Nothing added but time: Cork's 'Oakgrove' oozes  1700s estate grace

You can build a house, but it takes 500 years for something as special as this magnificent wooded sanctuary to mature, Tommy Barker reports
Nothing added but time: Cork's 'Oakgrove' oozes  1700s estate grace
Oakgrove House, near  Coachford in the Lee Valley is  for sale for €2.65m with joint agents Dominic Daly and  Sothebys

ARGUABLY, you can recreate most houses, in some shape or form, with enough skill and patience.

But, land, and woodland estates? Like the cider ad goes: nothing added but time, time by the century and more, plus dutiful, long-term inter-generational care.

The case is illustrated at Co Cork’s Oakgrove Estate, a magnificent wooded sanctuary with specimen trees and up to 80 acres of land, including a curvaceous old walled garden with grapevines and a ruin viewing tower. It also has a prairie-like large meadow of over 25 acres, with quite possibly the best array of oak trees in Ireland, all in a secluded setting 20 miles up the Lee Valley from Cork city.

The original Oakgrove House dated to the mid-1700s, but became a cropper 100 years ago when the IRA burned it to the ground in May 1920, causing it to be rebuilt in 1924, with only a few sections such as a castellated wing surviving into the C21st century.

The original Oakgrove, Killinardrish, Co Corkwas the family home of Captain J.C Bowen-Colthurst, who was responsible for the executions of journalists Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre during the Easter Rising in 1916.
The original Oakgrove, Killinardrish, Co Corkwas the family home of Captain J.C Bowen-Colthurst, who was responsible for the executions of journalists Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre during the Easter Rising in 1916.

The estate, long-associated with Bowen Colthurst family, best known for Blarney Castle and the estate and gardens there, dates back 300 years, and more, with several trees of enormous girth and long pedigree. They include a Spanish Chestnut thought to be 400 years old, a venerable Monterey Cypress, with a claim to being the oldest in Ireland (after one even older, and dated by Irish tree expert Thomas Pakenham has recently blown down), and a long, upstanding avenue of redwood trees.

“You can build a house, but you can’t just create that, it takes 500 years for something as special as Oakgrove Estate to mature like this,” says the owner of Oakgrove, preparing to sell up via joint agents Dominic Daly in Cork city and David Ashmore of Sotheby who quote €2.65m, after almost 25 years of constant improving works here during their quarter-century of minding.

Having fallen in love with Ireland during a sailing holiday, they moved over from Guernsey, and rolled up their sleeves, and opened their pocketbooks, to put down their own roots.

House work aside for the moment at the main residence, during their tenure at Oakgrove they’ve cleared and replanted, created a striking ‘Jurassic Glen’ which is home to giant tree ferns and even-larger gunneras, reopened what’s now several kilometers of internal estate paths, upgraded a stable yard and its guest cottage, and they have created focal points with statuary and points of visual interest and delight throughout.

Although wholly private and secluded, Oakgrove Estate’s grounds have been opened on occasion for flower clubs and especially for charity fundraiser for Marymount Hospice and Macroom Hospital, so they have quite wide appreciation beyond the c 80 acres of curtilage.

The couple put in two feature ponds, rescued a walled garden with very unusual curving walls and rounded viewing tower which would have views of the Lee by Killinardrish from its turret, put in a glass house and they planted two feature arches which billow and trail with cascades of yellow laburnum each spring.

Here in the walled garden (it’s about two-thirds of an acre) there’s also an orchard, spreads of hostas and openings in the sandstone walls, described as frost doors, “which used to be open up to allow the front to pass through.”

They also planted rows of chardonnay vines; but, for those hoping for a bit of home-grown House White, the fruits of those labors are scant in terms of plump, ripe grapes. The couple had gone to the trouble of laying heating cables for the vine, but quickly called stop when they discovered the shocking price of electricity in Ireland.

So, even for the clearly affluent, there’s a place called stop, where you stop putting good money after a meagre return.

Maybe Oakgrove’s next owners might change the grape variety? or embrace global warming? or opt for a cost-effective geothermal heating source, something not on anyone’s radar back in 1996?

The approach avenue, once past an electric access gate, runs for about one-third of a mile, ending in a gravel drive by Oakgrove’s original castellated side wing, where there now is also a bone dry triple car garage with electric roller shutter doors.

