Tuesday 16 January 2018

Developers not spooked by cobwebsSPOOKY: Moves are afoot to create a €10m 'super park' around Cork's Mount Vernon mansion

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

IT ranks as one of the most haunted buildings in Ireland.

But Cork residents aren't spooked by Vernon Mount's eerie reputation and now want the 18th-century mansion to become the centrepiece of a new €10m 'super park' to rival Dublin's Phoenix Park.

The mansion, which is owned by a US management consortium, has been empty for decades and has become dilapidated over the past 15 years.

Cork residents fear the structure -- ranked as one of the world's 100 most endangered buildings -- is in imminent risk of being lost.

The Irish Georgian Society placed it on its watch list in 2007, noting it was in "a desperate state of neglect".

Grange Frankfield Partnership (GFP) official Ger Lehane said Vernon Mount would be a perfect centrepiece for the proposed 'super park' being developed on the Kinsale Road landfill dump.

The dump -- located directly across the South Link Road from Vernon Mount -- was opened in 1964 and, for a time, was the largest landfill facility in the State. However, it will be closed next year and redeveloped as a public park.

"It will be a Central Park of sorts for Cork," Mr Lehane told the Sunday Independent.

"This 'super park' will be a huge addition for the Cork region, for inhabitants and tourists alike. It will provide a wealth of amenities, including indoor and outdoor adventure centres, sports trails, play and art features, and flexible multi-purpose areas for concerts and events," he said.

Vernon Mount, which was built in 1784, is now a protected structure and has been included on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in Ireland.

Locals and heritage campaigners have urged Cork city and county councils to intervene to have the house restored to its former glory.

The owners of the house -- who live overseas and could not be contacted for comment -- have rented its grounds out over recent years to the Grange Motorcycle Club.

The Georgian mansion was built 228 years ago for Cork merchant Sir Henry Browne Hayes, who named it after George Washington's famous Virginia home as a mark of admiration for the American Revolution.

However, far from emulating the scrupulously correct General Washington, the wealthy Browne Hayes later abducted a young heiress, Mary Pike, who had spurned his advances.

He held her captive at Vernon Mount before attempting to use a fake priest to persuade her to marry him so he could get her £20,000 inheritance.

Browne Hayes was eventually arrested and the young woman freed -- although the ordeal was said to have unhinged her.

The merchant was convicted and given a death sentence which was commuted to transportation to Australia.

Legend has it that the Cork mansion has since been haunted by the spirit of the young woman. The property is ranked alongside Loftus Hall in Wexford as one of the most haunted structures in the country.

GFP official Brendan Kelleher said they want the house restored to its former glory.

"At the present time, the house is not being used -- it is not properly developed or maintained," he said.

The Irish Georgian Society has described Vernon Mount as "a neoclassical gem" and "an extraordinary suburban villa".

Sunday Independent

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