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