Video: Pristine Ardnacarrig house has history and elegance - and comes complete with observation tower

The River Bandon-fronting home, Ardnacarrig, is coming up on its 200th birthday, and rarely, if ever, in its long and venerable life, has it been so quite so elegant, and quite so comfortable. 

Always a minded home, and built in 1820 by the Allman family who ran what was then Ireland’s largest pot still whisky distillery across the river, it has had two recent renovations, in 1989, and again in 2010.

Built in an Italianate architectural style, complete with observation tower by its entrance so that its owner James Allman could survey work at the distillery from his home, it’s utterly rooted in Bandon town history and employments as diverse as barley growing, distilling, casket making/cooperage ....sort of a farm-to-fork or grain-to-palate enterprise of its day, when it employed many hundreds of men.

Originally called Park House, Ardnacarrig was one of two similary grand homes built into a wooded, south-facing hill in the leafy, ancient vale stretches several miles downriver of Bandon.

The distillery founder’s son Robert L Allman (born 1812) went on to live in Woodlands, mid-way between Bandon and Innishannon, which is now home to the O’Driscoll family of PJ O’Driscoll law firm repute. 

Meanwhile, his brother James C Allman (born 1822) lived in Park House/Ardnacarrig into the early 1900s, having added a picturesque gate lodge around 1880, with ornamental bargeboards, decorative Flemish clay tiles, and with a surprising amount of interior space.

What’s quite special about Ardnacarrig is its setting: not only is it on 19 acres along the River Bandon, with fishing rights, it’s as good as set in the town.

It’s on the Bandon river’s north bank entered by Watergate Street, while as soon as you’re past the unfeasibly pretty gate lodge (also restored to a pristine, high standard with internal joinery in pitch pine), another world quite apart from day-today town living starts to flow and to follow, with absolutely manicured grounds and century-old trees paving the way to the main event.

Ardnacarrig has the air of a country estate house, rather than of a city or urban home, thanks to itsthe many acres of grounds it comfortably spans, and more so even due to its river aspect.

In the 19th century, it was a practical residential spot for the Allman family, though, as they were but a short walk from the Bandon Distillery/Allman’s, and Bandon Brewery/Bowdrens, at Watergate Street.

In later Victorian years, the family built a pedestrian suspension bridge over the River Bandon to the distillery site and its six levels of grain stores: the site is now home to Bandon Mart, as the distillery business went into decline in the first decades of the 1900s with prohibition taking hold in the US.

Ardnacarig began to fade from public view only in recent decades as its grounds continued to mature all the more, ‘though its roofed three-storey tower which is intrinsic to its design and a sentinel to its approches can be glimsped still from some quarters of Bandon and from across the river, more likely in winter when trees are more bare.

That tower, reached by an easy stair climb from the first floor landing by bedrooms, is a perfect place to scan the night sky, or watch over the grounds on a moonlit night through its arched windows, says one of the owners, retired former hotelier Tom McCarthy, who bought it in 1989 at a Gunnes auction in Dublin, and is now selling via Savills Cork, to downsize.

The McCarthy family moved here in 1989 after they bought the Munster Arms Hotel in Bandon, which had been closed at that stage for a number of years, and Annascaul-born Mr McCarthy brought his experience of hotels and clubs to Bandon (hands up whoever remembers Cleo’s?), having started in the Hillgrove in Dingle.

He was briefly an owner of the Emmet Hotel in Clonakilty, and the Beacon in Baltimore, and partnered later with hotel manager and the similarly-entrepreneurial Tom Kelly who also lives in Bandon: the duo went on to develop the Midleton Park Hotel, and the Kingslea Hotel in Cork city, and Mr McCarthy also developed Jacobs on the Mall, one of the most exquisite dining rooms in the country in an old Turkish baths building.

The low-key Tom McCarthy is keen to downplay his role at Ardnacarrig. 

But, the truth is the house in its current, architecturally respectful state owes much to his hotel and building background, experience and contacts, and he used a Welsh firm of architects for the upgrades and restoration at warm, south-facing Ardnacarrig.

The work included services, roofing, putting in gas central heating and new double glazed, hardwood spring loaded sash windows, it has operating shutters many of them in clear varnished hardwoods, and some exceptional inlay floors in the principal reception rooms, in patterns mixing oak and walnut timbers, original to the house, and covered over with carpets for decades, ensuring there’s barely a sign of wear.

It’s large, but used well and every room on the two main floors has been recently redecorated to a high, exacting standard with well-chosen papers and colours and with room features enhanced. 

A stained glass panel with striking, indigo and cobalt blue panels in the ceiling of the kitchen/family room looks like it’s always been a feature in this high-ceilinged section, which at one stage was a ballroom. 

Video: Pristine Ardnacarrig house has history and elegance - and comes complete with observation tower

But, in fact it was a creation and insert done by the current owners, who also bought several classical Waterford chandeliers, and commissioned one very large one for the stairwell, from a Waterford craftsman as his signature piece.

