Cork home has a story to tell in Glanmire for €1.85m
This haven for animals and plants has tales to tell
Despite having been once maliciously burnt to the ground, Dunsland near Glanmire in Co Cork, has always been a safe place - not just for people but for animals too.
Joseph Pike was a wealthy Cork banker and industrialist who, in August 1920, made the mistake of publicising his dissent on the matter of Lord Monteagle's Dominion of Ireland bill during the War of Independence. His punishment was to have his beautiful mansion torched.
But the IRA men in this case seem to have been unusually chivalrous types. Certainly, they wanted the house and its contents destroyed, but they were determined that no living thing should come to any harm, and they were even refined enough to realise that a person might like a little refreshment before coping with an arson attack.
The Pikes were away from home that night, so the housekeeper and six maids were alone in the house when about 50 men arrived, armed and disguised, at 2am. As the Cork Constitution reported it, the men "regretted very much that they would have to request them to leave, as they were going to burn the house", but they would give them time to gather their belongings and have a cup of tea first.
On being told there was a pony in the adjoining stable, the men released the animal and then asked if there were any other domestic pets inside. There was a canary, they were told, in a cage in the hall. So one of the raiders "carefully removed the bird to a place of safety outside", before pouring petrol in the hall and burning the whole place, together with its priceless heirlooms, to a cinder. "In ten minutes the southern wing overlooking the River Lee was burning like a mammoth furnace, sending flames one hundred feet high, which lit up the whole countryside," the newspaper reported.
The house was rebuilt soon after - or some of it was. The new Dunsland, although a prominent and very striking property, is smaller than its predecessor. Much of what is now the garden would formerly have been indoors.
A few months ago, Deborah Dowdall, whose family have occupied the house since 1961, was digging in the garden when she unearthed a piece of intact glass. It was a fruit bowl from the original Dunsland. "Imagine, it survived the burning in 1920 and I just happened to stumble across it," she says, adding that she wonders what other treasures might be dug up.
Deborah has researched the house's history - "it's taken me years" - and compiled a book about it, a whole page of which is devoted to photos of the family's pets down through the years. There's a donkey, a clutch of chickens and several dogs and cats - all looking as if they lived out their days at Dunsland in the utmost contentment and safety. Also on the grounds there's a tiny grave marked 'Rags', who, Deborah says, was Joseph Pike's pet dog.
Ironically, considering its origins, Dunsland appeared in a film about the War of Independence. 'The Dawning' in 1988 starred Anthony Hopkins, Jean Simmons and Hugh Grant (before he was famous), and was partly filmed at the property.
And still on the insurgency theme, according to Deborah, Éamon de Valera was a frequent visitor to the house, as he was friendly with her grandmother, Jennie Dowdall, first female mayor of Cork.
In more recent times its grounds had a garden centre run by Peter Dowdall of RTE and TV3 fame, so a haven for plants as well as animals. The house is on 52 acres with old woods, wide lawns, specimen shrubs and a stream - the whole teeming with wildlife - along with a walled garden, a folly and a tennis court.
As to the house itself, it's about 4,000 sq ft, mostly on one floor. That includes two formal reception rooms to the right of the entrance hall - a dining room and a drawing room, both dual-aspect and both with fireplaces. There's also a den for more casual entertaining.
To the left of the hall there's a breakfast room with another fireplace, and this leads into the kitchen in an extension to the house, overlooking the courtyard at the back. There are four bedrooms on the ground floor and another two at attic level.
Dunsland also has a two-storey gate lodge, which measures about 840 sq ft and has two bedrooms, a dining room, living room, and kitchen. And in the courtyard there's a detached office or games room, along with several other outbuildings.
It's a comfortable, even idyllic family home. "Can you imagine what it was like growing up here?" asks Deborah. "I have such an affinity to the place." However, the selling agents suggest it could have an occupational use too, perhaps as a garden centre again, or an equestrian centre. Or maybe, considering its provenance, it could be an animal sanctuary.
Dunsland is for sale in one or more lots with Savills in Cork (021) 427 1371. The entire property is €1.85m.
Glanmire, Co Cork
Asking price: €1.85m
Agent: Savills in Cork (021) 427 1371