CUTTING a dash on Lee Road are a half dozen homes historically associated with Cork’s former merchant princes, including one currently owned by a family of well-known men’s outfitters, responsible for decades of impressive dressing in the city.
Rosanna House was bought in 1941 by Con Murphy of Con Murphy’s Menswear, at 60 St Patrick’ Street. It’s been in the family since, but ownership is set to change as Neil, Con’s son, prepares to downsize after 61 years, having reared his own family.
“It was a privilege for our family to have lived in Rosanna House for more than 80 years, but we are at a stage when our kids are leaving the nest and my wife and I do not need a large, six-bedroom house,” Neil says.
The sense of privilege derives in part from an appreciation of the history of Rosanna House, which is now in its third iteration, having burned down twice in its 400-year-plus history. The original house, built in 1612, was a 9,000 sq ft Georgian mansion on an estate of circa 120 acres, associated with the Blarney Estate, and impressive enough to attract visitors of the ilk of God’s Executioner, Oliver Cromwell, who liked to hunt in the nearby woodland.
The house Cromwell stayed in burned down in 1733 and Rosanna House, Mark II, emerged from the ashes, similar in design, but smaller in size. During its rebuilding, a few new additions were made to the estate, including a Bell Tower, at the entrance to a courtyard of estate workers’ homes, a stone lodge and a magnificent limestone entrance to Rosanna House from Lee Road.
The same entrance is in use today and its gates are believed to have been milled at nearby Millboro House, another Lee Road period mansion, which sold last year for €766,000, having gone to market with a guide of €1.1m.
While Millboro came with more land (13 acres) than Rosanna House (c3.2 acres, including the avenue which is c1.22 acres, and with an option to buy another c.1.373 acres), it’s a much older home (it’s the original, which dates to the 1700s) and was in need of substantial repair and renovation.
The version of Rosanna House on sale now is what emerged after the second burning in 1939, before Con Murphy bought it along with 23 acres.
,Neil says it’s based on an American design that incorporates some original features such as the magnificent limestone steps up to the front door.
Another ancient feature is an underground well to the rear, operated by hand pump in times past, and with an entrance of the same impressive limestone as was used in the original house. Neil recalls how as kids, each of them was given the weekly task of using the hand pump to fill two big tanks which supplied the house with water.
They made changes to the 297 sq m house over the years, including adding a granny flat for Neil’s late mother. When he got married in 1989, he moved with his new bride into Rosanna House (his father had since passed) and the newlyweds lived in one side of the house and his mother in the other. Later, when his mum’s mobility deteriorated, they built on a granny flat with a bedroom and shower room and created a second kitchen, with his mum using the older kitchen, adjoining her flat, while they used the newer one. As a result, the house has two kitchens.
Re-jigging the layout is probably on the cards for new owners, as well as possibly some further insulation work – four of the main downstairs rooms have undergone internal insulation.
Where they won’t have too much work to do is in the gardens, which landscaper Dominick Cullinane (founder of Mallow Garden Festival and former classmate of Neil) laid out beautifully a good number of years ago.
The views from the garden have opened up spectacularly in recent years after Storm Ophelia laid waste to some ancient mature trees (although a beautiful monkey puzzle was spared).
“It really exposed the breathtaking views out over the Lee and visitors to the house asked us why in the name of God we hadn’t cleared those trees years ago,” Neil says.
Set in mature woodland, with a southern aspect and a panorama from Grange to Ovens, Neil says he has always loved the peace and serenity of the site, which feels distinctly rural, but is only four miles out of town, “just two sets of traffic lights away from the city center, via Sunday’s Well”, he says.
He and his wife will still enjoy the setting after selling as they are relocating next door to an extension of their daughter’s new build. There’s about 10 acres of the estate left, after family members were given sites over the years. The avenue serving Rosanna House (with some original cobble-stones painstakingly restored by Neil’s brother, Des) serves about half a dozen homes.
Rosanna House is possibly the first of the Big Houses on Lee Road, with others to follow such as Millboro, Leemont House, Mount Desert, Ardnalee, and Kitsborough, which was knocked down and rebuilt in the 1990s and sold a decade ago for €1.5m . Anthony O’Regan of Keane, Mahony, Smith brings Rosanna House to market with a €975,000 price guide and he expects strong interest from the local market, with an appreciation of the prized location and proximity to the city.
Medics, techies and academics are expected in the line-up given the prestigious location and proximity to hospitals, to UCC and to Apple’s Hollyhill campus and EMC in Ballincollig.