Local authority in last-minute rescue of historic house
Emergency partial repair of one of Cork’s most significant old houses was driven by local concerns
One of suburban Cork’s most important heritage properties, Vernon Mount House in Grange, may not yet have been restored, but it has been rescued.
In a statement issued last month, Cork county manager Martin Riordan confirmed that, having become increasingly concerned with the property’s deteriorating condition, the local authority had used its powers under the planning acts to carry out essential repairs to the roof of the building.
In late 2011, its owners were registered as directors of Vernonmount House Restoration Ltd, whose representative in Cork is Olaf Maxwell, one of the directors of the company, which was previously listed as VM Development Co.
Although some roof repairs had been done by the owners in 2007, there were substantial sections where effective patching was no longer possible and more comprehensive repairs were needed.
Vernon Mount is a unique Georgian villa of national significance whose quality is enhanced by the presence of exceptional neo-classical paintings by Nathaniel Grogan, especially one of the very few ceiling paintings on canvas surviving from the late 18th century in Ireland. The curved walls of the atrium at the head of the cantilevered stone staircase are also painted with life-size mythological figures.
Peter Murray, the director of the Crawford Art Gallery, described it last year as “a blistering reproach to Cork’s sense of heritage and civic pride”.
The council approached the owners at the beginning of 2012, initially on an informal basis, and subsequently on a more formal one, according to Riordan
Despite the offer of financial assistance towards costs, these approaches did not produce results. So, assisted by a grant from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which was also worried about the house, the council decided to go ahead with repairs.
“In view of the exceptional architectural importance of Vernon Mount, we would have been remiss if we had let this opportunity pass,” said Riordan.
The house was built for Atwell Hayes, father of Sir Henry Browne Hayes, a widowed and prosperous knight at a time when Cork was a very prosperous city, but a grandee with ideas significantly above his means.
In 1797 these drove him to abduct the heiress Mary Pike, a Quaker who was staying with the family of the art collector Cooper Penrose in Montenotte. She was driven across the city to Vernon Mount and forced into a fraudulent marriage, which she always claimed she had resisted strongly.
As all Cork knew of her capture, she was rescued within 24 hours. The prosecution at the eventual trial of Browne Hayes was led by John Philpott Curran, whose daughter Sarah was later also a guest at the home of Cooper Penrose.