On Balscadden’s picturesque cliff road, which winds steeply up from Howth Harbour, stands the enigmatic Regency mansion known as Tara Hall. It is perhaps the most iconic house on Howth’s northern slopes and surely its most dramatically positioned, perched above a stretch of vertiginous, craggy shoreline.
Tara Hall is a grand, three storey residence of 5,900 square feet, with a staggering, 300 meter- long cliff top garden of sloped lawns and terraces. This aspirational dwelling is one of Howth’s romantic landmarks, with its smartly painted facades and decorative window shutters. It’s occupants enjoy some of the most enviable, panoramic vistas the peninsula has to offer. From the property the view North is at once intimate and boundless, with the diminutive island profile of Ireland’s eye in the foreground and the slumbering mass of Lambay beyond. In the distance an epic coastline diminishes away to the triangular silhouettes of the mountains of Mourne. To the West the coastal view is defined by North Dublin’s golden chain of estuaries and strands. Closer the immutable, granite bulwark of Howth’s East pier projects defensively from the sheltered cove of Balscadden bay, behind which the bustling fishing harbour and marina issue a daily pageant of colourful trawlers and leisure craft. Looking- East, a serene, open vista across the Irish Sea and to the South a beautiful hill scene, the heath dusted outcrop of Kilrock rising up dramatically, marking the end of Howth’s famous cliff path.
The architecture of Tara Hall exemplifies “refined elegance”, said to be the guiding aesthetic of the Regency style. Its form is that of a perfectly balanced, double fronted villa with wonderful projecting bays aligned symmetrically, North and South. The upper house has six large window openings on each of its four facades, neatly stacked three over three, providing a 180- degree panorama of sea and sky from the eight corner rooms. Below the main rooms of the lower storey also have bright pleasant aspects with many more large windows at garden level.
Inside, the study in symmetry continues with a fine lantern style entrance porch illuminating an opulent central hall, off which the principal receptions are arrayed either side. On the East side a grand interconnecting drawing and dining room is Tara Hall’s showstopper space. Together these rooms form a capacious entertainment suite with a startling triple aspect, resulting in fabulous light throughout the day and mesmerising vistas. High ceilings, elaborately adorned with pristine stucco work, a monumental, marble chimneypiece and elegant french doors accessing an expansive elevated terrace over the sea boundary, complete this glamorous scene, a little taste of Amalfi on the Howth peninsula.
The Eastern rooms comprise a generous sunlit kitchen and an elegant reception, rich with period detailing a stone fireplace and arresting views over the islands. These two rooms are currently connected by a single doorway , however were they to be made enfilade, they would become an extravagant kitchen family room, to rival the more formal suite across the hall. Behind the stairwell is another wonderfully festive room, currently home to a cute bar, it has a dominating bay window, which again captures the bewitching interplay of land and sea.
An impressive mahogany staircase brings us to the first floor, like the 19th century fenestration, joinery and plasterwork throughout the house, it is very fine and in pristine condition. The expansive, elegant landing has a certain atrium feel to it, top lit by an exquisite Regency roof light, a polychromatic dome of stained glass which filters coloured light, subtly affecting the atmosphere here. The four main bedrooms occupy the four corners of the building, all with dual aspect and extraordinary sea views in two directions. These beautiful airy bedrooms which all retain their lovely 200 year- old doors and sash windows, are currently served by four en-suites. There is one further bedroom occupying the upper floor of the Northern bay, this gorgeous panoramic room has dual access, from the landing and the master bed on the Western side and could become a highly covetable master en-suite / dressing area.
The garden level has a large, welcoming living room with high ceilings, a big open fireplace and two period windows overlooking the garden. This room has an adjoining wc/showeroom. There is also a wide hall and two good, wel-l lit bedrooms. On the seaward side a modern extension houses one further bedroom and reception, both with large picture windows. The rangey cellars, burrowed out from the rock, have a myriad of spaces ready for a chic, utilitarian upgrade, no doubt formerly stores, scullery, pantry etc. The garden level is of course not as heavily ornamented as the piano nobile floor and therefore could quite readily be sensitively reconfigured to provide more en-suite bedrooms or reception areas, as required.
Outside the beautifully stark lawns and terraces flanking the house are totally encircled by an elegant ribbon of antique walls. Every now and then the mellow Howth stone arches up to incorporate a whimsical lancet window opening, creating the romantic air of a medieval, cliff top fortress. Peer over the jaunty coping stones and there is a sheer drop to the rocks below. From this intimate vantage point the elemental beauty of the sea shore is immediately immersive, a tidal, other world, enlivened by small colonies of sea birds. Along the main boundary there is a gate leading to a discreet walled enclosure occupying the top of a rocky outcrop, a curious grassy plateau, like a lobby onto the cliffs. Further along an old granite staircase beckons one down to an intriguing folly structure, perched thrillingly close to the high tide on another vertical sea crag.
The cliff top gardens, though ethereal and dramatic as they are, clearly offer the keen designer a green canvas with an extraordinarily picturesque backdrop of characterful old masonry and engulfing seascape. Howth has a notable micro climate and Tara Hall’s south facing terraces have abundant potential for lush coastal planting schemes, hedged ‘green rooms’ for hobby cultivation and secluded sun traps.
Balscadden has always been a much- favoured nook in the Howth coastline and despite its proximity to the historic village, with its charming nexus of narrow roads and stepped passageways, it has its own distinctive sense of place. In Irish the name means the town of the Herrings and its jagged sea crags are still frequented by the more intrepid angler. The relative shelter of the bay has made its sandy beach a traditional bathing destination from Victorian times and that seaside holiday atmosphere still pays a visit in good weather. From Balscadden the Islands loom large, their individual rock formations become familiar and the sight of the tiny summer ferry is one of many seasonal highlights. A sense of Howth’s long history is particularly strong here too, Viking place names, early Christian ruins, time worn maritime architecture and a number of romantic literary associations, all add to Balscadden’s allure.
Tara hall is emblematic of this part of Howth, one of those rare and precious houses , which is not just located in a beautiful place but is actually part of the character of that place. It is hard to imagine living in a house more special, or in a situation more compelling.
“The hill of Howth for health and heather” is as apt today as it was 100 years ago when it was coined to describe the peninsula’s singular natural beauty and outdoor amenity. Many scenic routes and walking trails criss cross the spectacular upland heath and rugged coastline. Though the peninsula is undoubtedly the place for every manner of outdoor pursuit, more sedate pleasures are also well catered for in the vibrant village scene of pubs, eateries and shops. The cosy charms of Howth’s pretty fishing village and the raw beauty of its wild places makes for an irresistible combination only 9 miles from the city centre.