THE owners and builders of Hunters Crest didn’t exactly rush into building their dream home: in fact, they owned the land for over 20 years, before getting around to putting a house on it. And, what a property mix it has all turned out to be. Set on a rise of ground off the less-travelled road around Cork Harbour’s Great Island, out past Belvelly Castle (which is currently being restored as a private holiday home,) and out around Belvelly creek, Hunters Crest is a modern, 2003-built 3,000 sq ft family home, within an old walled orchard, and on six acres of grounds in all, with stables, paddocks and much planting.
It has been a labour of love for retired publican Gus Murphy, who ran the Admiral bar in Cobh for decades, and who eventually retired after 42 years behind a bar counter. He remarks that he enjoyed the first 30 years of the business(!), and recalls the boom years when Irish Steel, Verolme and the Navy employed many thousand of men in the area, as well as the days when Spike Island was a quarantine holding pen for cattle being imported to Ireland from France and elsewhere.
And, the plum ‘Great Island’ site he and his wife Teresa selected and bought back in 1980 has local historical roots going back far further, to the 19th century when it formed part of a larger estate, where a mansion home set in woodland had been the official residence for at least one US Consul.
Given Cobh/queenstown’s premier role in trans-atlantic shipping, with lines like Cunard, White Star, American and United State Line plying their routes, a consular posting there was quite a big affair, and the American presence soared during the latter years of the first world war, when there was a military base, a military hospital and even a base for American aircraft around Cork harbour, and centered at Queenstown, where Carrig House served for decades as the consulate.
Over those years, some of Great Island’s finest homes were lived in by various US consuls, in spots like Upper Park and Marlogue, and while the British naval presence was by far the largest player in town (leaving only in 1938, after an extended stay courtesy of the Anglo Irish Treaty) many other countries also had consuls in Queenstown, including Hungary, Austria, Brazil, Haiti, Chile and India.
The one-time US consul’s home at this Belvelly/cobh spot is now demolished, albeit with its cellars remaining, as well as reminders like the grand orchard walls, ringing Hunters Crest.
Mr Murphy says about two-and-a-half acres were walled, at heights of up to 15’, and he built this home in 2003 towards the orchard’s back boundary, where the walls give shelter still for the many thousands of plants and shrubs he has since planted.
“We used to go to the garden centre at Inch, and you might spend €300 on plants, and when you got home and put them in, you’d nearly ask “where are they?”, Gus recalls, adding that he loved his time out gardening and creating a lush milieu (the Murphy family had previously owned the period Mount Alto property overlooking Cork harbour’s splendours in the midst of Cobh, and it was extended during their tenure there).
Well, the passage of more than a decade since has seen the horticultural investment pay off at Hunters Crest, as the fivebed, dormer-style house is now surrounded by year-round colour and fragrance, aided and abetted most likely by copious amounts of locally-produced amounts of horse dung.
The Murphy family (five daughters, five grand-daughters) have had a serious passion for horses and horse breeding, and this property plus some extra leased land indulged that interest, and so also built here are eight stables, tack rooms, a store and more.
The main house now is 3,000 sq ft, with two of its five bedrooms en suite and adaptable too, as two are at ground level. Design was by Carrigtwohill-based engineer Tom Cahill, and it looks out over water, good farmland, up to Carrigtwohill, Brown Island and even glimpsed in the far distance to the west are the lights of Cork city at night.
One spot to survey it all is the cleverly re-worked and retained low base of old stone dwelling in the middle of the orchard, possibly an apple house or a humble dwelling of an orchard keeper, Mr Murphy suggests.
It has its walls lowered and levelled off, though the old window outlines can still be discerned, and it’s now used as a sunny garden room and sitting out/dining out spot with panoramic views to be enjoyed, as well as watchful proximity to the stables and horses.
Selling agent for Hunters Crest is Shay Cronin of Cronin Wall in Midleton, and he says there’s very little of this calibre of home, as well as being horse-friendly with acreage and such roots, in the East Cork area.
“A lot of Cobh’s best homes are period, but this is a modern build, finished in 2004 and the best of timbers and materials went into it. It’s in very good condition, and has great privacy; it’s a commanding house,” he asserts, and guides at €850,0000.
VERDICT: The hunt is over?