Thursday, 8 March 2018

In search of another
former family home on
the seafront in Bray

Seanchara House, once known as Tullira, in Wavecrest Terrace on Strand Road, Bray, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I have been in Dublin today for a hospital appointment in Saint Vincent’s University Hospital. It had been a long journey to Dublin on Tuesday through parts of the country that were still covered in snow after suffering the full impact and onslaught of the ‘Beast from the East’ and ‘Storm Emma.’ So two of us seized the opportunity for a walk on the beach in Bray, Co Wicklow, yesterday afternoon [7 March 2018].

The skies had cleared in Bray, and there were mere traces of snow on Bray Head as we went for a walk along the Promenade before going for a late lunch in Carpe Diem.

But it also seemed appropriate to go in search of a long-forgotten family home in Bray, that I had known about but did not know where to find.

I knew that when they married a month after the end of World War II in 1945, my parents had lived briefly on Putland Road, Bray, and before she died I had brought my mother to see the house.

Later, I also learned through another cousin that one of my mother’s cousins in the Crowley family had owned Shanganagh Castle, near Bray, for a brief period in the mid-20th century.

But I also knew that my mother had a cousin, Mary (Crowley) McSwiney (1913-1993), who had run a boutique hotel on the seafront in Bray in the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps even later, with her husband, John Gerard McSwiney (1913-1960).

As far as I can remember, I had never visited them there, and I had no personnel recollections of being in the house. They were known to me Aunt Mary and Uncle John, although he had died when I was quite young, and I think she may have moved to Templeogue shortly after. I remember later she was a teacher in Our Lady’s School in Templeogue.

Her father, Jeremiah Crowley of Wallstown Castle, Castletownroche, Co Cork, was a brother of my grandmother, Maria (Crowley) Murphy (1882-1957) of Millstreet, Co Cork.

Mary and John McSwiney were the parents of four sons, and I knew them in my teens. Jeremy, who later lived in Rathfarnham close to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute when I was working there, had been back in contact with me before he died ten 10 years ago in 2008, as we shared our experiences and work in the area of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

The former Tullira and Wavecrest Terrace in Bray, Co Wicklow, including the former Rath-na-Seer Hotel (centre) and the former Grand Hotel (right) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

But my memories were too patchy to rely on, and so before yesterday’s visit to Bray, I looked up some old editions of Thom’s Directory, and found the family had lived at a house called Tullira on Wavecrest Terrace on Strand Road in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, few of the Victorian and Edwardian terraces along the Promenade in Bray retain their original names, although the names of Martello Terrace, Royal Marine Terrace, Fitzwilliam Terrace and Brennan’s Terrace survive to a greater or lesser degree.

In the old directories half a century or more ago, Tullira was listed as being in the same block as the Rath-na-Seer Hotel and the Grand Hotel, but neither of these names survive today, and it was an interesting task to pace out the former names of houses and terraces along Strand Road given in the directories so I could determine exactly which house had once been known as Tullira.

In recent decades, Tullira had been known as Seanchara House. The house was sold in recent months by Sherry Fitzgerald after being on the market with an asking price of almost €1.4 million.

Before it went on the market, it had been a family home for the previous 35 years. At different times, family members had run it as a guesthouse, a restaurant and most recently they had rented out the basement as a Montessori school.

The house is a handsome seafront villa and is still in excellent condition. Its single-storey design adds much variety to the promenade, providing a contrast with the adjacent tall houses.

This detached, three-bay, single-storey over basement house was built around 1860. The building is finished in render and the east front is framed by moulded pilasters. A short flight of steps rises to the uPVC replacement front door. This door has a plain fanlight and is flanked by panelled pilasters with console brackets which support a projecting cornice. The door is set on a slightly projecting bay with split pediment.

The windows are flat-headed with uPVC replacement frames and shouldered moulded surrounds. There is a decorative blocking course.

The hipped roof is finished with artificial slate and uPVC rainwater goods. The tall rendered chimney-stacks have corbelling and uniform clay pots.

The building is set in a garden that runs to about one third of an acre. It faces the road and the seafront, directly opposite the bandstand, and is set on a slight rise behind a low rendered wall with square gate pillars with pyramidal caps and wrought-iron gates. The gardens back on to a high redbrick wall next to the railway line.

The estate agents’ description when it was on the market said the principal rooms are elegant, with high ceilings, ornate plasterwork and fine fireplaces. Many handsome period features remain intact, including decorative plasterwork and centre roses in high ceilings, marble fireplaces, and a stained-glass window in an arch in the front hall.

The former Rath-na-Seer Hotel is now Jim Doyle’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The former Rath-na-Seer Hotel is now Jim Doyle’s, a popular pub and restaurant on the seafront. This was built around 1900 in the Jacobean style as a detached, two-bay, three-storey house. It is finished with render and the tall bays are built in ashlar granite.

The main entrance is located within a recent projecting single-storey, hip-roofed porch. To either side of the front east elevation is a three-storey canted bay with a copper clad domed roof. Each bay sits on a three-storey bay with a Jacobean gable.

The window openings are flat-headed with one-over-one timber sash frames. The hipped roof is finished with natural slate. The building is set back behind a low rendered wall, and the former front garden is now used as a beer garden.

This flamboyant Edwardian free-style design is well preserved and in good condition. Although the building was much altered in the later 20th century, it remains a good example of a house that has been converted to commercial use.

The former Grand Hotel at 1-2 Wavecrest Terrace is now known as the Porter House. This detached, four-bay, three-storey building dates from about 1860. It was originally built as two semi-detached houses, and they share many stylistic features with the house once known as Tullira.

The building is finished in render with a pedimented parapet and it is framed with giant order pilasters. The original front door is now replaced by a more-recent projecting, single-storey, flat-roofed porch that sits in front of a slightly projecting gabled bay.

The window openings are flat-headed with replacement uPVC frames. The openings are dressed with moulded surrounds, and some have blocking courses with projecting cornices. The roof is finished with natural slate and has cast-iron rainwater goods.

Like Jim Doyle’s, the former front garden is now used as a beer garden. Although the two original houses have been much altered in the later 20th century, this building is another good example of a house that has been converted to commercial use. It is well preserved and in good condition and its character and detailing add much to the rhythm of Bray’s mainly Victorian promenade.

The former Grand Hotel is now the Porter House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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