Passage West, Cork Harbour
443 sq m (4,700 sq ft)
MUCH of the history of Lee Carrow, an impressive Victorian home by a scenic tidal lagoon and the waters of Cork harbour, matches the development of its setting, Passage West, as the water-fronting one-time fishing village grew in importance, and in wealth.
Dating to the 1830s, and originally called Maryville Cottage when associated with the Parker family (who had a member Richard Parker serve as Mayor of Cork city in 1827,) the property with quite its own impressive historical pedigree was added to in an even more imposing style in the 1850s, with far larger and grander reception rooms added to the left, with high ceilings, and probably a rise also in stature, as it grew closer to its now 4,700 sq ft.
The second build and design stage at Lee Carrow in 1850s is attributed to the Cork architectural practice of Deane & Woodward, whose legacy is left in key homes in Cork city and harbour area, as well colleges in Cork (Queens’ college, now UCC), Dublin’s Trinity as well as other imposing buildings, churches and, among their finest, the Oxford Museum in England.
Lee Carrow’s own profile rises now once more as it comes for sale this week with agents Catherine McAuliffe and Michael O’Donovan of Savills, after over 20 years in a family’s ownership.
It’s guided at €850,000, at a time of widespread and rekindled appreciation both of Cork harbour’s natural amenities, and of the necessarily limited stock of original period homes, in good order.
The price bracket reflects its size (4,700 sq ft, on a private acre), setting, sizeable investment done about 20 years ago when it last changed hands, as well as its own slice of harbour area history.
The two stages of the work done dovetail quite neatly with Passage West’s rise in prosperity too, and its halcyon days in the sun when it was a popular bathing and hydrotherapy centre, dotted with hotels and boarding houses for summer arrivals and day-trippers.
That century’s middle decades too saw thriving industry with boatyards and dockyards prominent and a source of much employment, as were the village’s evolving quays. Here, cargoes were landed, or loaded, and ferried up the river Lee and through Lough Mahon by flat-bottomed boats, or by horse and cart, to the city quays.
Cross river ferries too plied their routes, often carrying thousands of passengers in a week to Carrigaloe and Great Island, and small horse-drawn carriages, called jingles, trotted to and from the city.
As ever, changes in transport and infrastructure shifted Passage West’s 19th-century pre-eminence: the arrival of the train to Great Island saw the decline in ferries; dredging of the inner harbour and around Lough Mahon opened up the city quays to larger vessels than here, and a rail line also came to serve Passage West, Glenbrook and Monkstown in 1850s, later extending out to Crosshaven… which came to rival Passage West and Glenbrook for sea bathing, day-tripping and holiday making.
As a consequence of the frenetic activity of the Victorian era, very many of Cork’s veery best period homes are in harbour settings like Monkstown, Passage West and Glenbrook, and especially Queenstown, now Cobh, aspected for views and light and the passage of marine activity, literally an economy on the move.
Between its two iterations, its earliest 1830s roots and later 1850s ‘upscaling’, Lee Carrow would have seen all of this evolution, none more striking than the arrival of the single line train service in 1850. It ran along its water fronting boundary and created, inter alia, an engaging small tidal lagoon fringing Lee Carrow’s grounds, with rushes of water in and out on tide mid-turns, with lagoon lowering and rising twice daily.
On higher water levels, small craft can come in and out, and it’s an amenity the family who’ve been here since the late 1990s have made much use of, with punts and kayaks, and they also kept a mooring just outside on the tidal stretch and river channel, on the far side of the rail line which is now a much used and valued amenity walkway, cycle path and greenway from Blackrock and Rochestown, to Monkstown: that route is set for further improvements by Cork City Hall in the next several years.
Those on that path can get glimpses over the lagoon to the handful of one-off homes here by Lee Carrow and its grounds, but they are fleeting, thanks to the maturity of the setting and many magnificent trees.
Lee Carrow is one of three detached houses reached off the Cork-Passage West road, with two entrances, one on the town side next to Horsehead House, and the other is down a very long private approach avenue fringed on both sides by old limestone walls, with the entrance just before the town’s speed limit sign.
The house right next door to Lee Carrow, past a high old courtyard wall, was built by this home’s previous owners, when they (notionally) downsized a few decades ago, building a still-large house in period style. Meanwhile, while the third home on the shared avenue is more late 20th century in looks.
Close, too, just on the city side, a second avenue serves another hidden period original, Rockenham House, a Georgian style villa home, overlooking Lough Mahon, with design possibly attributed to the architect Henry Hill.
All of these mentions of history, and architects, and glory days of water-borne commerce, appealed to the family who bought here with a then-young family with three children, and they are features likely to exert the same fascination on whoever emerges to buy it now and make it their own, for however long.
