Pe­ri­od­home­has sto­ries to tell

Tommy Barker ad­mires a lov­ingly-re­stored house in Co Cork which is stuffed with ar­chi­tec­tural gems

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - Cover Story - Pic­tures:

LIKE any good Gothic thriller, West Cork’s in­trigu­ing Gur­teen House comes with many chap­ters, griffins, gar­goyles, and as­sorted stone carv­ings, some fan­tas­tic work by ma­sons (of the ham­mer and chisel kind), pair­ings and part­ings, a mys­tery or two, plus a mon­ster, pos­si­bly a ghost, and is back in star­tlingly good health, af­ter a 50-year hia­tus when it lay idle and un­oc­cu­pied.

Oh, and apart from a his­tory span­ning 170 years, and a de­sign by ac­claimed 19th cen­tury Cork ar­chi­tect WH Hill, it now has a lap swim­ming pool in its base­ment, and hy­dro­ther­mal/geo­ther­mal heat­ing, most of it de­liv­ered un­der­floor.

Gur­teen House is one of the more en­gross­ing pe­riod places to visit, or to con­sider buy­ing. It’s on six acres with a stream, a pond, old out­build­ings, and croquet lawn, and is only a few miles from Ban­don and half an hour from Cork city and air­port. And yet, it’s a world away from the ba­nal and the hum­drum, home-hunt­ing herd. Read on.

Dat­ing to c 1851, stoutly-built of sand­stone and lots of red Cork mar­ble from East Cork, and gen­er­ously fes­tooned with stone carv­ings, from the very fine re­gal heads to the fan­tas­tic and grotesque, it has con­struc­tion links to the Gothic re­vival-style St Peter’s Church of Ire­land, on a high com­mand­ing plinth in Ban­don town. St Peter’s was de­sign by an ar­chi­tect Welland, and over­see­ing its build was WH Hill, a friend of the Earl of Ban­don and an ac­claimed en­gi­neer and ar­chi­tect.

Myr­tle Allen of Bal­ly­maloe is a proud de­scen­dant of Hill lin­eage, and has en­gag­ingly dis­cussed his role in also ap­par­ently build­ing Gur­teen House with its cur­rent own­ers and saviours, the South African-born Richard and Anita Tarr.

Sto­ry­tellers to their fin­ger­tips, as well as ac­com­plished ren­o­va­tors, the cou­ple and their chil­dren, moved to the derelict Gur­teen House in 2005, hav­ing sold a Ge­or­gian home in Laois. Richard’s a com­puter pro­gram­mer, Anita’s a writer, and when they bought, Anita kept telling the chil­dren it was all just one big ad­ven­ture: which, to be fair, it has been....

Richard non­cha­lantly re­calls al­low­ing their son to drive the dig­ger when he was aged just five years “but he was warned not to go near the house with it!” Age five? Most other par­ents would balk at a child on a mini-quad at that age, but as a re­sult their son (who’s only now in sec­ondary school) is a de­mon with a dig­ger.

De­spite its Gothic gran­deur and acreage and most pri­vate set­ting, the sur­prise is that Gur­teen House is ac­tu­ally a pair of semi-de­tacheds, though of en­tirely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter.

To the left is a Ge­or­gian home of c 3,000 sq ft, dat­ing to the 1700s and which fea­tured here a few years ago for sale on two acres, at €490,000.

That left part is now back on the mar­ket, with es­tate agent Roy Lee of Ban­don who guides at €435,000, and Mr Lee also is sell­ing the home on the right hand side for the Tarrs, at a guide of €820,000, down from an ini­tial higher sum when of­fer­ing this multi-faceted prop­erty mix some months ago.

It’s un­der­stood that an early Gur­teen (it means ‘lit­tle field’) res­i­dent, County Sur­veyor Nathaniel Jack­son was in­volved in the redesign of the 1700s sec­tion of Gur­teen House, and had the lat­ter, faux-gothic wing added on for a daugh­ter.

Sub­se­quently, and twice in the past cen­tury, Gur­teen House was split into two homes, then re- united, then sep­a­rated again in the 1930s by the Cogswell fam­ily.

With the Gothic sec­tion aban­doned for nearly 50 years, both got of­fered in the early to mid-2000s and were sold to two co-op­er­at­ing buy­ers who each em­braced their re­spec­tive ren­o­va­tion chal­lenges, and got on well too as next-door neigh­bours, and again now too as ven­dors.

Both, in fact, say that rather than see­ing the semi-de­tached sta­tus as com­pro­mis­ing pri­vacy, they pre­fer that they are not iso­lated, and each has good neigh­bours to call. Yet each has acres, a pond and stream-frontage river to call their own.

And, while each is still avail­able sep­a­rately, there’s a chance that some­one might buy both on what would then be to­tal of eight wood­land and pas­ture acres with fur­ther site po­ten­tial (though then the bill goes up to c to €1.255 mil­lion).

Stranger things have hap­pened, and if ever pressed into the ac­com­mo­da­tion busi­ness, it will be yet an­other tale to tell of Gur­teen’s many part­ings and re-pair­ings, like some elab­o­rate courtship.

The lo­ca­tion is lovely and ru­ral, up a long leafy av­enue past a derelict gate lodge off the Ban­don-newces­town­road­abouttwom­iles­from Ban­don town.

The shared ac­cess av­enue passes a listed C17th bridge and path which, it is said, may have car­ried the armies of O’neill and O’don­nell on their march to the Bat­tle of Kin­sale in 1601. There’s also a se­cond bridge on the Bal­lyma­hane stream, with sto­ries that sur­veyor Nathaniel Jack­son even had the then Ban­don-mac­room road di­verted around his house when the ‘new’ bridge built.

The stream now feeds two trout ponds, one with each house, and they re­call the day when they would have been used as flax ponds, when the flax in­dus­try em­ployed 30,000 in County Cork alone.

Gur­teen House’s own per­sonal his­tory in­cludes the in­te­gra­tion of stone also used in St Peter’s Church. Since they started ren­o­va­tions and ex­ten­sion in the 200s, the Tarrs say they have been vis­ited by de­scen­dant of pre­vi­ous own­ers, who’ve told them sto­ries of the prove­nance of much of the pe­cu­liar­i­ties.

They say many of the carved, or­nate stone fire­places, and gar­goyles “were, ap­par­ently brought from a derelict cas­tle in Scot­land, so it is an early ex­am­ple of ar­chi­tec­tural sal­vage.”

The best fire­places are in French Caen stone, also used in the UK’S Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral, while the abun­dance of red Cork mar­ble also is no­table, as most of

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