KNOCKREA House is a knockout. Sequestered from prying eyes, down a scenic driveway, at the town end of Blackrock Road, so that only those who live there or have business visits can enjoy it, this is a one bedroom home. such color and texture, crossing the threshold is like stepping through a portal to some kind of golden age. Everywhere you look is rich in patterns, fabrics, plants and character, and rows – by the dozens – of family photos.
The people who lived there preserved its essence, but also embraced it, so that while it is a phenomenally elegant and rather grand house, it is also one where posters of 80s pop culture are hung, unashamedly, on its heavy-handed walls covered in bold patterned wallpaper, and where hundreds of childhood memories hang in frames next to giant, gilded antique mirrors, at beside antique brass light fixtures, above exquisite fireplaces – a sanctuary for the life that lived there.
The grounds, too, have hit the right note of informality, as the driveway is perfectly curved and lawns are mowed, wild garlic and bluebells abound, and flowerbeds are cleverly planted to avoid the need for rigorous weeding.
Surrounded by tall mature trees and shrubs, including the exquisite Magnolia, whose sheen is fading, the gardens span an acre, which may seem like a lot of work, but it’s not. not the case, according to the hostess.
She is well placed to make judgments because her family has lived there for three generations. Their association with Knockrea House began in the 1940s and before that a family, surnamed Dobbin, were the occupants. A review of the 1901 and 1911 censuses shows that a Leonard and Sara Clough Dobbin lived at Knockrea, Blackrock, with their six children (four girls, two boys), but it does not identify the name of their property (there is another Knockrea House on Douglas Road, former IBEC offices, has just been sold by Lisney, for residential use, for just under €1.5 million).
Belfast-born Leonard Snr was a tobacco merchant and manufacturer and later a business manager, so it’s conceivable that he could have afforded a house like this.
The reason this piece of history may be relevant is that the current owner remembers the surname Dobbin as being that of two sisters and a brother who lived in the house before his grandparents bought it. . The siblings split it in two, with the women living upstairs. The remains of an elevator leading to their apartment are still visible from the pantry.
The house, built around 1835, was purchased by the current owner’s grandparents, surname Cussen, in the 1940s.
The saleswoman says her grandfather was a veterinarian with Cork Corporation (now the city council) and her grandmother was a “wonderful businesswoman”, who came from Macroom to town in her twenties and sold butter on the English market.
“She then opened two grocery stores, one on Princes Street and one on Oliver Plunkett Street, but had to adapt the business with the arrival of supermarkets. His son has turned the stores into bakeries,” the seller explains. These were The Farmhouse on Oliver Plunkett Street and Macroom Dairies, (a nod to his birthplace) on Princes Street, the latter still in family hands, operating as Cork Art Supplies.
As a child, the saleswoman spent a lot of time at Knockrea House and recalls fond memories of her grandfather making jam in large vats in a barn. She also remembers learning to drive in a field in front of the house.
“The land extended to Monahan Road from where there was an entrance,” she says. But when the grocery stores came under pressure, they sold a field, a vegetable and fruit garden and a yard that contained a stable with a loft, as well as the barn, to raise funds.
The saleswoman also recalls hearing of a racecourse, called Cork Park, located between Center Park Road and Monahan Road, which was built in the 1860s and closed in 1917. While this was before its time, the old owners of Knockrea House used to climb up to the tower (yes there is a small observation tower, accessible by ladder now) and watch the races from there.
The seller’s grandparents spent a dozen years at Knockrea House before building two semi-Ds in what was part of his gardens, one for themselves and one for one of their daughters . These houses, visible from the main road, are still in the family.
It was now the 1950s, and with the grandparents downsizing, the seller’s parents (his father was Raymond O’Neill, a pathologist in North Infirmary) bought the house for them and moved in, after living near Ardfoyle Avenue, and then Santa Ana, near the SMA Church on Blackrock Road.
They stayed there for about 25 years, but in 1980, when her father died, the saleswoman moved in with her husband. Both were doctors and had spent half a dozen years in the United States and three more in Waterford after their return.
In anticipation of their move to Knockrea House, the seller’s mother has undertaken a major renovation of the basement (formerly the kitchen), creating an apartment for herself which contains two bedrooms (one en-suite), living room, kitchenette , a bathroom, a guest toilet and a laundry room. .
It doesn’t have the old-world feel and grandeur of the main house, but it does have access to a lovely sunny patio and separate entrance.
A new owner could reuse it as a work space/studio/surgery or keep it as accommodation for an au pair/another generation of family/rental income. The only other major change in its nearly 200-year history was the addition of a two-storey wing in 1896, as shown in Buildings of Ireland, which dates the original house to 1835.
In its assessment, Buildings of Ireland states that it is a “particularly intact 19th century detached house, retaining significant original fabric”, with beautiful granite steps leading to the Victorian tiled entrance porch, framed by two arches.
A similarly rounded front door leads into a hallway with a 13 foot high ceiling and a fireplace. Like most of the house, it’s a visual feast.
A door from the hallway opens into a massive living room lavishly rendered, like a merchant ivory production, which runs the full depth of the house, with two sublime fireplaces where stained glass is a feature; huge antique mirror overcoats, ornate cornices, matching wall light fixtures, a giant bay window at one end and two large sash windows at the other, overlooking the beautiful south facing rear garden.
And then there are the plants. And the rows and rows of photos.
Back in the hallway, a beautifully curving staircase rises in front of a stunning stained-glass Venetian window.
Across the hall is the ‘morning room’ with another bay and full-length sash windows which the owner says was his grandparents’ favorite room.
Further still – with a lovely compact photo gallery kitchen in between – is the very large living room, favored by the more recent generation, also with a massive bay window and high ceilings, a magnificent original fireplace and solid wood flooring and a door to the gardens.
In the middle of this visually stimulating piece is a fabulous antique blue slotted scale in the shape of a lollipop from the Limerick pharmacy of the owner’s husband’s family. A career in the medical world is a theme – the current owner was a doctor attached to the Blood Bank mobile unit while her late husband was a psychiatrist with the Brothers of Charity.
The owner is downsizing, but will retain a connection to the family home, as her move is only down the driveway, to the Gate Pavilion, which Coughlan deKeyser Architects are currently renovating.
It will be a big change from the 5,432 square feet of space she’s used to at Knockrea House, where lovely features abound, such as the beautiful wrought-iron bridge spanning over the patio, out of the double doors of the kitchen, leading to the rear garden, one of the owner’s favorite spots on a sunny morning, surrounded by birdsong.
Kevin Barry of Barry Auctioneers sells Knockrea House and he markets it with an AMV of 1.4 million euros. He describes it as a “truly captivating period house, with impressive accommodation over three spacious levels”.
The first floor contains six bedrooms, off a long, bright hallway, with steps at each end. Access to the tower is via this floor.
Mr Barry notes that the house is “in good decorative condition…with wonderful original detailing”, many dual-aspect rooms and “impressive ceiling heights”. Although some investment is required (it would be a shame to modernize too much), Mr Barry rightly says that this is “a wonderful opportunity to acquire a unique home of style and distinction”, situated on a beautiful wooded grounds.
The owner says she has ‘always felt privileged to live here’, and her hope is that Knockrea House, 1 mile from the town centre, will continue to be as loved and well lived as she is. was by three generations of his family. .
Neither the passage of time nor the whims of different owners have compromised the fundamental beauty of Knockrea House. Although it requires some investment, whoever buys will be acquiring a genuine original on a road lined with beautiful homes.