IT WAS only after one of the current owners of WoodsGift bought it, 45 years ago, and had a team in clearing its considerable overgrowth, that he realised.... he’d been here before.
Blackrock Road, Cork city €1.75 million
Sq m 306 (3,240 sq ft) plus renovated coach-house
Bedrooms: 5 plus 1
Bathrooms: 7 plus 1
Best Feature: Quality
Not ‘here before’ in any metaphysical way, mind.
It was only when machinery uncovered an old tennis court, and the hoops of a croquet lawn, that the penny dropped: this was part of a property that as a child he’d clambered over walls into, to play and to explore, with other equally adventurous young friends.
Unbeknownst at the time of buying, he’d bought as his adult home what had been a secret childhood marvel.
It’s hard to credit today, when every inch of this adult Blackrock Road, period family-home property, is pristine, minded, nourished, inside and outside, with gardens every bit as attractive as the quality, five-bed detached home plus attached upgraded coach-house is itself.
It comes to market this weekend with Sheila O’Flynn and Anne O’Mahony of Sherry FitzGerald, guided at €1.75 million.
It’s the first of several anticipated €1m-plus Cork prospects, north and south of the river, as the post-summer lull ends — and, after several multi-million euro sales are agreed in 2015 in the Blackrock vicinity.
Mostly built in 1830, but with links back a century earlier to another house on this salubrious site in the 1740s, WoodsGift was one of several large residences on extensive grounds at this city end of the Blackrock Road, a mile from City Hall, and an easy walk to and from.
It’s little wonder, given the rare convenience, that the man of this house (still working daily in the city centre) makes it home for lunch every day. Over five decades of lunches: that’s a tradition right there, in itself.
Tradition is a concept that does, indeed, feel right at home at WoodsGift. It has only ever had five families in occupation, plus one bachelor in whose time it was under-used, a matter addressed with vigour by the current owners when they took over in 1970s.
They then undertook major works in 1998, with on-going care and maintenance in between so that now, coming up on 200 years of age, it still has a gleam, and great, hospitable charm. It’s coming for resale as its owner notionally down-sizes, to a modern build in WoodsGift’s grounds.
First occupied in the 1830s by the Woods family, it was bequethed by a Captain John Woods who died aged in his 90s without heirs, and it was left to his friend Pope Grey and to pass in turn to his children — hence the appendix ‘Gift’ to this Woods home. A descendent, Paul J Madden, was a Lord Mayor of Cork city in the mid-1880s.
Next up was a dentist, Hubert O’Keffe, followed by a doctor at the nearby South Infirmary, a Dr George Hegarty (handily back again, daily, for lunch?) and after he died in 1968, it was briefly lived in by a bachelor William O’Shea, who’d sold a garage across the road to Liam Burke (later, a TD) before being acquired by its current owners.
In top order now, it was always one of the better private houses in this close-to-city setting, next door to Clanrickarde too, while another, called Diamond Hill House, was demolished in the mid-1900s, replaced by the Richmond Estate houses on its grounds by builder Barry Burke.
The first house here stood on three acres, but that shrunk over time to around an acre and a half, and today’s WoodsGift comes for sale as an Autumn season offer at €1.75 million, on 0.68 of an acre.
Two other houses have been built in the past two years on former WoodsGift grounds (a one-third acre site fetched €500,000), and one’s a modern yet deferential take on this elder statesman, even painted the same muted brown colour and with similar architectural details, gables and finials.
That latter site is WoodsGift’s gift to its vendors, who put much time and thought into respectful screening of the respective houses, separated by 180 years; there’s a tall, new, boundary dry-stone wall that is testament to enduring craftmanship, and mature planting which means in another year or two the one house will disappear from view of the other.
As it stands, and as it has stood for so long, WoodsGift is very quiet about its glories: it turns its back to the Blackrock Road so effectively that it is screened from sight and from mind by a belt of mature trees, always carefully trimmed and shaped.
The gardens and terraces here were laid out in the 1970s by the then-doyenne of Cork garden society, Nancy Minchin, and varieties of acers put in then are magnificent now in this property’s two distinct garden sections, one to the south called the orchard witha magnificent London Plane, the other to the east, along the curving entrance drive, secured by a detached garage, and electric gates.
