Friday 20 October 2017

Peek inside this €1.7m Balbriggan country house designed by an adventurer

Balbriggan country house was designed by an adventurer

Blackhall House sits on 18.25ac of land
Blackhall House sits on 18.25ac of land
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Sandham Symes was Dublin's Phileas Fogg. The Victorian architect, painter and obsessive Vernean traveller wrote journals and sketched scenes from his global adventures, providing cultural insights over a 30-year period from the Middle East to Niagra Falls.

Like Fogg, he even went up in a hot air balloon (from the Rotunda Gardens). As an architect, he designed Irish country homes, the best known of which is Enya's Manderley Castle in Killiney. Syme's exploits are related in the book A Transatlantic Journey: Sandham Symes In America And Canada.

Blackhall's entrance hall leads through to the main hall
Blackhall's entrance hall leads through to the main hall

But he had a boring side too.

Symes made most of his money after landing the job of official architect for Bank of Ireland in 1854, from which he began overseeing the design and construction of grand neo-classical branch buildings for towns all over Ireland. Symes never married and worked and lived from his parent's house in Dominick Street through his long life, which almost spanned the entire Victorian age. He was born in 1807 and died in 1894.

One of the main bathrooms with a corner bath
One of the main bathrooms with a corner bath

The Irish Architectural Archives contain two notes from newspapers in 1862 and 1864 relating to the tiny township of Blackhall in Balbriggan, Co Dublin.

The first announces the construction of a five-bedroom country house in the area for John Baker at the cost of £2,000. The second advertises Baker's sale of a "recently erected five-bedroom house in 17 acres, one mile from the sea". The designer was Sandham Symes.

The main hall with its carved staircase
The main hall with its carved staircase

Blackhall House is a very elegant double-fronted Victorian with many distinctive 'banksy' Symes touches about it, not least the unconventional squared portico front porch (most had arched fanlight windows) and inside, the softer arches are also to be found in many of his bank buildings.

The house has been owned for the past 26 years by a married couple, both surgeons, who have also taken an interest in racehorse breeding - and with some success. From the verified 18.25ac (not 17) of Blackhall came last year's third-placed Grand National runner, the 100-1 outsider Vic's Canvas. The horse achieved its place despite being the oldest in the race at 13. It will run again this year.

The rear patio courtyard
The rear patio courtyard

The house was already restored to a decent level when the current owners bought it, but they brought the builders in for a year to finish the job. A protected building, it has most of its original chimney pieces, joinery and ceiling work intact.

At ground floor level, an outer hall has doors to the two main receptions, the dining room and the drawing room, which are arrayed to the front on either side. An inner, larger hall has doors into the dining room and also to the library and the tv room. A guest WC completes the accommodation at this level.

Blackhall's rustic style kitchen
Blackhall's rustic style kitchen

At garden level is the rustic kitchen with an Aga as its focal point, a home office, a laundry room and the fifth bedroom which would have originally housed live-in staff. This has a door to the bathroom which, in turn, is entered also off the main hall downstairs. A pantry and wine cellar complete the accommodation on this floor.

Upstairs are the four largest bedrooms. The master has its own ensuite, while another has its own shower. There's a family bathroom and a separate WC at the end of the hall.

The current owners are selling Blackhall and trading down following the departure of their adult children from the family nest. They are particularly proud of their work on the two-acre formal gardens here, which has involved a significant investment in landscaping and the planting of hundreds of trees over the years.

An indication of their equestrian interests is a remarkable piece of topiary cut to resemble a horse and rider leaping a hedge hurdle.

Topiary hints at the owners' interests
Topiary hints at the owners' interests

The equestrian element has also been fully restored. There is a courtyard, stables, a coach house, tack room, feed room and another building with three more rooms. The asking price is €1.7m.

Blackhall House

Balbriggan, Co Dublin

Asking price: €1.7m

Agent: Savills (01) 6634350

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