Glenaveena House, Carrickbrack Road, Baily, Howth, County Dublin
Carrickbrack Road’s southern ascent of Howth Hill follows the fabled tramline, perhaps the Peninsula’s most picturesque route due to its elevated panoramas of Dublin bay. Prominently positioned along this most scenic stretch is the landmark entrance to Glenaveena House, formerly known as the Stella Maris convent. A castellated limestone wall marks the one time boundary of the gardens, an iconic edifice which was in fact a Great Northern Railway viaduct, built to carry the Howth tram across the natural hollow at Glenaveena. This huge curtain wall still provides the grounds beyond unparalleled seclusion from the road, bringing unique character and making them feel like a place apart. Through the original convent gate a startling view of the bay immediately arrests visitors as they descend the banked driveway to the four acre cliff top gardens below. Glenaveena is a grand, Victorian villa, built in 1859 for Lady Elizabeth St Lawrence, (daughter of the Earl of Howth) and her philanthropist husband. There are only a handful of such antique cliffside villas in Howth and this is special amongst them being the work of one of Ireland’s most illustrious Victorian architects, Benjamin Woodward. Today the site is home to a harmonious complex of buildings, with the main 19th century house joined by a 1920’s, frontier style church and various outbuildings. These form an agreeable courtyard of vintage, clapboard sheds and high retaining walls, providing a sheltered suntrap for morning coffee, or evening sundowners with a view. The diminutive chapel is a charming structure, complete with miniature steeple and the opportunity to ring its bell, should the novelty of that appeal. The interior however is capacious, currently in use as a gym and games room; it would require little intervention to become an ideal guest cottage, with sea views throughout. Permission for guest use, ancillary to the main house is already granted. A century of convent use saw the main house maintained very solidly and the subsequent removal of ad hoc, utilitarian structures, not to mention an exhaustive and inspirational renovation has resulted in a fine dwelling with an optimal balance between modern amenity and historic character. The principle innovation of the recent reinvention was to place the main receptions downstairs and the bedroom accommodation upstairs, an inversion of the Victorian villa layout. One beneficial effect of this is that the two master suites now occupy what were designed to be the grandest reception rooms in the house. Both rooms have fine sectioned French windows, with brass espagnolettes framing the extraordinary view and original balconies. Downstairs the current south facing receptions have more French doors opening to granite steps and an expansive gravel terrace, overlooking the upper lawn and the bay beyond. The house has a classic three bay form with a series of large openings facing south to the sun, the lawns and the vista. Architecturally it is simple and elegant with a chalk coloured stucco facade, modulated by three exquisite granite balconies on the seaward side. The design is site specific with the villa’s position pushed north into the hillside, consequently the southern elevation is two storey, while the northern elevation is only one. Approaching from the north we meet a winding granite path, flanked by Irish Yews, leading to the original front door. This is now more of a secondary entrance, though not in terms of its Gothic revivalist charms, with lancet arches and polychromatic mosaic floors. Beyond the elaborate vaulted porch the atrium style reception hall is a soaring, floodlit space crowned by a towering pyramidal rooflight, reminding us that Glenaveena was designed to be an aristocratic dwelling house. Glenaveena has the traditional appeal of a large double fronted home, with a square footprint and pleasing symmetry. Downstairs the principal rooms flank a wide hall, certainly inviting enough to linger in with its generous proportions, warm light and sea view. On one side the various servant’s kitchens have been replaced with one large comfortable kitchen suite, comprised of two south facing rooms with mesmerising bay views and access to the terrace. The business end has stylish, traditional cabinetry and fenestration while the courtyard space is a lofty double height space with 4m high steel windows, a quirky mezzanine and kitchen bar. This area is presented with sofa seating but for entertaining at scale could just as easily accommodate a large dining table. On the other side of the hall is a large, sunny living room with huge bay window, access to the garden and that same affecting sea view. The third reception room is equally spacious, and faces east; it is a perfect evening room for music or reading, with gothic fireplace and a cosy intimate atmosphere. Elsewhere a stylish laundry/boot room opens onto the courtyard and to the 50 foot long cellar, with wine cave, which occupies the space between the house and the hill. A tidy office and pretty guest loo complete the downstairs accommodation. Upstairs, the four ensuite bedrooms occupy the corners of the house, two of them dual aspect with uncompromising vistas. Beds are arranged hotel style