The stand-alone structure is lofted, with overhead gym, and with scope for a guest apartment should new owners decide they can leave their cars outdoors, at the ready (the owners’ pristine 1990-dated Mercedes, is here, which they have owned from new and just this year qualifying for vintage status, eligible for cheap road tax and cheap vintage insurance, an outgoings coup for a classic coupe.)

Next to the garage, and again detached is the swimming pool building, with 48’/14m long pool, changing rooms, sauna, shower, and enough space around its deck for gym equipment, or just loungers.

And, now, after a slightly long-winded approach to the main act, the house itself, we come to Oakgrove, Mark ll.

The rebuilt two-story homes is probably the same size as the original 1750 Oakgrove, which was a simple six-bay early Georgian residence, with a symmetrical façade and central arched entrance.

Second time around, the 1924-created Oakgrove is a less-side house, but with a rear wing linking to the castellated section to the rear and side which is now home to a snooker/games room, with some exposed stone and deep wall testament to its age.

The central house core, four-by with narrower windows in the centre and all flanked with window shutters, is ringed with single-story wings, skirts or petticoats, projecting to give more floor area to the main rooms within.

The entrance has a very old limestone Georgian portico added on for an instant patina of age, an impression that’s quickly dispelled once over the threshold.

Inside, there’s 550 sq m, or just over 5,900 sq ft with the bulk at ground level, and the predominant air is, unsurprisingly, of comfort, luxury, and abundant oak joinery as the main timber used throughout, including doors, architraves, skirtings, radiator covers (each rad has an individual thermostat) wainscoting or paneling and in the four main, carved fireplace surrounds (including one in the hall,) with green marble inserts.

There’s an inner and outer hall, and rooms off it include a double aspect morning room with bay window, bookcases and with a definite nautical theme in the paintings, photos, books, and marine-related décor.

Across the hall, the formal dining room also has a fireplace and links to a very large kitchen/breakfast room, which has a dark green Aga (oil-fired) and dark green, gloss units designed by high-end company Poggenpohl.

It’s east-facing, with a casual dining/breakfast table overlooking an ornamental side parterre garden with low box hedging, herbs, and morning patio, with the swimming pool building just a dash away for a quick few pre-breakfast laps.

Back inside, the far side of the house has a full-depth, triple aspect drawing room, super comfortable and now has an L-shaped leg going back behind the hall: this space had been a utility area, now, it adds depth to the drawing-room, and easily holds a grand piano.

This room’s walls, as in the hall, hold a collection of portraits along a political theme, on luxurious fabrics and papers: there’s not an inch that isn’t fully furnished, finished and utilized, and the owners pay tribute to now retired builder Ned Callinan who oversaw virtually of the upgrades and construction, clearly done with craftworkers of talent and pride.

Set off this main room is a large, square garden room or orangery, with lofted ceilings and which opens to the piece de resistance, the lily pond, put in 2003 for a Monet-like gardens at Giverny touch: it’s a thing of contemplative and reflective beauty, and is left unstocked with fish as it would be too open a goal for herons. (Other residents at the estate include red squirrels, otters, foxes, rabbits, jays, buzzards and even white-tailed eagles.)

In all the joint selling agents for Oakgrove, Dominic Daly and Sothebys, tally up as many as six reception rooms (there’s a library/estate office with banks of bespoke built-in shelving and filing cabinets, done by UK designer Neville Johnson), and four en-suite first-floor bedrooms, all in pristine order, and worthy of special mention is the alterations which created an enormous master bedroom.

This main triple aspect bedroom now spans the full 46’ width of Oakgrove’s front façade at first-floor level, with central entry arch off the landing, and has a room for super-organized ``‘robes to one side and the bed and dressing table at the other, with a large private bathroom behind, with sunken bath, large shower, and marble tiled walls.

Launching to the open market this weekend, and expecting international interest as well as local/Irish inquiries, auctioneer Dominic Daly says “Oakgrove is a very special purchase, not just because of the seclusion of the grounds and woods with specimen trees, but because of the quality of the house itself and the work done to it over the past quarter-century,.

At the €2.65m guide, Mr Daly, along with Sotheby’s David Ashmore, expects UK inquiries given the current thrust of searches for escape from Brexit woes and Covid-19 fears, with serious money prepared to spend on safe sanctuaries: Oakgrove Estate fits that bill.

Pictures: Philip Daly/James Fenlon

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