And, picking up on a design motif from an old, arched stained glass window by the stairs with vivid blue orchids depicted on it by the original artist, they commissioned a stair carpet from artisan rug and carpet makers Ceadogáns in Wexford, whose work has surfaced in many Irish and international hotels, embassies, the National Gallery and, ironically in a commission for Irish Distillers... which may or may not please the ghosts of the Allman family. (A pair of elderly Allman descendants, living in London, paid a surprise visit in the 1990s to Ardnacarrig, and gave some family details to the McCarthys, including a picture of the ornate suspension bridge that had crossed the Bandon river, from house to distillery.)

Estate agents Catherine McAuliffe and Michael O’Donovan of Savills Cork say Ardnacarrig House is “one of Cork’s most special period properties,” and they guide it at €2m, adding “it has remained relatively anonymous during its lifetime, due largely to its extensive well planted grounds which are bounded by the river Bandon.”

“The current owners have lavished time, money and exacting attention to detail on Ardnacarrig for almost 30 years, in two extensive renovations,” they continue, noting “a genuine love of the property, resulting in the preservation and improvement of one of Cork’s most captivating period homes today.”

As to next owners, they say it could be a local buyer from a small pool of wealthy Bandon families who’ll appreciate the setting and quality of work done; or, it could be from elsewhere in Munster, or overseas once Brexit and Sterling currently concerns are resolved, one way or the other, later this month.

The vicinity has seen two quite strong country house sales in recent months in the €1-2m bracket, at Innishannon and Upton, and the international buyers there would surely have considered Ardnacarrig had it then been publicly on the market.

For out-of-towners, a key selling point will be its privacy and setting, less than half an hour from Cork Airport, and in a gateway position to West Cork. (The fact a new Aldi is currently being fitted out on the Cork Road at Glasslyn, within a walk of Ardnacarrig, gives another novel locational twist.)

From its gable-fronted ornate gate lode inwards, Ardnacarrig is indeed a private, pristine enclave with immaculate trimmed and colourful grounds, and the mix includes main house, the winsome lodge, a 1,900 sq ft bungalow currently not lived in, and a derelict cottage with road access. A diligent gardener currently lives in the gate lodge, and he recalls the recent visit and garden walk by his predecessor, now aged in his 90s, who dropped but to make sure everything is up to scratch. It clearly is, a mantle of care passed on.

In some respects, practical and otherwise, at 7,500 sq ft Ardnacarrig is a house ..and then another half.

Effectively, as it’s on a sloping site, it has two ground floor levels, one entered by the inner and outer porches and clearly in current usage the main living level; the other is lower down, opening directly to the lower grounds and terrace.

This lower ground level is well-kept, bone dry and bright, and has scope for private apartment/guest use, play areas and media rooms, and more, all depending on the next occupant ‘s needs.

Fully done and super-fresh are the two upper floors, including all six bedrooms and bathrooms, with a guest/ground level bedroom by the main entrance.

Video: Pristine Ardnacarrig house has history and elegance - and comes complete with observation tower

There are then, off an atmospheric Victorian-style long hall (there’s a series of hall entrances with dado and wood panelling in abundance,) two main south-facing reception rooms, neither overwhelmingly formal but e ach impressive, with large fireplaces (one with gas fire insert) and with ceiling plasterwork reinstated.

Doors and other joinery work is in mahogany, with working window shutters also in polished hardwood, and the staircase too is mahogany.

The hall then is book-ended by a family friendly kitchen/dining/living room, with aforementioned leaded and coloured glass ceiling/skylight, and with the kitchen area up a step or two from the living section, which has a wood-burning stove set into a fire surround.

French doors from here lead to a few steps down to a sun terrace, with ornate tiled base: the encaustic tiles were kept as a reminder of the position of a former Victorian glasshouse or sun-room erected in the 1800s, and seen in photographs from the era. 

The current owners say they love this outdoor seating space: new owners might decide to reinstate or reimagine it...or just leave well enough alone.

The terraces overlook paths, lawns, fountain and pond, groomed hedging and mature trees, and the river Bandon glimpsed too, well below. 

Single bank fishing rights on the river add a certain cachet, so bring don’t spare the rods.

The grounds are cut through by neat, rustic pathways among dappled shade, and a section in the north-eastern corner (en route to longer river-bank walks) was previously a lawn tennis court, needing little more that a heavy roller and a net get back into service.

Video: Pristine Ardnacarrig house has history and elegance - and comes complete with observation tower

Back in the house itself, there’s an air of timeless calm: the long, heavily-wooded hall sets a tone that the brighter rooms then deliver on, and in addition to the main south-facing reception rooms, there’s a rear study/private den, plus ground floor guest bedroom, shower room utility and powder room with adjoining WCs.

Overhead are five comfortable deep-carpeted bedrooms for a family, again the personification of calm, and two are en suite (one has a corner Jacuzzi bath,) with double aspect master bedroom with wall of robes, and all have working, efficient, double glazed sash windows. 

There’s a separate shower room, and the family bathroom has a cast iron roll top bath up on a plinth, plus shower, and walls have anaglypta-style gloss papers.

Several bedrooms have a double aspect, and most have great garden/river/fountain views, while even at the back the view over the cobbled drive and arched-entrance courtyard with old stables and stores is captivating.

The house’s own backdrop is a wall of quarried stone to clear a base for this 1820s-built fastidious build, and it’s likely that rock stone presence is what lent the word ‘carrig’ to Ardnacarrig. 

VERDICT: Quite a peerless property mix on the River Bandon.


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