When you buy a house in Coleville Road, Clonmel, you know you have arrived. At least as far as the merchants who built their elegant mansions there in the 18th and early 19th centuries were concerned. It was, and still is, locals say, the Clonmel equivalent of Shrewsbury Road.
For the late Mary Donovan, an expert gardener, it was the last stop on a journey from a small cottage on the side of Slievenamon to the property known as Fairy Hill in the poshest end of town, with sojourns along the way in London and Kilkenny.
Fairy Hill itself was built in the late 18th or early 19th century by a Quaker family, the Grubbs, who were leading industrialists in South Tipperary at the time. It was later bought by another well-heeled Clonmel family, the Quinns, who were wine importers, before being purchased by Edmund Burke and family, who ran a bacon-curing business. It was during the Burkes' ownership that the big house was divided into two. The western part was renamed Fairy Hill and sold to a local doctor, Patrick Tierney.
Mary bought the five-bedroom semi-detached house in 1976 and set about developing the 2.5-acre garden she had inherited from Dr Tierney.
Set on a gentle slope, the grounds run down to a 300m-long walk along the River Suir through a series of terraces, archways and paths that wind past specimen trees such as oak, beech and a giant sequioa. There are pergolas covered in climbing roses and clematis, trails of wisteria hanging from the tree canopy, wildlife ponds, rustic gates and places to sit, dotted here and there, so you can breathe in the view.
In the 1980s, Mary opened the gardens to the public. Since then it has featured in gardening magazines and books and was included in the itinerary of cruise ships docking at Waterford Port. Visitors would wander through the shaded paths and gardens with Mary to end up on one of the lawns for a Pimm's.
"She knew every plant," remembers her nephew Eamon Donovan. "And when I visited, she would always take me around to show me something new or that was in season. Rambling around the grounds with her and her Pyrenean mountain dog, and the peacocks screeching, it was so exotic."
Just down the road is Clonmel's oldest hotel, the Minella, another former merchant's mansion, and a popular choice for wedding receptions. Many a happy couple have taken a stroll to Fairy Hill to be photographed posing underneath the garden's famous wedding-cake tree that has branches set out in tiers with clusters of white flowers.
Sadly, Mary died last year at the age of 89. The gardens have been well maintained since and it would not take much to return them to their full glory. Though the peacocks Mary loved are no longer in residence.
The gable end of the house abuts Coleville Road, with a short avenue curving up to the front of the two-storey house.
Inside, the property is a period piece. The patterned wallpaper, now in fashion again, was handmade to commission in Dublin in the 1970s. There are fine original fireplaces in four of the five large bedrooms. Throughout the ground floor, and some of the bedrooms, the polished wooden floorboards are original.
There are high ceilings, grand proportions and a wonderful panelled drawing room, an unusual square hallway, as well as dining room, sitting room, breakfast/kitchen and pantry, guest WC and rear hallway.
"The house needs work done," says Eamon, "though it's got good bones. It has great character and potential. But it only has a tiny kitchenette and could do with a proper kitchen." New owners could certainly extend to the rear of the property, where there are a number of outhouses.
Upstairs, there are four large bedrooms and a fifth smaller one, as well as a family bathroom. If new owners wanted to add 21st century luxuries, there is room to put in en-suites. But some of the period details are keepers. The big cast-iron bath in the bathroom, for example. As Eamon says, "You'd need to be a hurdler to get in and out of it."
Fairy Hill sits on the outskirts of Clonmel, a south Tipperary town with a population of 17,000 or so, many of whom commute to Cork city, an hour's drive away. There are also a number of big employers in the area, including pharmaceutical companies such as Abbott Vascular, Boston Scientific and Clonmel Healthcare, as well as South Tipperary General Hospital.
Clonmel is also horse country - composer Andrew Lloyd Webber owns the 13th century Kiltinan Castle and Stud in nearby Fethard, while John Magnier's Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle Racing Stables are also at Fethard. 'The Tipps' or Tipperary Foxhounds ride out from Fethard, and there's regular racing at Clonmel Racecourse.
For those on the hunt for a family home, there are many schools in Clonmel to choose from, including a Gaelscoil, St Mary's CBS, Presentation Secondary School and Loreto Convent, just five minutes' walk away.
The garden is magical and the house has huge potential. For a buyer in search of a family home, set close to Clonmel and within commuting distance of Cork, Fairy Hill would be an ideal project.
5 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
Era: 18th/19th century
Size: c 325sqm
Agent: Dougan FitzGerald (052) 612 1003
Viewing: By appointment