This house of two halves keeps what’s old old, and what’s new is new, but combined make a home a delight to own, writes Tommy Barker.
With roots back to the early 1700s, you just know there’s going to be something special about this hidden East Cork home called Memberton, near the harbour and Whitegate village on a lovely acre amid affluent farmland.
But, when you get up close and personal with it, and go around the back, you most likely will change your mind, or at least your perception. If the front is good — and, it is — the back is knock-out superb.
A major rethink, and sizeable investment, done to a high standard by 2008, saw the original stone-built dower house extended and bridged over via an airy 800sq ft atrium in to a lovely run of lofted coach-house rooms, which add a whole new dimension (and set of dimensions) to this fully and finely-finished family home par excellence.
And, now, almost 20 years after they bought Memberton and more than a decade after the imaginative expansion to almost 5,000sq ft, the family with Co Clare and Dublin roots are selling and trading down, as three of their four children have moved on, and the youngest is college-bound.
The property comes to market this month via Michael O’Donovan and Catherine McAuliffe of Savills Cork, who guide €595,000, and it’s a cracker of a home, full of verve, imagination, and a working marriage of old and new.
There’s little of this quality and appeal on the broader Cork or even Munster market right now, not to mind just in East Cork, and there’s nothing at all to touch it at the asking price.
There’s such a lifestyle (and architectural) appeal to this place that even those who hadn’t previously been on the hunt for a home may consider upping sticks, and making the move east of Cork city.
(If they do, they’ll find it’s just a 10-15 minute spin to Midleton, there are beaches around the headland past Roches Point, such as White Bay and Inch, where there’s surf to be had, and local clubs around Whitegate and Aghada span a range of sports and activities, including tennis and rowing.)
Memberton has had links to the noted and wealthy Roche family (Roches Point recalls their influence) who in the 1800s held positions of power, privilege and peerage in the British Empire.
Queen Victoria made one scion the first Baron of Fermoy in 1865, and he also served as Lord Lieutenant of Cork.
Britain’s Diana Spencer, who became Princess of Wales after marrying Prince Charles, was a great-great-granddaughter of the first Baron Fermoy through her mother, Frances Shand Kydd.
This house, Memberton, was built as a dower house for the Roche family’s Mosestown House, on the Ballymonis Estate and while Mosestown no longer exists, Memberton has gone from strength to strength.
It left Roche family hands in 1907, bought by a family called Rohan, and next owners were the Hartnetts, a local farming family who bought it in the mid 1930s on 140 acres and who subsequently sold it to the Catholic Church. The priests who lived here were keen gardeners, and one of their first tasks was to extend the front garden and put up a protective wall to stop farm work horses eating their tulips.
The venerable house came into the modern era in the early 1990s when a local couple who ran the Schooner Bar in Whitegate bought it and did a first round of renovations and upgrades.
It then sold again, to the current owners in 1997, who did yet more work, before really going all out in 2004/2005 when they decided to colonise the coach-house and to fashion a lofty 40’ by 20’ atrium between the old residence and the equally old stone work-buildings.
“At the start, we took the view that there was no point in trying to replicate the old style of the main house because you could never get it right, and we wanted to go for a more modern build that would perhaps blend the old with the new,” say the vendors.
They drafted in architect Conor O’Sullivan of COSA, Glanmire, and engineer Kevin Finn, from Mitchelstown, to help pull it all together, to secure planning permission and instrumental too was builder Paddy O’Donovan of Formal Construction Ltd, who’s now retired. But the work he did here is fair testament to his abilities in stone, brick and timber.
That work, which necessitated a lot of taking down and putting back up, and making new opes in thick old stone walls, took 18 months or more, and yielded much left-over stone to reinstate old garden boundaries and walls.
To get extra height in the coachhouse section, the team raised the walls, demarcating the changes externally with a band of clad timber under the eaves, while the two end bedrooms on the gables got their ‘lift’ with clerestory windows inserted (pic, left) following the line of the walls’ apex, marked out in three panes each end.
It’s not just a smart way to work the new into the old, it also give light, character and sky views to the two beneficiary bedrooms.
Immense old stone flags are used in the floor of the purposeful kitchen, with stout units made to last a lifetime or two done by craftworker Paul McCarthy of Waterford Wood in Ardmore, who sourced forests of old pitch pine for the granite-topped units and island, as well as all the wood for floors in the outhouse/coachhouse extension, most of it old pine sourced from churches in the UK.
“Given the nature of the build and the fact that we were dealing with a very old existing building and we were not sure what difficulties we would come across once when we would start we were very careful and with what builder we chose.
