Thursday, February 2, 2012

One of the highlights of the Cork Chapter's 2011 calendar took place in June. Although 'Houses of the Blackwater' started with Ballynatray House, a mere 40 minute drive from Cork, one certainly felt transported to an enchanted world on this day out.

The morning started with refreshments and a tour of Ballynatray House which is now a luxury guest house. Our host was Neil Porteous, head gardener. (It was Neil's last day at Ballynatray. He is now head gardener at Mount Stewart.) This magnificent Georgian mansion was built on the former estates of Molana Priory, by Grice Smyth in 1795-97. The landscape was laid out in the early nineteenth century. To the east, the original walled garden contained the kitchen garden and a series of terraced formal gardens leading down to the river. Neil showed us the recent redevelopments here and explained the further ambitious plans which were, unfortunately, shelved. It was difficult to leave this piece of heaven, although it only set the scene for more splendid things to come.

Richmond House provided a wonderful interlude for lunch where the food was excellent. This 18th century Georgian house, in a mature parkland setting, was built by the Earl of Cork in 1704. Today it is a family business run by Paul and Clare Deevy. We were well set up for our drive up river to Strancally Castle.

About 10 kilometers from Cappoquin, Strancally is a romantic castle designed by George Richard Pain in the 1820s for John Kiely. The impressive Turner gates were an apt welcome for what lay beyond. We were greeted by Gianni Forte who, with her husband Michael Allen-Buckley, refurbished this castle to an astonishing standard. For example, the cantilevered stone staircase is a breathtaking architectural fete in itself. Two sections, with approximately five steps in each, are suspended without wall support. Gianni was most hospitable and generous with her time as she elaborated on the procedures of the restoration. Fine details, such as the door knobs, which were cast from moulds of the family hands, elucidate the attention to detail here. Having perused the house we enjoyed afternoon refreshments in the garden room and on the terrace, including sparkling wine and chocolate brownies. Today, in every way, Strancally is a model for creating a modern family home, of the highest design standards, within the fabric of a seventeenth century castle. It was difficult to leave this spectacular setting on the banks of the Blackwater. But not so far away our final treat was in store.

Headborough House is a splendid Georgian residence that was remodelled circa 1830. The entrance has exceptionally tall gate piers. We were warmly welcomed by the owners Brian and Linda Scane. In contrast to Strancally Castle, Headborough's interior is of the old world style with, for example, a marvelous collection of mahogany furniture and gilt mirrors. The hand blocked French wallpaper in the hall was a delight as it is quite old and rare. Another remarkable surprise were the taxidermied animals, especially the fur bearing trout! The out-offices were outstanding, set around a well preserved cobbled yard with stables boasting of details such as fine plastered arches, cornices and centre roses. One could only imagine the original light fittings that hung from these. Linda walked us through the garden where we admired her unusual fowl and peacocks. Brian gave us a history of the house and finally we were entertained to champagne in the dining room.

Many thanks to all our hosts for their kind hospitality and for opening their homes to our enthusiastic members. Special thanks to our chairman Kevin Hurley who once again organised a spectacular day out and to the committee for their help.

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