Turtle Bunbury

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Ballyvolane, County Cork, Ireland - The Place of the Springing Heifers

Photographs by James Fennell. Published circa 2007, revised 2018.

Maintaining a big Georgian Irish country house is a famously time-consuming business. Every day presents a new hazard - dry rot in the rafters, jackdaws in the chimney, slates sliding off a roof, the sudden emergence of a major fault-line in a bedroom wall. An owner will find a large portion of his or her life sporadically dedicated to righting these wrongs. Jeremy and Merrie Green were well aware of such pitfalls when they moved into the house which Jeremy's father, Cyril Hall Green, a retired rubber planter from Malaya, had purchased in 1955.

Located close to the village of Castlelyons in north County Cork, the original house at Ballyvolane ("the place of the springing heifers") was built in 1728 by Sir Richard Pyne, a retired Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. According to Terence Reeve-Smith: 'The property was purchased by Sir Richard Pyne in 1702-3 for £696. Prior to this it had been the property of Sir Richard Nagle and Edmond Barry, but had been granted (forfeited lands) to Viscount Sidney. At the same time, Sir Richard Pyne also purchased three other County Cork properties from the Commissioners for Sale of Forfeited Estates; one was Blarney, the others were the estates of Ballinaneala and Ardra. In England, he also bought Great Codham Hall in Essex, where the family continued to live well into the 19th century.' Mr Reeve-Smith was unsure where this early 18th century house was located but he guessed that it was close to where the yards are now located and proposed that would probably been approached by a straight avenue from the west through what is now the walled garden.

The present house is believed to be late 18th or early 19th century; it appears on an 1830s map. This probably took place during the 'reign' of Arthur Pyne (1747-1839) who also laid out the present Regency-style parkland gardens and pleasure grounds. He was succeeded by his amorous eldest son Jasper Pyne, who married three wealthy women; the stables are thought to have been built on his watch. It was formerly thought that the three-storey house was further modified in 1847. However, in May 2018, Terence Reeve-Smith revealed that the tenders for this rebuilding actually date to 1872, see below.

When Jasper died in 1860-1, he left no male heirs so neither his wife nor daughters could inherit the property; the estate had been left by his father Arthur entailed for a life and could only be inherited by male issue. A big court case ensued in May 1861, by which the property passed to Jasper's younger brother, the Rev. William Masters Pyne, Rector of Oxted in Surrey. In March 1864 the Rev Pyne put the place on the market through the Encumbered Estates Courts. It remained on the market until bought by a member of the Pyne family in January 1869. It was at this point that the building was remodelled; the top storey was removed to recreate a two-storey house with an extensive west end wing. Under the roof in the attic, the blue and white wallpaper can still be seen in patches on the wall of one of the third storey rooms.

The architect was Richard Rolt Brash (1817-1876), of 21 South Mall, Cork City. This Cork architect whose father and brother were well known builders in the city. Better known as a very active antiquarian and friend of John Windele, R.B. Brash was especially interested in round towers.

One perfectly sensible way of ensuring one's home is kept in a state of good repair is to make the state of one's house central to one's business. It was with this sort of philosophy in mind that the Greens decided to take the plunge in 1980 and open Ballyvolane as a guesthouse. Soon after the doors opened, visitors began flooding in to set up short-term residence and enjoy the Green's celebrated hospitality in between touring the locality and salmon fishing on the nearby Blackwater. However, the Greens were insistent that the house remain primarily a family home. And so, while international guests wandered around the house armed with fishing rods, large drinks and hire car keys, the Greens three young sons would gallop between their legs on hobby horses, hurley sticks and long-suffering Springer Spaniels. The combination of family home and exclusive accommodation worked well. In December 2003, Ballyvolane was selected by The Sunday Times as one of the Britain's top twenty great escapes.

The added charm of Ballyvolane is its owners. Jeremy Green acquires the fiery glint of an ancient shannachie when the subject of ghosts comes up. He has an arsenal of ghost stories; some charming and very funny, others spine-shiveringly spooky. A murder most foul took place at Ballyvolane in 1731 when the butler and a maid shot and stabbed Andrew St Leger, an elderly man, and his wife and made off with a chest full of valuables. It was said that an inconvenient gardener axed to death during their getaway is wont to appear before guests to this day. However, a dive into the archives in May 2018 reveals a little more:

HOME AFFAIRS. Dublin, Jan. 19. We have an Account from Cork, that Timothy Croneen was condemned and executed there the 15th Inft. for the barbarous Murder ot Mr. St. Leger and his wife, concerning which in Court he made the following short Declaration, viz. "The Devil was too strong with me, I declare I shot Mr. St. Leger, I was resolved at first to rob my Master, I went into the Room, and afterwards I gave my Mistress five Stabs, the Gardiner consented to go with me and hold the Candle; I took about 20l, and the Watch out of my Master's Pocket; After the Gardiner and I went to Bed I made the Agreement with him." The Tryal lasted seven Hours, when his Bolts were knock'd off in the Dock, and he was carried immediately to the Place of Execution, and there hang'd about a Minute, then cut down, his Head cut off, his Bowels taken out and flung in his Face, his Body divided into 4 Parts, and to be put in 4 cross Roads ; and Joan Condon was fentenced to be burnt alive the next Day, but we hear she has got a Reprieve to the 23rd Instant. (Newcastle Courant - Saturday 13 February 1731)

Joan Condon did not get off the hook:

'They write from Cork, that on the 23d of Jan. last, Joan Condon was burnt for being concern'd in the Murder of Lieutenant St. Leger and his Lady, without making any further Discoveries.’ (Newcastle Courant - Saturday 20 February 1731)

And, as for the gardener, Michael B. Holly discovered this record of a "John Holly":

Dublin, Jan 16 (1730?) - Wee heard from Cork, that John Holly, the gardner, who was accused as being one of the accomplices in the murder of Lieut. Andrew St. Leger and his wife, November the 10th 1730, Died the 8th of Jan laft in the city goal of Cork.

***

Since January 2004, the property has been managed by the next generation of the Green family: Jeremy and Merrie's eldest son Justin and his wife Jenny. This enigmatic couple have already enjoyed a fascinating career, working for some of the most prestigious hotels in Hong Kong, Dubai and Bali. Prior to their return to Ireland last autumn, they ran Somerset's highly acclaimed Babington House on behalf of London's Soho Club. Now comfortably ensconced in the family home, their four-year-old son Toby gallivants around the legs of the Blüthner grand piano in the pillared hall, where his father and uncles used to play thirty years earlier.

Today, the odd ghost aside, Ballyvolane and its surrounding demesne offer a sanctuary of immense peace and beauty. The spacious, bright bedrooms are perfectly appointed to bring a sense of tremendous ease to guests. Outside, the chorus of songbirds and the rustle of leaves. Donkeys and horses graze in the meadows. Kestrels and fantail doves swirl in the air. The occasional nimble-footed red squirrel leaps from tree to tree. And walking amid all this nature and serenity, one can quite understand why the Green family have every intention of keeping this a family home for many generations to come.

www.ballyvolanehouse.ie

 

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