Cork council defends decision not to buy Vernon Mount House

Compulsory purchase order was not sought on 18th century property gutted by fire

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


Cork County Council has defended its decision not to seek a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on historic Vernon Mount House in Cork which was badly damaged by fire on Sunday night after a group of teenagers lit a bonfire inside the unoccupied villa.

Several commentators had noted that the council could have sought a CPO on the 18th century villa at Frankfield in Douglas on Cork’s southside after it refused planning permission to a private company for the development of a hotel and housing complex at the site in 1997.

But in response to a query from The Irish Times about why it did not seek a CPO in light of growing concern of vandalism at the property, the council said it had considered the matter but opted against the move.

“The significant capital cost of the acquisition, the subsequent refurbishment cost and the ongoing costs of future maintenance were prohibitive. The decision was taken not to proceed with a CPO,” said the council in a statement.

According to the statement, the decision was taken “in the context of available council resources and overall service delivery responsibilities of the council in difficult economic circumstances”.

“Although the house is privately owned, the council’s strategy at the beginning of the decade was to secure the house by carrying out works to the roof in order to limit damage to the interior of the house,” it said.

Gardaí have appealed for anyone who may have witnessed a group of young people on the property on Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening. The Irish Times understands gardaí are making progress in identifying some of those who may have been on the property.

The alarm was raised around 9.35pm on Sunday and seven units of Cork City Fire Brigade together with one unit of Cork County Fire Brigade spent close to ten hours fighting the blaze before bringing the fire under control early on Monday morning.

The building suffered extensive damage with the roof collapsing and paintings on the walls by acclaimed 18th century Cork painter, Nathaniel Grogan, were also destroyed.

Fears have been expressed about the structural safety of the charred ruin.

Among the many conservation groups to have expressed dismay was the Irish Georgian Society whose executive director, Donough Cahill, described Vernon Mount - named after George Washington’s home Mount Vernon in Fairfax County in Virginia - as “an architectural gem”.

“Vernon Mount is a protected structure of national importance whose endangerment has long been recognised by local, national and international organisations . . . Vernon Mount stood as possibly the finest surviving example in Ireland of a Georgian classical villa on the outskirts of a major city,” he said.