Tommy Barkeron a country home that has engrossing tales to tell of changing political times and family ties.
Lissarda, Cork €975,000
Size: 495 sq m (5,300 sq ft)
Best Feature: Rooted in the lovely Lee Valley and the townland of Lissarda
Looking absolutely hale and hearty and in fine fettle and health in its 156th year, Lissardagh House has local history on its very doorstep, from ‘Big House’ stories and accounts of affluent lifestyles, to 1920s Troubles’ ambushes and medical interventions, made on both sides of the fence.
Gently improved in each of its past several ownerships, and never mucked about with, it’s a country home that has engrossing tales to tell, of changing times, and family ties.
The current vendors, so smitten are they with its past, in 2010 compiled an affectionate hardback, 70-page book of its life to date, complete with methodical historical research, maps, images, memories and mementoes.
The far-reaching Lissardagh House Through Time, 1860 to 2010 delves to the early Muskerry Barony for context, it notes the building of the current comfortable, over-basement dwelling in 1860 by the Baldwin family (from Flanders, via Shropshire), and even has a note detailing the various spellings (10, at least) of Lissarda/Lissardagh/Lios Ardachaidh from 1612 to 1703, alone.
Now, coming for sale after their 10 years of very happy family tenure here and currently home to two adults, three teenage children, six dogs, three cats, several ponies, two guinea pigs, a cockatiel, and a battery of free-range hens, there’s plenty of space still left over, and a whole a new chapter is set to be written for quietly-heroic, stoic and happily-settled, Lissardagh House.
Set 20 miles west of Cork city, in the Lee Valley at a wooded ‘pinch point’ along the N22 before the reservoir lakes and Macroom town, this Victorian era, but Georgian- style house is hidden behind its own hardwood tree stands, enormous oaks, beeches and chestnut trees, magnolia, rhododendron and azaleas, and has handily has two entrance points, reflecting perhaps a useful duality that ensured its survival right up to now.
The lower entrance to this house and its 13 acres of grounds is along and just off the N22, right by the site of a monument to a 1920 ambush in which an IRB volunteer, Michael Galvin was killed.
The date was August 22, 1920 – coincidentally exactly two years to the day before Michael Collins himself was shot in an ambush, at nearby Béal na Bláth.
In 1920, Lissardagh’s then owner was a medical doctor, Dr Jerome B Murphy who’d bought the house in 1917.
The night of the Lissarda ambush, as he treated wounded RIC men and Black and Tans upstairs in his surgery, having brought them in the front door, his sons Jerome jnr and Edward, who’d also become doctors treated ‘the Boys’ in the basement, having taken them in the other house entrance, a sort of non-judgmental ‘Medicins sans Frontier’ of the times.
A housekeeper and cook, a Mary O’Brien, upbraided the men on both side, with direct and unladylike language, for their stupidity – a sort of vocal UN broker with gumption.
In all of its years, it’s only had a small number of family owners, and several owners back to the 1960s have contributed accounts of life here to the book of its history.
Before the current family of owners, Brian Mahony and Helene McSweeney, were O’Mahonys (’67 to 1995) and then the Sherrards, who bought Lissardagh House in 1996 after they ‘traded down’ from the grand Maryborough House in Douglas (now a fine hotel on stunning grounds with a 200 year planting history.)
The Sherrards brought much of their furniture from Maryborough House with them, and it looks just as ‘at home’ in Lissardagh House still. They also dismantled and reassembled a 1930 four-oven Aga, ditto comfortably at home, and more expansively they brought many young trees from the grounds of Maryborough, including azaleas, rhodos, and a ginko, where they instantly took root and took off among gardens still true to their 19th century layout.
Selling agent for Lissardagh House, Michael H Daniels, guides at a sub €1m level, at €975,000 and he says the country house’s grounds are “delightful.”
They include woodland walks and bowers with rambling, climbing, fragrant and flowering plants by a grass tennis court, a lawn suitable for croquet, paved terrace, a cobbled courtyard with lofted stone and slated outbuildings, bearded in greenery, a shady ornamental pond, and three paddocks for horses and ponies, with the loveliest one on a gentle gradient, post-and-rail fenced.
For those into horses, there’s an all-weather arena, a top quality and very functional steel-sheeted ‘modern American barn’, with 15 looseboxes, and an adjacent hay barn, and the current family have linked up with the Pony Club at Carbery, and clearly to some considerable success, as a daughter’s bedroom is festooned with winning rosettes.
It really seems there’s space for all the family (and animals) to roam, disport and get up to mischief here: with its two entrances, long avenue, graveled drive and rose-bed turning circle by the ‘formal’ stepped front entrance.
