Saturday 23 March 2019

Millboro House: Built-in kitchen pantry and orangery are one of the many features in this Georgian property

Millboro House Lee Road, Cork

Asking price: €850,000

Agent: Marshs Auctioneers, (021) 4270347

The exterior of Millboro House
The exterior of Millboro House
The dining room
The gardens
A poster of the day depicts the sinking
The family lounge
The conclusive Rohu family snap from 1915 showing the Lusitania furs drying on the garden fence
Fred and his wife's golden wedding anniversary snap at Millboro in 1924
The Rohus posing in a Ford Model T in front of Millboro

When you shoot family photos in your back garden, you hardly consider that one day your snaps could end up solving a mystery or conspiracy of global historic importance.

In 1915 the sinking of the Lusitania by a German torpedo, killing US citizens on board, contributed to bringing the United States into World War I; in turn leading ultimately to the defeat of Germany.

Since the 1970s however, there has been strong support for a theory that a German U-boat sank the vessel off the Old Head of Kinsale because the crew believed it was carrying contraband munitions.

Colin Simpson's blockbuster investigation "Lusitania" published in 1972, asserted that the liner was disguising the explosives as a massive shipment of North American furs. And indeed amongst the consignment listed on the ship's manifest is $119,220 worth of furs destined to be delivered to the British army. To this day many historians hold to the Simpson argument that there was more than meets the eye to the Lusitania's cargo.

The dining room
The dining room

Strangely, it was openly known that the ship carried rifle bullets - also listed clearly in the manifest. But by the rules of the day, anything larger would have made it a valid target for the Germans. Witnesses reported that after the blast ripped through the starboard bow, there was a second explosion from the depths of the ocean liner, an assertion that leans with Simpson's claims.

For their part, British officials have long denied there were explosives hidden away with other cargo.

At the time of the sinking, Millboro House on Lee Road in Cork was the family home of the Rohu family, a Breton descended clan who had made their money as furriers both in Cork and in Dublin. The Rohu family history, which is posted extensively online, contains many family snaps taken during this period and among them is the one which torpedoes Simpson's "fake fur" theory once and for all.

The family history records how a 6,000 cubic foot consignment of fur pelts washed up on the Cork coastline right after the sinking with many furs floating around loose in the sea. Local fishermen retrieved them and brought their strange catch straight to Fred Rohu. He dried them out and sold them again for, what can only be assumed was, a tidy sum.

For their part, brothers Charles Lindsay Rohu, Fredrick Raynor Rohu and Louis Le Goff Rohu couldn't resist recording the moment of a family victory snatched from a greater disaster. They took a photo at Millboro with hundreds of the salvaged Lusitania furs drying on the garden's picket fence around them. Perhaps as a joke, or as an attempted cover in case the authorities demanded the return of the salvage, the three Rohus are all holding firearms, making it look like they shot the booty themselves.

Entitled to the furs by the salvage laws of the sea, in a final irony the Rohus sold all of the furs on to the British army.

The gardens
The gardens

It is that family photo, taken in 1915, which conclusively proves that the consignment of furs listed on the ship's manifest, did in fact exist. That the fur cargo was not substituted for heavy munitions and it went with the ship.

Fredrick Rohu, who set up the taxidermy and furrier business in Cork in 1875 later moved into Millboro House with his wife and eight children. He was born on Inis Cú Island in Donegal, when his father, John Vincent, was in service there with the Royal Navy.

John Vincent in turn was son to Bonaventure Rohu, a wealthy Breton farmer who became unwittingly involved in the Chouan rebellion in France in the late 1700s - a sort of Breton counter revolution to the French Revolution. While visiting an English warship, he was questioned by the Count of Artois (later to become the Restoration's King Charles X of France). It was determined that he was related to Jean Rohu, the Chouan uprising's second-in-command. Bonaventure was detained and brought to England on the grounds that, with his invaluable local knowledge, he could assist with a British backed Bay of Pigs-style invasion. It failed and Rohu later died in England leaving his family in poverty, his lands in France forfeited.

Bonaventure's widow put their children into the Greenwich Asylum, where John Vincent received naval training. His subsequent service took him to Ireland where he settled. Son Fredrick and his brothers went on to become successful Irish furriers. From riches to rags to fur.

It's clear to see why Fredrick chose Millboro House as his family home. Situated on the banks of the River Lee, with 13 acres of grounds filled with outbuildings and a folly, and three miles from Cork city centre, it fits the bill for a wealthy professional with a large family.

The French connection remains today with Millboro House owned by the Coleman-Loiseau family. Dr Daniel Coleman and his Normandy-born wife Monique bought the house in 1953 for £2,900. Today they have it on the market with a price tag of €850,000 through Marshs Auctioneers.

The character of the home remains firmly intact with original features like cornicing and Georgian-glazed fanlights, white marble fireplaces and pine window shutters still standing. A new owner will need deep pockets, however, as the 4,800 sq ft home is in need of a lot of sensitive upgrading.

The main hall with panelled walls and a centre rose leads you into the drawing room with its ornate cornice ceiling and marble fireplace. From here you enter the imposing dining room with dark panelled walls and pine shutters. The library has a beamed ceiling and staircase leading to an adjoining annex.

The kitchen still has its terrazzo floor and tiled walls, with a Stanley cooker and built-in wall pantry. There is a downstairs toilet and a rear hall that is being used as a utility area, with a door out to the rear yard.

On the first-floor return is the main bathroom with mahogany panelled walls and bath. There are four bedrooms, with the master having an en suite bathroom.

There is a 2,000 sq ft annex that adjoins the main house where there are three more bedrooms, a study and a playroom.

And it doesn't stop there. Outside there is a conservatory or orangery, with a storeroom behind it. There is also a workshop and two more storerooms.

A derelict house with a floor area of 840 sq ft, also sits on the land, with a separate turret building to the side.

The vast gardens are mostly laid in lawn with an ornamental pond to the front of the house. There is an orchard and raised gardens on the western side and a tennis court that has seen better days.

This unusual Georgian property is so close to the city but also completely private. It would be an ideal hideaway for someone with the time and money to bring it back to life.

Indo Property

Editors Choice

Also in Life