“With Paddy’s patience and delicate workmanship, we chose well as we ended up with very much what we wanted: the blending of the new with the old, ensuring that the back garden became very much an integral part of the house, creating additional space that brings in the light and improved visibility of our surroundings,” the owners summarise, having now had a decade to enjoy the fruits of those labours.
And, they add, “in reality we spend most of our time in the new part of the house, but in the winter, we spend some time in the living room in the front with the fire in full flow and having dinner in the dining room when we have guests.”
Those front, more formal rooms, left and right of a central tiled hall, each have a double aspect with sturdy stripped original pine shutters (replacement PVC double glazing was put in in a previous ownership,) and also stripped are the doors and architraves, while each room has a working period fireplace.
There’s a Victorian one with tiled insets in the dining room, papered in a green damask-looking pattern, and an old stone chimney-piece is in the drawing room, promising to pump out heat from the big fire-basket, and saved up logs drying outside under the courtyard’s eaves.
Also done by the previous owners is a handy side wraparound off the dining room’s side wall, which is bright, overlooks a lovely large tillage field to the west, and it also give access to a west-facing patio, and the larger, external almost barn-sized doors back from that patio into the atrium.
As a result of all the knitting together of house and outbuildings, several sheltered outdoor areas have been created, and prettier than a painting is the enclosed courtyard to the east, with sheltering overhangs, paving done with flags, gravel, brick and wave-rounded beach stones and salvaged cobbles, set into cement, one by one, a painstaking task, but paying rich aesthetic visual rewards.
This courtyard is quite enclosed, with an arch reinstated giving controlled access to the front drive, and it means extra security too for pets, with free-ranging dogs at Memberton including a poseur of a St Bernard.
One minute he’s by the front door, a moment later he’s a field away and still seemingly pony-sized in the distant pasture. He’s huge... but he’s dwarfed by the scale of the atrium, where he can be found lounging in the sun beaming in through the levels of the Rational double glazing.
There’s been a sort of “what’s old is old, and what’s new is new” approach to this home of two halves, and a whole series of interconnections and rhythm has been established too.
The changes made the long, lawned back garden far more accessible and functional, as it had previously effectively been ‘cut off’ by virtue of being on the far side of the coach-house. Now, a new 21’ by 18’ family room with exposed stone walls and a gas stove links the atrium to the garden and decking, with big sliding Rational windows and overhead two of the three newly-created bedrooms also open via similar large sliders to a first floor, full-length garden viewing balcony, with wooden steps down at the far end to the mature an attractive grounds.
The internal access to the first floor coach-house rooms is either via a return on the stairs in the main house, where you pass through what was a bathroom to a balcony/mezzanine with glass balusters going two sides of the atrium, and there’s a back-up of a spiral stairs as well for easier/secondary access.
It’s a great party room, and if there’s music in the family, it’s a performance space in the wings (think of Ballymaloe’s Grainstore as a slightly larger example!)
However, it’s a layout that sees quite a distance now between the three bedrooms in the older house section, and those three more in the new.
It will suit families with older children or spanning generations admirably, but those with younger children might want to make sure they are bunked in with ‘the folks’ in one section or the other.
Other rooms include a utility, guest WC, and, off the courtyard, a pump room, a comms room (even the old house’s dining room is wired up for sound, via discrete speakers in the ceiling) and the boiler room, with large garage/store for sports gear, surf boards, and dry-food mountains for several oversized dogs.
Given its quite great age, there’s been a good deal of internal rooms changes at this former dower house Memberton, and various alcoves at different times had different purposes: when the clergy was here, one set -back even held a pulpit.
“When we saw the house the first day, we were instantly attracted to it and saw the potential of the outbuildings at some stage in the future, and when we had money to do it. The previous owners very much went for the ‘old style,’ and tried to retain and reinstate a lot of the old features of the house.
“Internally, they exposed a lot of the old stone which is still very much a feature of the house,” say the trading-down couple who’ve kept faith with its past and previous uses. They recall moving in, in early December 1997, “but returned to Dublin for Christmas: it was the famous ‘Xmas 97’ when turkeys were left half-cooked in Cork because of the very bad storm that holiday, which knocked out power and the storm followed us up to Dublin.”
That was then, and having arrived with three young Dublin-born children who integrated locally through sport and local schools, the college years have come and even they are passing too. “There’s just one left at home, it’s time to downsize, time to decide and move onto the next property challenge,” say the rightly home-proud family, with job well done, and dogs to discommode.
VERDICT: A great house for entertaining, or just for staying home on the ranch.
Whitegate, East Cork
Size: 436 sq m (4,700 sa ft)
Best Feature: A haven
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