door, with its micro-climate walled garden in front with water feature and pond, could be a superb addition.
The woman of the house who is now downsizing after a quarter century in blissful occupation and horticultural activities worked wonders on the garden and the grounds, so that now they are unquestionably Vine Villa’s crowning glories, rightly on a par with the rarity of the site and setting.
At different times, and for different sections, Vine Villa’s gardens had design input from some of Co Cork’s best known horticultural names.
Initial landscaping input was from the highly-regarded Brian Cross, and also involved was Adam Whitburn, now head gardner at Blarney Castle and Estate, and Susan Turner, who became head gardener at Ballymaloe.
Vine Villa is very much a one off, having snuggled and sprawled and seeded into its hemmed-in, almost fortified, site.
The house is detached and assymetrcial with a side entrance hall up steps from a private drive, by its old lofted stone coach house/garage, with clear conversion/studio/guest mews potential.
The main house comes with about 2,800 sq ft of comfortable living and sleeping space, as accommodating for a family as for a couple, or even a single occupier.
When the right buyer comes along (or hears it’s for sale,) its next occupants will relish the rarity of every element of this intriguing mix.
Most of Cork’s citizens won’t have been aware of its existence: the access is through an anonymous roller shutter garage door, set like a castle’s portcullis into a square brick arch on Bishops Street.
To the right is a terrace of Victorian houses and the Crawford College of Art, to the left is the long drive up to the Bishop’s Palace and its sentinel gate lodge, while just further to the south is the venerable and sensitively restored protected structure of lofty CarrigBarre house, with select student accommodation ranged around its own landscaped garden.
To the west, Vine Villa’s views are to the towering beech trees in the Bishop’s Palace grounds, and to the east are ranged his cathedral’s spires, but they all quite quickly become a ‘mere’ backdrop to the house’s own Japanese maples and acers, sweet chestnut, evergreen clematis including Nelly Mosers, honeysuckle and wisterias, perennial asters, spikey salvias, a wedding cake tree and a glasshouse with vines and tomatoes; a large pot-bound fig tree by the southern garden is begging for deeper roots.
Garden paths lead around secret bowers and through a beech hedge arch, there are composting corners, and old stone walls soaking up the sun’s rays.
Espaliered and pleached fruit trees create an urban orchard of many apple, pear and peach trees:
the ghost of Arnott’s 19th century brewery could happily be resurrected by some 21st century private cider manufacturer.
While the gardens rightly deserve fulsome praise and knowing gardeners’ approval, the house itself is no scant offering, with just about every room having a garden or church-related view: as the saying goes, you are never so close to heaven as when in (or, overlooking) a garden.
When you can drag your eyes away from the outside, Vine Villa’s tasty visual appeal and credentials are first signalled by a piece of sculptural glass mounted in the entrance hall: it’s work by artist Eoin Turner, who studied at the Crawford School of Art next to Vine Villa, and in fact many of the walls of this home are graced by works bought from Crawford alumni, many from their graduate degree shows, acquired with a knowing eye.
There’s also sculpture, as at home inside as out in the garden, other glass pieces, furniture and a study with bespoke built-ins, and a kitchen table by Luc Racine, complementing the kitchen’s glossy black Siematic units, with overhead track lighting, and a hearth-warming black Aga.
There are four reception rooms, with main living room now linking to a large, much-used dining room seating 12, and there’s a central chimney/hearth with white marble fireplaces on either side, plus there’s garden access through French doors by the head of the long dining table.
Rugs by Irish company Ceadogán are an underfoot source of warmth and comfort.
Ceilings in these linked rooms are panelled in parana pine, now a dated look and the walls are a yolky yellow and a royal blue: unless the new owners hail from Tipperary, Clare, Roscommon, Longford or Wicklow, and are GAA heads, they are likely to tone the yellow and blue down a bit.
A private study/library has maple units with walnut inlay hand-made by craft carpenter and designer Eric Pearce, there are picture rails for yet more art display and there’s a cast iron fireplace for cosy evenings in, with a book.
Best room of all is the double aspect (south and west) drawing room, with bay window and some coloured and leaded glass work inserted above the bay windows and French doors, there’s a herring bone tiled floor and a white marble fireplace with cast iron insert, with summer months fire-screen with Carrickmacross lace.
Also at ground level is a guest WC, a pantry/utility with terrazzo floor, and there’s gas central heating, and double glazing in bronzed aluminium frame - admittedly, not the property’s prettiest feature.
A softly-carpeted feature stairs leads to the first floor and landing, with three large double bedrooms, one with en suite and walk-in wardrobe, there’s a main bathroom, with further shower room in a closet alongside.
A top attic level yields two more bedrooms full of charm and character, under sloping ceilings, with lots of handy eaves storage. These rooms have opposing, eyrie-like views of a palace, and a cathedral. What more could an urbane aesthete wish for?
VERDICT: Country living and grace, in the heart of a city.
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