Tommy Barker on a unique riverside home on 13 acres.
Lee Road, Cork €1.1 million
Size: 6,500 sq ft on 13 acres
ADVENTURE knew few bounds, and the fields — the very Lee Fields! — were fertile grounds for the free-ranging family who grew up glorying in the great outdoors, on the edge of Cork city, at this most private of Lee Road homes.
“Hogwarts has nothing on Millboro House and its surrounds for five fertile imaginations unfettered by TV or other electronic devices,” recalls Marie Noel Coleman, one of the handful of siblings for whom this house, and its 13 acres and shingle beach and diving spot on the River Lee was little short of a giant wonderland, where they sported and played, ’neath the green leafy shade, on the banks of their own, lovely, Lee. Literally.
A generational shift and the demise of elderly parents — the long-retired anaesthetist Dr DG Daniel Coleman (aka Dr Don, and/or ‘Dickie Bow’) and his Normandy-born wife and noted beauty Monique Loiseau — brings to market as an executor sale this historic Leeside Cork Georgian home, with gate lodge, outbuildings, folly tower, and acre upon acres of grounds.
Family memories of golden summer days come flooding back, of daily childhood summer swims, raft building and boating, swinging on ropes over the Lee, orchards to harvest, tennis and rugby on the lawn (Donal Lenihan was a youthful player and visitor to this ‘pitch’), catching wild salmon on the boundary, and walking and cycling to UCC, and to city schools, thanks to a most-rare and privileged setting half way out the Lee Road from Wellington Bridge to Carrigrohane and the Anglers Rest.
Generations of children must have played and sheltered under a giant rhododendron, one almost as old as Millboro House itself: and that’s old.
When built back in 1765 Millboro House was described as having “picturesque situation and proximity to Cork”.
Playing there 200 years later, the now-grown Coleman children recall variously designating giant branches of that rhodo as rooms, flats, businesses, restaurant and even a bar — and crushed begonia leaves to colour water for ‘wine.’
(This took some feat of imagination and bit of perversity, perhaps as matriarch Monique’s own father had been a wine merchant, so she at least knew her vintages. True to her French Loiseau roots, the Coleman family spoke French at home.)
In the light of a digital age, 21st century, it all seems so incredibly distant, but even on a cursory visit the Georgian spread and built as a dower Millboro House has the air of a place slightly out of its time, partial to a bit of eccentricity, and only perhaps grudgingly accepting of the conveniences of electricity.
After all, the children were in their early adulthoods when, in 1985, a TV was first introduced, and even at that it was a black and white portable.
Previous families associated with Millboro include the Fittons (who in 1790 listed themselves as having iron and flour works at Millborough, mill houses and land,) the Dunscombes, Beresfords and the furriers Rohus, and it sold from Murphy family hands at an auction by Marshs in 1953, when bought by a young Daniel Coleman, aged in his 30s, for £2,900.
Marshs are back on the scene again now. Having sold art and antiques to and for the Coleman family for years, and years, many rooms (especially those in a side/rear wing,) today are are crammed with furniture, bits of furniture, treasure troves and tables in waiting, beds in bits.
It’s a bit redolent of Marshs’ own moody auction rooms on the day of a big sale.
This September, as the family prepare a clearance and departure after 63 years amassing, agent Hugh McPhillips of Marshs has the prize of the house itself now, as he brings it to an autumn market, its orchard heavy with fruit.
Mr McPhillips still has a copy of his firm Marshs’ auction advert in 1953 for Millboro House, which details “the residence, of moderate size, stands in well-sheltered surroundings, planted with ornamental shrubs, rhododendron and magnolia tree”, and then lists many out-offices, including stables, a car shed, a lodge, a calf house and ‘a man’s room’.
Many, but not all, of the structures still stand, in varying states of repair, and the grounds since Coleman times include a tennis court, and a sunken folly ringed in stone and some statuary which ‘Dr Don’ started in the 1980s, and which no one in the family really knew of its purpose.
It has been used by children and grandchild as a skate rink, a football pitch, for boules/petanque, and as a cycle track, while a landscaped turning circle in front of the house has been used for running laps, games of chase, and screening and wagon circling for games of cowboys and indians.
It’s entirely probable that more youthful energy went into games in the grounds of Millboro than was ever generated in 18th century mill wheels along its riverbank....
Hugh McPhillips guides Millboro on its launch at €1.1 million, and truth be told, it must have been a hard one to value, given its quite unique setting under a wooded rise on the Lee Road and with acreage by the River Lee, along with with 300 metres frontage and fishing rights, within a walk of town and gown, its age and period character, southerly aspect and bend-in-the-river water views.
