Lush, verdant rural oasis ... in Douglas

THE owners of Ballybrack can predict the response of first-time callers to their family home. “It’s ‘I had no idea this was here, it’s like being in the countryside’,” they say.

Really, there’s no other response to such a pleasant surprise.

When Savills’ selling agent Catherine McAuliffe phones to say they’ve a Douglas family home on almost two acres for sale, interest is piqued: there might be a few possible contenders to fit the bill (it’s a very achievable €1.2m, by the way), but surely further outside Douglas, maybe out Rochestown, Maryborough Hill, or Frankfield way. You wouldn’t expect to be able to walk to Daily’s shop in the back village within two minutes for a pint of milk and the paper, or be within a five-minute walk of a selection of Douglas bars.

With its tree-shrouded approach avenue past electric gates, Ballybrack is simply exceptional, just on the start of the hill to Donnybrook and Frankfield rising out of Douglas, with Shamrock Lawn across the way: century-plus old trees screen its glories, interspersed with later planting by the late Nancy Minchin, and are in fact its perimeter glories.

For a near comparison, think of the glorious gardens behind Maryborough House, now a hotel and wedding venue that trades on its similar setting and generations of planting and tending.

Only Ballybrack, on its 1.87 acres, is wholly manageable: a decent-sized family will be right at home here, and the grounds should ring to the shriek of children playing.

Then, there’s the possibility of re-commissioning the old outdoor swimming pool in its immaculate, sunken terrace setting just west of the house’s drawing room, where a gable window allows a watchful eye on the splashing outside: this is an asset that has given decades of summer pleasure (it’s here since 1964/65), even if it is temporarily drained and covered over by stout scaffolding planks, looking like a stage for a hoe-down.

You could get crops from the gardens, although the owners (who recall playing on haystacks as children) for the past half century have managed it with orchard, herb and veg beds, greenhouse and lush lawns with a backdrop of rhododendron, soaring pines, enduring hardwoods, magnificent copper and green beech, lofty hedges and leafy bowers. In Douglas!

When last sold, Ballybrack was on 20 acres; now the main portion of that has been ceded for a little-used public park and stream-side walk rising up behind the Lions housing for the elderly, by Daily’s shop, running along a glen-route through Douglas woods and on towards Donnybrook and Carr’s Hill: verily, this is ‘old’ Douglas.

The owners say a former, old Church of Ireland rectory on Carr’s Hill is a physical match for Ballybrack, and say their Georgian house dates back to the late 1700s. It doesn’t feel this age, or look it, it has been altered and extended down the years, always sympathetically, but there’s little sense of symmetry or over-arching grandeur.

Yes, the quality rooms are large, and there’s plenty of space — especially thanks to a large basement with big, bone-dry rooms, and it is down here, with the exposed stone walls that you sense the house’s antiquity. There’s some old steel RSJs evident, though too, giving solid support to the house.

There’s a more muscular, Edwardian feel now to the interior, with Georgian grace notes, such as the tall, arched window on the stairwell, contrasting with the over-sized newel posts and spindles thick as fore-arms. Handrails are thick mahogany (even down the basement stairs) and there’s a generosity of space, but a relatively small number of rooms. The main ground level is home to a 24’ by 17’ drawing room, with very fine marble fireplace and latterly-added bay window. There’s a 18’ by 15’ dining room and a cosy, yet large wood-panelled kitchen to the back with windows on three sides. For those who want media rooms, games rooms etc, there’s the basement option, with full ceiling height and garden/exterior access to a rear yard.

The inner and outer halls, and much of the ground floor, is finished in pale-oak parquet; ceiling height is 10’ with the simplest of mouldings; and dado rails help in keeping proportion. Overhead are five bedrooms, one with dressing room and en-suite, plus shower room and bathroom, with another bathroom in the basement.

VERDICT: A treasure, a family has tended country-feel suburban Ballybrack for decades.


Double act: Why talking to your baby is essential

Ask a counsellor: ‘My mother’s become so high maintenance since moving closer – what should I do?’

Victoria Pendleton on veganism and why she thinks everyone should eat less meat

As Mean Girls turns 15, these are all the mid-Noughties fashion trends we hope never return

More From The Irish Examiner