against low dividing walls, to directly face the windows making the sweeping seascape below feel even more up close and compelling. All the Villa’s fine rooms have been left intact, retaining their lovely Victorian doors, all have an airy volume to them with signature vaulted ceilings. Both masters enjoy opulent marble bathrooms with indulgent space to include freestanding baths, double basins and oversized, walk in showers, while one faces South and has a strategically placed nickel bateau for bathing in the view, so to speak. The two other ensuites are no less considered, one with an intricate mosaic scheme, while the other, with arched doorway and cute venetian, gothic window, (easily the most exquisite original feature in the house) is tricked out with deco inspired polished stone. The all white interiors are stylish but informal, with an emphasis on texture and conservation. Edwardian parquet and Glenaveena’s original spruce floorboards have been redeployed throughout the house with a fashionable pale finish. The standard of modernisation works to Glenaveena is high, with up to the minute air to water heat pump and zoned underfloor heating systems, as well as the familiar reassurance of Victorian, cast iron radiators in the halls. Though always a comfortable home, the house can now boast a respectable B3 energy rating. As lovely as the house is, there can be no competition with the extraordinary semi- natural landscape that surrounds it. Glenaveena’s name derives from Glen of the Fianna, as in mythology this sheltered area of Doldrum bay was frequented by none other than Finn Mac cool and his band. The origin of this legend may simply be the mystical atmosphere of this place with its aesthetic overload of sea, land and sky. The panoramic, “swerve of shore to bend of bay” transports the viewer from Wicklow head, over Sugar Loafs, great and little, to the candy striped chimneys of the Pigeon house. An ever changing scene of weather fronts, wildlife and the hypnotic dynamics of the shipping channel. The Glenaveena sunrise hits land on the sandstone rock of Earl’s cliff creating a russet glow that vividly contrasts with the verdant flora above and aqua marine waters below. Ever busy pilots zip in and out of port all day and after dark the ferries twinkle out into the Irish sea. The lands here, being part of Howth’s maritime cliff formations, are a combination of sloping, natural heath and cultivated terraces. In every direction and in every season the gardens are bewitching. On the periphery scented gorse crests the horizon, Primroses and Bluebells carpet in spring and by summer architectural artichokes adorn the sunny slopes. The house’s southerly aspect overlooks stepped lawns leading down to the famous Cliff path and the water beyond. Looking west from the house, a large hobby area includes a hedge bound vegetable garden, ornamental flower beds and a Sycamore grove, riotously underplanted with woodland natives. Through a bespoke willow gate is a wildflower meadow and two monumental viewing benches, placed in command of the immediate coastal scene and in particular a nearby pair of jagged sea stumps called the needles. Be prepared to share this clifftop domain with a beguiling fox and numerous pheasants, permanent wild residents who despite being natural foes occupy the gardens proprietorially. Glenaveena’s position is extremely favourable, protected from the north by Howth Hill and gently tilting south toward the sun. The neighbouring garden is the internationally renowned Earl’s cliff, which is famous for its collection of subtropical plants, evidence of the extraordinary micro climate at this part of the peninsula. Such advantageous conditions can be enjoyed by Glenaveena’s fortunate human inhabitants on the extensive terrace, designed to accommodate alfresco revelling in an intoxicating coastal scene. It's easy to see how this magical place became the subject of ancient myth and how this coastline of “proud promontories“ has inspired every generation since including Ireland's legendary creative giants. It's also easy to understand its current prestige, being part of a golden circle of seaside properties in the highly exclusive environs of the Baily. However, Glenaveena offers far more than the mere status of being front row. Impossible not to commune with its wildness, even as an armchair observer, this location affords its occupants an everyday immersion in the natural realm of Dublin bay. Events important and mundane all unfold before this extraordinary backdrop and life is automatically enhanced by its timeless, elemental power. The Howth peninsula is only 14 km from the city centre but despite this it retains much of the appeal of a rural seaside resort, with enchanting heritage sites, fabulous beaches and a picturesque fishing harbour. It is however most renowned for its natural beauty and protected landscapes with many scenic routes and walking trails criss crossing the upland heath and rugged coastline. Though Howth is undoubtedly the place for outdoor pursuits, more sedate pleasures are also well catered for in the vibrant village scene of pubs, eateries and shops.
MAP & DIRECTIONS
Contact name: Gallagher Quigley
Phone: 01 818 3000
Fax: 01 854 0026
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