Towering opportunity at Belvelly

History oozes from an unusual home, Tommy Barker reports

WHAT goes around, comes around, and glory days have come back again for a well-rounded building, erected almost 200 years ago, to keep Napoleon Bonaparte and his ships at bay.

Built as a stout defensive structure in 1813, one of five in Cork harbour, and one of several dozen in Ireland, the Martello Tower in Belvelly, Cobh, never came under attack, though it was also militarily primed for defensive purposes in World War 1.

It was, however, damaged by an internal blast in the early 1920s, which effectively ripped its guts out. Now, after 80 years of dereliction it has had, literally, a new lease of life restored to it, while the fact it had been sundered internally meant that changes could be made that might not otherwise have been allowed.

‘Painstakingly converted’ is a bit of a cliched property description, but, how else would you begin to talk about the task and challenge of drilling through stone and brick walls a whopping nine foot thick, excavating the drum-shape of its rubble, make it all tastily habitable, and then turn around and camouflage all traces of such necessary intervention? Besides, too, the owners and crew who worked on this place do bear the signs of endured labour, so ‘painstaking’ the description is.

The Martello makeover, from Bonaparte defensive necessity to character and charm-offensive Home-apart, was carried through by the irrepressible Peter and Gaye Haughton, a matured couple who ‘do’ old buildings, none so rare as this. It was a remarkable process, it is a remarkable result, but while they did it for themselves it is now unexpectedly up for sale. They are moving on to a castle. As it comes up for sale with a 1.5 million guide, it is the sort of place that needs a very special buyer, but once identified, it could be a perfect match. It cost around this sum to bring, from its rawest purchase state five years ago, and to then coax, cajole and strong-arm into the finished three-bedroomed piece de resistance that it is now.

Peter Haughton quite practically asks “what would it cost today to make from scratch? Five million, 10m, 15m or even 20 million? Answers on a blank cheque please.

Sheila O’Flynn and Michael O’Donovan of Sherry FitzGerald in Cork city are the appointed agents, and are seeking the perfect match buyer who, can, they reckon, come from almost anywhere to pick up a fully-finished find like this. It is a destination property.

Dublin has a few converted Martello Towers, Bono has been associated with one, the most famous is the James Joyce museum in Sandymount, and Cork harbour has five Martello towers, none in domestic use.

This Belvelly tower is well sited and accessible, on a landscaped and mature acre (with 150-year old olive tree in pride of place) just over the arched Belvelly bridge from Fota’s main gates, with Cobh off around the island and a new Sheraton hotel and golf resort less than a mile away.

It is an eye-catcher from outside, and inside the quality of workmanhip is impressive. A steel staircase, painted in drab olive green winds up to the entry level, and there’s a vaulted passageway to the middle floor, an open plan kitchen/living room, with domed ceiling made of a panoply of mellow brick.

Several small windows sneak daylight in from east and west, and artificial light does the rest, secreted around the rim cornicing. There’s a hearty open fireplace, and because of the thickness of the walls it is the sort of place that heats and cools slowly, like an enormous heat store.

There’s about 750 sq ft, slightly rounded, here, and downstairs via an oak stairs a similar space has three bedrooms, plus stylish bathroom and utility, all craftily fashioned and expertly finished.

There’s access from this hidden lower level right up to the roof, via a cut stone spiral staircase painstakingly (that word again!) reassembled. The original corbels for support can still be seen.

The stone roof and double ballustrade is open to the elements, save for a porch at the top of the stairs, and from here the majesty of the setting opens up, with views of a much older Belvelly castle, in ruins and recently acquired by Michael Flatley’s architect Peter Inston, as well as of the bridge and back to the woods of Fota Island.

The old metal gun mount or pivot is still here, though a telescope is probably a more practical and less threatening thing to swivel on it now. There may be scope to cover over some of the roof for further bright living space, subject to planning permission.

Peter and Gaye Haughton have been contacted by a few others who have Martello tower projects in mind, and rather surprisingly Peter concedes he hadn’t ever been in one until they bought here. However, what they bit off they have managed now not just to chew but to represent in quite wonderful fashion.

Not you average family home, it is a place of retreat and for entertaining, and the acoustics in the main living space are impressive, made for opera and baroque glories.

Definitely a rare offering and sale in the offing, then.

“We’d thought of renting it, but I thought, ‘what if the person doesn’t pay the rent, how would you ever get them out again?’” Peter Haughton asks.


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