Also factored into the equation is the need, now, for upgrades and generous extra budgets post-purchase for necessary updates, visually obvious in parts in the cool light of declining 2016 days.
For parties, Millboro and its wood-panelled formal reception rooms are best displayed by low lighting, or even candlelight and candelabra, for suitable atmosphere and for encouraging terrifying games of hide and seek in near-darkness in the wing known as ‘the Far East’, the family remembers, with bright recall today still in the ‘luxury’ of stronger light bulbs.
Hopefully, the light was good enough too back in the departed decades when anaesthetist Dr Don (“the man who put Cork to sleep”, his family quip) performed the odd bit of surgery and local anaesthesia in the kitchen, removing rotten teeth or ingrowing toe-nails, and the doc had a particular patient who was ‘in the know’ when it came to tracking down salvage, chimneypiece, and old stone and panelling.
Described at the time as being “the only man in Cork with a wrecking ball” the said ‘colossus’ of a gentleman (and off-radar patient) had a fear of needles, but an equal trust in Dr Don, so they traded surgery for information as to what condemned Cork houses might yield what treasures.
A love and appreciation of all things antique and with a sense of history clearly informed the furnishing and decor of this most individual of homes.
“You were more likely to find a copy of ‘Napoleon and his Generals’ in the privy than ‘Hello’ magazine. It engenders a love for the past, if a bit dusty and dishevelled... more Miss Havisham than Miss Bronte,” says one of the offspring, quaintly bringing the word ‘privy’ back into vernacular property description.
The five-bay Millboro, with a return wing and second stairs adding more rooms and allowing for up to eight bedrooms, was reckoned to be one of twelve ‘Big Houses’ in the area around 1900, joined in august company with the likes of Leemount, Rosanna (associated with the Blarney Estate), Mount Desert, Kittsborough next door to Millboro (demolished and rebuilt, and Millboro was a dower house to Kittsborough), and Ard na Laoi.
(This house has also been spelled as Millborough, and as the abbreviated Millboro’ in the past).
Internally, Millboro House is choc-a-block with period appropriate furniture and finds, some from the original Doneraile House in the north of the county, and most notable are the enormous French four-poster beds, immaculate fireplaces, many in marble with intricate carvings, variously of classical themes, classical swags and bows and some with romanesque tiled scenes, with old brass inserts and surrounds.
There’s decorative ceiling plasterwork and coving, and plaster roses, some with weighty central chandeliers, but most arresting is the sheer amount of polished, old wood panelling in the main rooms.
‘Dr Don’ surgically salvaged and extracted mahogany and hardwood panelling from a variety of sources, but most novel was the sheer quantities he got from first class cabins in ships like the SS Kenmare, which plied a route from Cork city quays to Liverpool and Fishguard, before being scrapped in 1956.
He also saved much more panelling from one of the old Innisfallen ferries, and his older brother, Fr JJ Coleman helped him to install the panelling in the drawing rooms, dining room, hall, bathroom and several bedrooms on Fr JJ’s return visits from Africa. Same priest was a dab hand at plasterwork repair too, it’s credited.
Now set to change hands, Millboro will need the ministration of anew generation of craftworkers and trades people, and while it has had interventions like central heating, and security back-ups like CCTV, electric gates, and alarm, it’s going to need considerable further sums expended, so engineers, architects, and surveyors will most likely be among viewers’ professional back-ups before moving in and making it home for future generations.
But, on the upside, it has huge integrity, privacy down a long approach avenue, a precious riverside setting and potential to shine anew, lots of land, abundant orchard, and old greenhouse.
And, there’s that incredible city proximity within a lovely Lee Road walk, with woodland backdrop to the north past Mount Desert’s gates and sculptor Soirle MacCana’s Rosary Shrine and Stations of the Cross, parallelled with the River Lee just to the south.
Importantly, Millboro House stayed dry in 2009 when devastating floods downriver of the Inniscarra dam wreaked so much havoc in the city centre, old marsh area in the flat of the city, and much of the Lee Fields and the Lee Road too.
The Coleman family reckon that a parterre flood barrier long mound and channel built decades ago by Dr Don, using rubble from works on city streets such as Washington Street and transported here, saved the day and the house: the raised parterre also came in handy for a family wedding and marquee, in the 1980s, with dancing ‘tile dawn.
VERDICT: Steeped in history and Leeside family lore.