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This historic Cork mansion was the scene of a kidnapping, and it's now at risk

The house has a private owner who lives in the USA.

historygallery3 Source: Vernon Mount Park

A HISTORIC IRISH mansion is to have its roof restored – but campaigners say that they fear it is being “left to rot”.

Vernon Mount in Douglas, Cork, is a grand building that has fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years. It has an intriguing history and local campaigners believe that time is of the essence when it comes to saving the building from ruin.

The kidnapping connection

vernon mt 3 Source: Cork Past & Present/Cork City Library

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

Henry Brown became a notorious figure after he was said to have kidnapped a local heiress, Mary Pike, in July 1797, bringing her to Vernon Mount for a fake marriage. Thankfully, she eventually managed to raise the alarm about the ordeal.

Sir Henry became an outlaw for two years, but eventually surrendered himself. 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 and returning to Europe. He is buried in Christchurch in Cork.

After going through a number of owners after the Brown family, Vernon Mount was sold by Cork and Munster Motorcycle and Car Club to a private owner, who is based in California, in 1997.

The owner - VM Development Co Ltd – had applied for planning permission to develop the house and its grounds, but the permission was not granted by Cork County Council.

Fears over its condition

condition-top-right Source: Ger Lehane

Ger Lehane of the Grange Frankfield Partnership, which runs the Vernon Mount Park website and series of bi-annual lectures, told TheJournal.ie that he fears the mansion is being left “to rot”.

The Irish Georgian Society had nominated the building for the monuments in danger list in 2007.

Two weeks ago, €22,500 in funding for conservation works at Vernon Mount was approved by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Minister Heather Humphreys.

At the time, Cork TD Jerry Buttimer said:

Mount Vernon House is an historic structure and prominent land mark which is visible across the city. Over the years it has fallen into a state of disrepair.

He said the funding recognises the merits of proposals put forward by groups such as the Grange Frankfield Partnership.

Lehane said that in November 2012, Cork County Council re-roofed three quarters of Vernon Mount. The remaining quarter seemed to be in very good condition, he said, but “with the big storm we had last February there was considerable damage done to the part that had not been re-roofed”.

He said there is “considerable conservation work to be done” that could cost into the millions to restore the house to its former glory.

The house is a protected building, built in the 1790s in Douglas, which is in the south-east of Cork city. The formerly rural lands surrounding the big house and its demesne are now home to many busy housing estates in the Shamrock Lawn, Oakview, Frankfield and Grange areas.

Below the demesne is a busy national road.

The site has been used for Moto Cross sports, which has had an impact on the woodland areas surrounding it.

vernon mount ger lehane Source: Ger Lehane

The campaigners are concerned because they don’t know the condition of the house inside. Lehane said they fear that because of holes in the roof, damage has been done to the building.

“What we are hoping is that some dialogue can be opened up with the owner to see if the place can be saved before it goes beyond saving,” said Lehane.

“Please respect our heritage”

A “neo-classical gem”

vernon mt 1 Source: Cork Past & Present/Cork City Library

Donough Cahill, the executive director of the Irish Georgian Society (IGS), said that the house has been on the society’s radar “for a very long time indeed”.

He described it as a “neo-classical gem” which has very interesting and important interiors, including paintings on the ceilings by Nathaniel Grogan.

The IGS are concerned about the impact that water would have on the building, and that the rainwater could lead to damp, which could in turn lead to decay.

Cahill praised the community effort being taken to restore the building and have the grounds put to use to benefit people in the area.

What can be done?

“The frustration with a building like this is there’s legislation in place for [its] protection,” said Cahill. “It’s a building of architectural interest.”

He said that from IGS’s point of view “it’s so very sad to see a building of this interest being left deteriorate when there’s legislation in place” that’s designed to protect it.

He said that one step available to the council would be the compulsory purchase of the house, but that this type of approach had led to long legal proceedings with houses on Dublin’s Henrietta St.

From a design point of view, Cahill said the house is remarkable and has been described as a “study in curves” due to its arches on the windows, large fanlight above the entrance door, curved cantilevered staircase, and upstairs rotunda with columns that is topped by a domed ceiling light.

“A great deal of thought has gone into the construction and execution of the building.”

vernon mt 2 Source: Cork Past and Present?Cork City Libraries

He was in the building around six years ago. What was its condition like? “Surprisingly, even though there was a hole in the roof and gutters were broken, the water damage wasn’t as extensive as one would expect it to be”.

However, he is not sure what condition it is in today.

He said that it is good to see money is being spent on the building, but this doesn’t address the fact building is very much at risk and it has been at risk for at least 10 years.

He said that there is an aspiration among the Grange Frankfield Partnership for the house to be brought into public ownership, and that there are models for this in Dublin, including Malahide Castle and Marley Park.

“There is a potential for Vernon Mount to be acquired and amenities to be provided,
for the house to be stabilised in the short term, and for its restoration to take place in the long term,” said Cahill.

Read: Hidden adventures and explorations of Dublin>

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