Sunday 17 November 2019

What a gift: Blarney Castle's steward's house hits market

Blarney Castle's steward's house is a talking point for buyers, writes Gabrielle Monaghan

The front of Stoneview House, once attached to Blarney Castle
The front of Stoneview House, once attached to Blarney Castle
Lodge steward: The formal dining room at the former steward's home
A view of the house and grounds from above
The main living room
The hall and stairs
The homely kitchen with its range
The back of the house
Whitewashed outbuildings could be converted for guest use

Gabrielle Monaghan

Legend holds that kissing the Blarney Stone, which involves leaning backwards from the edge of a parapet on top of the castle, endows the kisser with eloquent speech - or the gift of the gab. The tale has helped attract some 450,000 tourists a year to the castle and its manicured grounds.

Stoneview House, an early Victorian country house that was once home to the steward of the Blarney Castle estate, was so named because it commanded views of the castle and its world-famous Stone of Eloquence, just 3km away.

The magnitude of the tasks involved in keeping the world-famous estate up and running was the focus of Blarney - A Year on the Estate, a documentary screened in August on RTÉ 1 that tracked owner Sir Charles Colthurst and staff such as head gardener Adam Whitbourn, who is charged with maintaining 60 acres of gardens.

The same month, the Witch's Yew, a 600-year-old tree on the estate's Rock Close landscape gardens, was awarded Ireland's Tree of the Year, based on a public vote organised by the Tree Council of Ireland. The winning tree grows above the Witch's Kitchen, a folly built by the Jeffreyes family in the 1750s, before the family intermarried with the Colthursts. According to folklore, the area is the home of the Blarney Witch, who reputedly first told mortals of the Blarney Stone's magical powers. The witch is imprisoned by day in the Witch Stone, and only released after nightfall.

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The main living room
The main living room

Had television been around in the 19th-century, the documentary-makers would no doubt have taken an interest in the estate's steward, who lived at Stoneview. One of his tasks was to travel abroad in search of specimen trees, and when he returned home, he would not only plant one on the estate itself, but on the site surrounding Stoneview.

The four-bedroom, 2,230-sq ft steward's house was built by the Blarney Castle estate in the 1830s. However, an Ordnance Survey map from 1841 indicates the house was by then serving as a presbytery. By 1885, Stoneview was occupied by a justice of the peace called Robert Fitzgerald Townsend who became a land agent by the time he died in Youghal, east Cork in 1911.

Ironically, as a result of the tree-planting endeavours by the steward and subsequent residents, the views of Blarney Castle and its stone are today obscured by the mature woods that surround Stoneview. Behind the curved stone entrance and iron gates to the 4.65-acre site, lime trees and railed paddocks flank the 100m-long gravelled avenue that leads up to the two-storey, double-fronted home. Behind the entrance gate itself is a fulacht fiadh, an ancient cooking pit used to boil meat and other food by placing heated stones in a water trough. There is a long lawn, a grass tennis court, and a gravelled forecourt to the front while Boston Ivy clads the rendered stone façade. While the Georgian era officially ended with the death of King George IV in 1830, Stoneview's architectural style straddles both the Georgian and early Victorian styles. For example, there are Victorian-style decorative roof ridges over the front gable, the front top-floor windows and over the entrance porch, but there are also Georgian features like tripartite sash windows.

To complicate things further, Stoneview was renovated in 1989, so the 1980s-vibe of the interior décor could do with an update. Nevertheless, the house abounds with original period features. A set of cut-limestone steps leads up to the archway of the front porch, where there are stained-glass windows either side and on top of a red timber front door. Inside, the pine floors to the two front reception rooms and the entrance hall have been exposed. There is a central rose and cornicing to the 3m-high ceiling in the hall.

One of the two reception rooms is the dual-aspect drawing room, which has a bay window to one side and a tripartite window to the front. It has an open fireplace with a cast iron and tile insert and a slate hearth, just like in the dining room on the other side of the hallway. Both reception rooms have picture rails, a ceiling rose, and cornices.

A door off the dining room leads to the butler's pantry, which - in turn - opens on to a back hall with quarry tiles to the floor. There are also quarry tiles to the floors of the dual-aspect kitchen/breakfast room, the centrepiece of which is a pretty double Aga with a copper canopy over the extractor hood. The room also has a Zanussi electric cooker and a Zanussi dishwasher. However, the fitted pine kitchen units and tiled splashback could do with a refresh. Access to the back yard is via a solid timber door to the rear hall, which is also home to a fridge-freezer.

The back of the house
The back of the house

Off the first-floor return is a bathroom with an original Victorian cast-iron claw-foot bath with brass taps, a pedestal washbasin, a pine floor, and a bidet. There's also a separate lavatory, where the hand-painted tiles to the walls match the floral patterns of the original Victorian Activus toilet.

A similar Activus WC was fitted to one of the three ensuites to the four bedrooms on the first floor: this ensuite also has a brass shower and an original Victorian handbasin set on a cast-iron frame. The bedroom itself has a pine floor, as do the other bedrooms, and there is a cast-iron fireplace with a slate hearth - ideal for cosying up on cold winter nights. Two of the other bedrooms have antique hand-basins and brass showers to the ensuites.

Permission could be obtained to convert the whitewashed outbuildings into a business space or rental accommodation. These were previously used as a laundry, a workshop, a coach house and a stables. Because Cork City is just 13km away, it would suit a commuter who wants a peaceful rural retreat. Cork Airport a 25-minute drive away, while the train stations at Mallow and Cork city are both within a 20-minute drive.

Viewings are by appointment.

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