East coast version of Santa Barbara has a tennis club over the hedge

WARM salty air, pioneer outposts, gigantic surf and mesmerizing sunsets are all part of the spectacular drive along California’s rugged and expansive coastline, via the Pacific Highway, which links to an array of exotic-sounding towns. They include Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, two towns, 65 miles apart in the Golden State, but also the names of two neighboring homes in the port town of Cobh.

It’s conceivable that the two Cobh homes were christened by someone who had worked in the shipping industry, given the town’s historic links with the likes of the Cunard and White Star Lines. Maybe they had made it to the US’s West Coast and, savoring fond memories of the place, brought those names back home.

The current owners can’t say for sure as they inherited the Santa Barbara name when the family bought the century-old, semi-d in Norwood Grove in 1979. One of them recalls her late father, who worked for a time for Cunard, telling her that timber used in the construction of their home came from a ship of the same name.

Wherever the name came from, it is certain the current owners loved living there, since first moving in more than 40 years ago.

The kids particularly liked the very long rear garden that backs right onto Rushbrooke Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, both the oldest tennis club and oldest croquet club in Ireland.

Rushbrooke Tennis Club on Finals Day in 1934
Rushbrooke Tennis Club on Finals Day in 1934

“There was me, my brother and my sister and I just remember the camps we used to make at the bottom of the garden and the treehouse we had and the fun we had with balls coming through from the tennis club, which is literally over the hedge,” says Carragh O’Flynn Cole, who moved there from Grenagh with her parents, Liam and Jeanne O’Flynn, when she was just seven-years-old.

She recalls making a hole in the hedge through to the tennis club with her siblings and their sense of adventure when climbing in and out of the grounds illicitly. She remembers too her Dad always tinkering with a boat in the garden, where there is room to park up much more than one boat.

Rear garden at Santa Barbara
Rear garden at Santa Barbara

“I remember that Dad always had a boat in the garden, he was always fixing it up, although I don’t think it ever made it to the water,” Carragh laughs.

Her Dad was Cobh through-and-through, born and bred on Hawthorne Terrace, behind Cobh Cathedral, playing soccer with Cobh Ramblers, who last night rounded off their 100th anniversary celebrations by inducting three Ramblers’ legends into their Hall of Fame, foremost among them them, Roy Keane.

Both of Carragh’s parents were keen card-players (Jeanne passed away earlier this year) and she recalls terrific card games in their open plan kitchen/dining/living room. It’s an unusual room, with the galley-style kitchen overlooking the back garden, and the long dining/living room up a step from the kitchen, with an open fireplace at the far end of the room.

Further down the hallway, is a separate living room, where Carragh recalls her father spending Sunday evenings listening to opera.

It was used by the kids in their teens as a den, behind the main living area.

At the far end of the hall is a bathroom, where the kitchen once was. A back door leads from this area to the driveway which runs along the considerable length of the front garden.

All told, auctioneer Johanna Murphy of Johanna Murphy and Sons, recons the site measures about one third of an acre. Ms Murphy is set to make her TV debut next Monday on new RTÉ series Selling Ireland’s Dream Homes, fulfilling one of her own dreams to make the transition from social media to mainstream media.

Johanna Murphy auctioneer, is set to make her TV debut in new RTÉ series, Selling Ireland's Dream Homes.
Johanna Murphy auctioneer, is set to make her TV debut in new RTÉ series, Selling Ireland’s Dream Homes.

Back at Santa Barbara, she points out that Bunscoil Rinn at Chabhlaigh, (Rushbrooke Primary School) a state-of-the-art facility, is directly across the road from the drive.

Carragh says the school bears no resemblance to what it looked like during her childhood when the area was more rural.

“It was a small school then and there was a potato field across the road from our house. The new school only opened 10 years ago and it’s the newest in Cobh and has the biggest SNA [special needs assistant] section,” she says.

If a family with primary-age kids buys Santa Barbara, they need not worry about a commute. They will also have great space for the children to play given the garden size, which is pretty much enclosed at the rear. They will also have very easy access to the tennis club.

Indoors at Santa Barbara will need some upgrades. A deck off the kitchen could be moved to make way for an extension outwards, further into that generous rear garden, to create a more workable kitchen space. The rear of the house, leading to the front garden could be opened up more as well – there’s plenty of scope to do so.

Upstairs there are three double bedrooms and a bathroom but the pitch of the roof is such that Ms Murphy recons it’s tall enough to make a three-storey home (there is a floored attic).

“The pitch is high so a full conversion is absolutely possible,” she says.

The harbor can be seen over the tops of trees from one of the bedrooms, but Ms Murphy says the view could be further improved by topping the trees at the bottom of the garden “which are on [the property]”.

She describes Santa Barbara, which she is guiding at €495,000, as house with “a lovely feel, full of character” which is reflected in its unusual design – the front door of the house is on what you might expect to be the gable end wall, which has the triangular appearance of a Swiss chalet.

Ms Murphy says it has been and can continue to be a lovely family home “surrounded by fields back in the day, but now in the midst of a community, with the school across the road, and Ellen’s Kitchen [coffee shop] down the road and the tennis club and train station all within walking distance”.

VERDICT: A quirky home on a terrific site in an excellent location. Will require modernization.

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