Inside the lovingly-restored period house which was almost burned to the ground in 1798
Arklow was one of the main areas of conflict in the 1798 rebellion. On June 9, 10,000 rebels launched an assault on the coastal town in an attempt to win it back from British control. It's estimated that 1,000 rebels lost their lives in the bloody battle and those remaining withdrew that night under the cover of darkness.
At the time, Woodmount House, just outside the town, was being rented out to a Catholic family. The British Army arrived at the house with the intention of burning it to the ground but the landlord, Robert Howard, the 2nd Earl of Wicklow, rushed to intervene and so instead of destroying the whole house, the troops settled for just burning the furniture. Some might say it was a small victory in a big battle.
Two people who are very thankful that the house survived to tell the tale are Mick and Beanie Cronin. As current owners of Woodmount House, they are delighted they got to spend over 20 years in the property that was given a second chance. Beanie is originally from the area, so when the couple left South Africa after 20 years, they decided to put down their own roots in Wicklow close to her family. The house may have dodged a bullet in 1798, but it was neglected through the years, leaving the Cronins with a lot of work ahead of them.
"The house was in bad shape when we bought it in 1998," recalls Mick. "We had to take out all the floors and strip the slates and strengthen the roof structure. The windows were replaced with teak sash windows, and we put in new plumbing, heating and electrical systems."
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The renovation took nine months and a lot of money, but the couple was careful to retain the character of the house throughout.
"The staircase is a replica of the original, as is the cornicing that was master crafted by specialists," says Mick, proudly. "All of the timber flooring was sourced from reclaimed floors from the UK in keeping with the style of the house."
One of the first things that attracted the couple to the house was the grounds. It is built on six acres, which gave their five children years of fun and freedom. There is a 300-year-old oak in the driveway, along with a 200-year-old yew, which stand proudly today as they welcome guests to the house.
There is also a stream at the back where the kids spent hours with a swing rope.
The family took full advantage of the space around them and filled with it with animals. "We had two ponies, three dogs, 10 fantailed white doves, 20 guinea fowl who roosted in the trees, hens in the chicken coop and two peacocks," says Mick.
"The birds were ones we had in our home in South Africa, along with two ostriches. It helped us to make the change from Africa to Ireland. The native wildlife consists of squirrels, foxes and lots of pheasants."
The 5,000sq ft of living space in the house is laid out over two floors. On the ground floor, there is a formal drawing room to the left of the hall with a magnificent marble fireplace that looks right at home with the high ceilings and sash windows. On the other side of the hall is a dining room, which has been used for many dinner parties, with a French marble fireplace being the focal point.
Beyond this is the kitchen, living room and pantry. A corridor to the back of the property houses a utility and study, and leads to a family or 'gathering' room. This is the room that the younger members of the family will remember most fondly, according to Mick. With its own bar and stairs up to a mezzanine level complete with a sleeping area, it was like a two-storey party venue.
For Mick and Beanie, however, the kitchen, with views out over the garden, was where they spent most of their time. It has a quarry-tiled floor and a large breakfast bar, with a cheerful red Aga in the middle of it all. "We brought a huge dining table from South Africa and that's where we all loved to gather around," says Mick.
Upstairs there are six double bedrooms. The master bedroom is like a small apartment. The large shuttered windows look out over the lawn to the front. There is a dressing room with built-in wardrobes and an ensuite bathroom complete with a corner jacuzzi bath.
Two further bedrooms have ensuite shower rooms and the main bathroom comes with a rolltop bath. At the very back of the house is the upper level of the 'party' room.
Outside, Mick and Beanie claimed an outhouse each. Mick uses his for woodturning and Beanie has added two windows and a stove to hers so she can use it as an art studio.
There is a well on the grounds that Mick always intended to open up, but never got around to it. It's 20ft deep and 2ft wide and lined the whole way down. There is a stable block, hay barn and other sheds in the courtyard that could also be converted, subject to planning permission.
The gate lodge at the entrance of the property is in need of renovation, but could be a revenue stream for new owners as a self-catering lodge. In fact, the house and grounds are so extensive at Woodmount that it could easily be used as a guest house or wedding venue.
Mick, Beanie and their five children have road-tested it for future owners and would fully support the idea of opening it up for functions.
"We've had some great parties here," says Mick, as he recalls the years of good times in Woodmount. "The 21st parties were especially memorable. We erected marquees and had chipper vans to feed the guests."
Arklow has been popular with commuters for years because the south side of Dublin City can be reached in just over 40 minutes when travelling on the M11. With all of the space on offer at Woodmount House, it could be the ideal spot for someone who wants to run a small business from home while not being too far from the capital.
Whatever lies ahead for this property that has played a small part in Irish history, it is sure to adapt and move on to the next phase, just like the Cronins.
Woodmount House Beech Road, Arklow, Co Wicklow
Asking price: €1.25m
Agent: Sherry FtizGerald Catherine O'Reilly (0402 32367)