Fire services work through the night to extinguish major blaze at listed house
The gutting of a large 18th century villa in Cork by an overnight fire has been described as "an enormous cultural loss” to the county.
The blaze also destroyed a large section of the roof at Vernon Mount, which lies just south of Cork city.
Fire services worked through the night to extinguish the fire after being called to the scene at 9.40pm. Gardaí are treating the incident as suspicious.
Vernon Mount was built circa 1790 by Sir Henry Brown Hayes, the son of a wealthy merchant, who named it after George Washington’s Mount Vernon residence in Virginia.
The listed house, which is currently unoccupied, has sweeping views of the lower Lee valley from its elevated site at Curraghconway.
Its condition has deteriorated since the mid-20th century due to wood rot, roof damage and vandalism, according to Cork Past and Present, an online service of Cork City Libraries.
After passing through several owners, the property was bought by the Munster Motorcycle and Car Club in 1959.
In 2007, it was sold to a company led by California-based entrepreneur Jonathan Moss, which subsequently failed to secure planning permission for a hotel.
The villa was placed on the World Monuments Fund's list of the 100 most endangered sites in 2008.
Roof repairs were carried out by the Cork County Council in 2012 with funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
A briefing on the fund's website describes Vernon Mount as "arguably the finest example of [a neoclassic suburban villa] to survive in the country, where politically motivated destruction of country house was once commonplace".
'Failure of Irish planning legislation'
An Taisce said it had written to the site's owner in the last month to request that it be donated to Cork Country Council.
This, it said, would allow the local authority to protect the house from further deterioration and allow the surrounding grounds to become a public amenity.
The heritage body added that the property had been left in a "progressively neglected state" since its purchase by Mr Ross.
"The serious fire damage to Vernon Mount highlights the continuing failure of Irish planning legislation to enforce the maintenance of legally protected historic buildings," it said.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night paid tribute to Vernon Mount as "an iconic part of our childhood years".
V saddened to see the destruction of #VernonMount tonight. Enormous cultural loss to our city. An iconic part of our childhood years.— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) July 24, 2016
The scene has been preserved for a technical examination, due to take place later today.