The main bulk of 3,280 sq ft WoodsGift faces due east, while a wing added in the early 1900s gives an east-facing bow window, and a full, south-facing, more square bay window to the house’s main 18’ by 12’ living room, originally called the ballroom.
Centrepiece here, as a counter attraction to the garden views and colour, is the very old marble fireplace, brought in many years ago in exchange from a venerable building on the South Mall.
Directly overhead this bright, elegant room is the master bedroom, with similar east and south dual aspect, and it has its own en suite bathroom, plus adjacent walk-in closet.
Overall, the house is essentially two-storey, but it does have one very atmospheric attic en suite bedroom, the fifth, under sloping ceilings with exposed rafters painted black, and it’s flanked with storage spaces on either side.
Quite assymmetrical, and with a beguiling yet practical interconnection of rooms, the dwelling runs in a generous L-shape on both of its main levels radiating off a lovely hall and staircase.
At upper level, all four bedrooms have private en suite bathrooms with showers, and the main family bathroom has a bath for proper soaking times.
As there’s also a ground floor guest WC, it means there’s seven bathrooms in all in the house (plus one bedroom en suite in the 800 sq ft converted coach-house for guests, and another in the garage for garden-time duty); it’s a very American sort of level of plumbing provision and ratio, for a house that’s utterly Irish and so respectful of its origins.
Quite possibly, its sheer good state of physical health is down to the fact it got a big renovation job in 1998, when it was carefully underpinned to ensure on-going stability.
The family moved into the coachhouse for the works period and all furniture was easily accommodated in this extra building’s bone-dry loft space (today, it would make a great first floor snooker/games room/gym/home office.)
Dozens of piles were driven under WoodsGift’s walls by builders PJ Hegartys, to a depth of 28’, and the extent of the work meant extensive redecoration to follow, so that now there’s a relative freshness to the immaculately clean, period-appropriate decor, and the house was also rewired.
Next, in 2012, it got a new gas condenser boiler for zoned heating and hot water, and roof insulation was upgraded also by the fastidious owners, so that now any buyers can walk in and make it their own home straightway without any other spending needed, even if they want to do other changes later on.
Windows throughout are mostly very well kept timber and sashes, with double glazing.
All of this house’s principal rooms get the best of morning light, and its southern section off the pivotal hall is home to a formal dining room, which in turn leads to a drawing room with fine, marble fireplace, and the living room in the house’s other wing or section gives even more reception room choice.
Toward the back is the kitchen, with secondary kitchen/pantry, and next is a large utility, which open in one direction to an enclosed yard, handy for dogs, plus boiler house and outdoor store.
Also off the utility is a stout door which, almost as a surprise to first-time visitors, opens directly to a sheltered path right on the main Blackrock Road by Richmond Estate and bus-stop, and for walkers it gives a minute’s head-start on the 10-minute stroll to the city centre.
Convenience? Here in spades, and there’s even a newly-opened upmarket deli called Salt by Kennedy Park, to provision passers-by and denizens at the city end of the Blackrock Road.
Back in WoodsGift’s own kitchen, there’s a twin-oven Aga, for country-home feel, and warm-hued pine units, with casual dining/breakfast area in a bay window, with lovely, near-garden views graced by a wonderful acer set into one of the property’s several Liscannor flagstoned terraces.
Sherry FitzGerald auctioneer Sheila O’Flynn stresses the quality of the home, and the surprising privacy and tranquillity of the gardens given the location so close to the city: “it’s ready to enjoy,” she enthuses.
The 0.68 acre of grounds give year-round colour, yet are of a type that won’t make excessive maintenace demands, and the southern garden is graced by a sundial in the centre of what seems like a Celtic Cross, flagged in Liscannor stone, fringed now by hydrangeas, but previously bordered by roses.
The gardens get all-day sun, and the second garden setting gets lovely evening light too, with quiet seating bower to capitalise on this.
There’s also garden lighting, for later on, and water supply for the lawns. For those into gardening, an extra bit of ground has been kept with the detached garage for composing, storing logs and more.
And, by a quirk of placement, when leaving via WoodsGift’s electric gates, a full view is given of the ornate 25’ high Diamond Hill/McCarthy monument, directly across the Blackrock Road, like a sculptural Google Maps pin to say ‘Here be Treasure’.
VERDICT: Personification of elegance, and convenience.
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