Council to take legal action against Vernon Mount owners

Cork County Council signals move in wake of devastating blaze that destroyed notable villa

Vernon Mount, an 18th century neoclassical house in Douglas, Co Cork, has been extensively damaged by fire. Video: Brian McMahon


Cork County Council has voted for the council executive to commence legal action against the owner of a historic villa which was destroyed in a blaze last July. Vernon Mount appeared in the World Monuments Fund list of the hundred most endangered sites in 2008.

It was built in 1784 for a prominent merchant in the city and is understood to have been designed by the architect Abraham Hargrave. Ceiling and wall paintings by leading 19th century Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan were inside the house which went up in flames on July 24th.

The property had largely been left to the elements since planning permission for a hotel was refused for the site in 1997.

Independent Cllr Marcia D’Alton put a motion before the council calling for the executive to initiate action under Section 59 of the Planning and Development Act. The motion was passed. Cllr D’Alton maintains that the failure to look after the property put the structure in danger.

“It is not going to bring Vernon Mount back but what it would do is demonstrate Cork County Council’s commitment to and appreciation of, the county’s protected structures, and, in doing so convey to the owners and occupiers of all the protected structures the need to uphold their societal responsibility.”

The house was named after Mount Vernon, home of president George Washington on the Potomac river.

Interior features included an elegant cantilevered staircase with a neo-classical wrought-iron balustrade, a fine oval first-floor landing with marble Corinthian columns. The decorative plasterwork, ceiling and wall paintings by Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan were particularly noteworthy.

Property owner

It remained as a family home until it was purchased by the Cork and Munster Motorcycle Club who built a motor-cross race track on the parkland.

In 1997, it was bought by developers who were refused planning permission to redevelop the house and build houses/apartments on the site.

Masilla Limited remained the principal owner of the house and the motorcycle club leased the grounds for their use.

Extensive roof repairs were carried out by the council with grant aid from the Department of Arts in 2012. This involved replacement of 60 per cent of the roof and repair of the remaining 40 per cent.

The Irish Georgian Society drew Vernon Mount’s dereliction to the attention of the World Monument Fund.

A local voluntary group, the Grange Frankfield Partnership, was formed in 2010 to campaign for the conservation and restoration of Vernon Mount.

It was built by Attiwell Hayes, a merchant, and was passed on to his son Sir Henry Brown Hayes.

Hayes became a notorious figure after he was said to have kidnapped a local heiress, Mary Pike, in July 1797, and brought her to Vernon Mount for a fake marriage. She managed to raise the alarm and Hayes became an outlaw for two years, but eventually surrendered. He was sentenced in 1801 to be hanged, but was spared the death penalty.

Instead he was sent to a penal colony at Botany Bay before being pardoned in 1812. He then returned to Europe. Hayes is buried in Christchurch, Cork.