It’s where young teenage boys have learned to drive and “I’ve taught a few of my school friends to drive here too,” confesses a sibling.
Perhaps a role as ‘unofficial Driving School’ might make a line in any updated book on Lissardagh House?
Now 11 years in happy residence and selling to build anew, most likely, the Mahony family’s high regard for Lissardagh House shines throughout home and gardens and grounds alike. And, while it’s a big house, it’s not an impossibly big one.
At a bit over 5,000 sq ft, there is plenty of space, thanks especially to the lower ground/basement level which houses all the ‘practical’ extras and essentials, such as a family room with stove, a den with stove, laundry, a boot and tack room, original stone-flagged hall and bathroom with original, huge roll top cast iron bath with cylindrical waste pipe brought down to this level from the first floor during renovations.
The kitchen’s also down here, with direct garden access after the family opened up a doorway in lieu of a window to the south-facing front garden, and huge old flagstones were re-laid here in the hearth of the home by the Aga after putting down drainage underneath.
The family employed the skilled mason and plaster specialist Kevin Holbrook of ‘www.livingwiththepast.com’ to lime render the lower level walls for proper breathability.
Any interventions they made were with due deference to the original build materials, more or less matching like with like; a number of the traditional sash windows have been replaced, only as needed, and there are 42 windows in all, many with original slumping glass, as well as some pleasant cobalt blue and claret red coloured and cut/etched glass panes in the porch and window arch on the landing.
There’s new, painted hardwood kitchen units made by local joiners in Kilnamartra, who also made the new external doors for the kitchen.
Units are topped with black granite and have the back-up of a slightly weary, 150 year-old painted pine dresser, while reigning supreme over it all is the broad-beamed four-oven Aga, landed in from Maryborough House during the Sherrards tenure here.
This Aga has spots hotter than others, so first down in the morning gets the warmest place to plonk a behind...... “the race downstairs to get the best position on the Aga can be as aggressive as any Dublin morning commute,” it’s admitted within the family.
The owners, with Macroom area (Helene) and Bishopstown (Brian) backgrounds, were living in Dublin when they heard that this house, which they always admired and wished ‘if only we could live in a house like that’ was up for sale. They swooped.
Unchanged in original layout still, the mid-level has an L-shaped hall, with three reception rooms all with a double aspect; there’s a drawing room, dining room and a sunny morning room, all age-appropriate with suitable ‘at home’ decor, simple wallpapers, original and working fireplaces, sash windows with shutters, and ceiling plasterwork, the most intricate being the drawing room’s Acanthus leaf and egg and dart motifs.
There’s a feeling that this house has always been minded and that it just slowly evolved with the generations and new owners/caretakers, and even furniture that fits ‘just so’ gets passed on, or offered (the dining room has a storage press originally used for keeping uniforms and was owned by a brother of George Bernard Shaw).
Above, the top floor has four large bedrooms, most again with double aspect, plus main bathroom and no rooms were cannibalised for en suites, again out of respect for proportion and authenticity, and bedrooms have captivating views.
One looks into the cobbled courtyard, another overlooks a field rising up to the north beyond a quiet backroad, and the two main rooms have long views over centuries’ old woodland and specimen trees along the property’s grounds and boundary, past the (unseen) N22 Cork-Macroom road towards a rising hill of gorgeous greenery to the south, where grazing cattle can be seen and herded.
There’s a serenity inside and outside, and while the quite constant traffic on the main road several hundred metres away can be heard, it’s a small price or compromise in what’s a particularly encompassing property and home/lifestyle package, within a half hour’s commute of Cork city, its colleges and hospitals, and even closer is Dell/EMC in Ballincollig.
Estate agent Michael Daniels describes Lissardagh as “typical of middle-sized country houses of the 18th and 19th centuries,” noting its Georgian lines, retention of much of its historic fabric, classically inspired form and proportion, adjacent cobbled courtyard with outbuildings with further scope, and says the main house is bright, with its accommodation “in a manageable and practical layout.”
Having given Lissardagh House a ‘soft launch’ over the summer, he adds “there’s been a broad spectrum of interest from business, professional and medical backgrounds, together with overseas buyers, especially from the UK.
“Returning Irish ex-pats are to the fore, seeking something special within easy reach of the city, together with those looking for a character family house with mature grounds and a couple of paddocks for ponies.”
The last words in the Mahony/McSweeny family-produced Lissardagh House Through Time book, compiled in 2010, conclude “Lissardagh House is a lot of things to different people, but we are privileged to call it our home and look forward to remaining here for quite some time.
"But, when the time comes to pass it on, whenever and to whomever should come after us, we hope that it is in as good a condition as we got it in, but with a little more wear on the steps and more stories in the walls.... if only they could talk.”