Next Saturday will, seemingly, see half of Cork harbour’s aficionados pass the graceful, bay-windowed facade of Cobh’s big and well-berthed Victorian home Seafield, though they might be too red-faced, and raw-of-fist and claw, to appreciate its finery: it’s the day of the Ocean to City rowing spectacle.
Modelled on London’s Great River Race, Cork’s An Rás Mór enters its 12th year, growing with each event and really hitting its stride and stroke as hundreds of hardy rowers and paddlers compete along a selection of routes, from 28km-long at harbour mouth, to a ‘mere’ 13km.
For occupants of a Cobh home like Seafield on the exquisite Lower Road, tantalisingly close to the water’s edge, it really is all about the sea, in the very midst of Cork’s harbour and its history.
Right in front of Seafield is the base of the Irish Navy, on Haulbowline Island, and now, hoving into the near view is the first stage of a 72-berth yacht marina to give Cobh an extra sailing lift. The harbour is acknowledged to be one of the biggest and best natural basins in any continent, and is now gaining momentum as such among a wider fraternity too. Next weekend sees the start of the Cork Harbour Festival, with a raft (pun intended) of activities for one and all.
Back when Seafield was built, around 1840, Cobh was not just at the centre of Cork harbour, as Queenstown as it was then called was central to much of the seaborne activities of the British Empire. It was also, inter alia, home to scenes of grief during the Famine years and decades of emigration, as well as the last port of call for the Titanic, and where survivors and victims of the Lusitania sinking were brought.
For all that it has seen, and hosted, Seafield is in rude good health, ship-shape inside and outside, and ready for someone new at its helm. Its earliest 19th-century owners were the Longfield family, with estates of thousands of acres at Mallow at Longueville, and at Seacourt, near Clonakilty, and the 1886 weil of Col John Powell Longfield records among his properties an “an interest in two villas near Queenstown,” being Seafield and Eldon next door.
After a period of ownership by a local GP, who had a surgery by the hall door, Seafield has been a family home for a few decades to a now-grown local family, as well as being for a period a four-star B&B, but it has given up taking on boarders, reverting to private residence use solely a couple of years ago.
At one stage, though, its middle floor, with four en suite bedrooms, could cater for up to 12 guests, with the family decamping as needs be to the uppermost floor where there are four more top rooms of charm and good ceiling heights, and select, framed, southern-facing Cork harbour views.
In fact, there’s hardly a room here that isn’t awash in southerly light, and views, and in most cases period features have all been kept, displayed, and/or enhanced, and it’s all well-kept and homely, despite a quite considerable floor area of nearly 3,500 sq ft.
Previous owners had removed a double height bay window, but the current owners took the brave step of reinstating the wide bay (“we had to get planning to put it back, but no planning was needed when it was taken down,” they observe wryly). They just stopped short of putting back some of the wavy crenellation that’s seen on some of the neighbouring, similar-era homes.
That back-in-place bay is the making of two rooms as a result, a dining room, and an overhead master en suite bedroom, each with binoculars left out, for harbour traffic watching. Boats that have berthed almost on the doorstep, by the way, have included the QE2, and other cruise ships, performing slow, tug-assisted pirouettes in front of Seafield.
Enormous sliding and folding stripped pine doors connect the two main formal reception rooms, and one elegant fireplace now embraces a Stovax woodburning stove with baffles and jets of warmed air for cosy heat, in large and high-ceilinged rooms. Behind, a kitchen is warmed by a large, decades’ old oil-fired Aga, while the house’s real fulcrum isn’t (surprisingly) the kitchen, but the elegant staircase and airy landings, with feature window.
VERDICT: Set to sale.
Cobh, Cork Harbour
Sq m 328 (3,600 Sq ft)
Best Feature: Cobh classic
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