All of the vendors’ family have flown the coop after what they say were the happiest childhoods, and as it and its ground are so accommodating, it was a perfect party and play house too, with gangs of kids from all over roaming the grounds.
Back then too, some 22 years ago, when featuring in these pages and visited by this reporter, it was held out as quite the prize property, bought by a local Cork family who put considerable time, effort and investment into it.
Just a bit after that sale, this reporter had occasion to revisit, to hear stories of upheaval after dry rot was found to have taken hold in sections: it meant a massive and unexpected stripping out, remediation and reinstatement on top of an already non-inconsiderable sum spent on modernising.
That investment includes a whole new reoriented hardwood staircase, as well made as any original with graceful bannisters and tall spindles; a new kitchen in oak done as an early work by Glenline Kitchens and still utterly up to the job; the addition of en suites to two of the five bedrooms, with four of them having water views and two with competing qualities and double aspects so that either could be deemed the main suite.
What had been an original bathroom is now a bedroom, there’s a new main family bathroom, bling-free, and the bedrooms are all comfortable arranged over the house’s two ends, either side of the lofty central stairwell done with a Chinese design, art and furnishing aesthetic.
Despite being built in two tranches, Lee Carrow works incredibly well as a large family home, with a new central hallway with original pitch pine timber floor, stone fireplace and large ‘pocket doors’ which reveal an inner and outer hallway, with a bright stairwell to the rear.
Although not really having any small or mean rooms, it’s not really a house of two halves. If it were siblings, or conjoined Victorian era twins, the latter arrival in the 1850s is the better fed, with two very grand reception rooms, with extra high ceilings, just a shade over 12’ but looking even higher, and with very fine marble fireplaces to suit.
All of the windows are well-kept painted original timber Victorians, most of them in Gothic style, with pointed bays, segmental-headed window openings with deep moulded chamfered plaster surrounds, of equal quality in the front sections, despite being separated in their construction by several decades.
All of the main reception rooms have working shutters for heat retention and night time privacy, and their outlines are left on display, not interfered with by elaborate curtains, drapes or blinds.
This wasn’t down to budget issues, far from it , just a sensitivity to keeping this feature on permanent display, while subtle wallpapers in the hall and main reception rooms are by the likes of Zoffany.
Original too in the main are the wood floors, save for a new oak floor in a rear family room with gas insert fireplace next to the comprehensive kitchen, and this room, like the kitchen, has upscaled and upsized floor-to-ceiling windows in immensely thick frames.
The kitchen/diner has most of its entire back wall in glass, with deep overhand eaves, with woodworking done to ship-building quality, money wasn’t spared here in reestablishing the kitchen as the day-to-day heart of the home, with oak units, fiver burner gas range, island, granite worktops, and access to a very large utility, with floor to ceiling banks of storage units, in itself larger than the kitchens in most family homes.
Now departing, having done the house, the owners know much of its history and have worked carefully with it: a prized item is a bedroom door with four painted panels depicting birds, done by a granddaughter of the British painter William Holman Hunt, who established the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement in the 19th century.
Selling agents Catherine McAuliffe and Michael O’Donovan of Savills describe Lee Carrow as being in fine fettle and “an iconic Cork harbour period home, with breathtaking, panoramic Cork Harbour views.
The owners, well accustomed to the setting, say that apart from views of some passing yachts, smaller cruise ships/private motor yachts and cargo ships the other reminders of the special marine setting are the deep thud vibrations felt when very large ships pass up or down the channel, a feature well-known to other Cork harbour residents too.
In its earlier days, Lee Carrow’s curtilage would have extended to acres here at Rockenham (a walled acre has been hived off for years for three sites, offered in the 2000s with price tags of €650,000), and it has Rockeham House on the Cork/Rochestown side and Horsehead House (also by distinguished Cork architects Sir Thomas and Kearns Deane) on the Passage End, where ten ‘modern mansions’ were built in the early to mid 2000s: one of these is currently for sale with a €975,0000 price tag, having featured in these pages in late April.
Up to date features at Lee Carrow include several en suite bedrooms, a pressurised water system, gas central heating, and Glenline oak kitchen, while older attributes and features include the tiered and walled acre of grounds with replanted orchard to the back, with a sun-trap patio by an old stables/coach house wall just off the kitchen/utility.
Then, there’s a ‘secret’ Victorian garden at the far end, accessible from front and back or from one of the 1850s reception rooms, with old red brick pillars and cast-iron railings, with a large Viburnum giving seasonal shade.
Planting includes lilies and lilacs, passion flowers, ginkos, a tulip wood tree, and other more specimen-sized trees include Irish yews, English yews, enormous holm oaks, rhododendron and a Monkey Puzzle tree, with swing, right by the lagoon, this home very own waterside activity centre.
: So much to recommend it, and with so much work done 22 years ago without destroying its character, this Victorian home has its roots firmly in Cork’s martime past, present and future.