A gifted farm, reinvented
Airfield House and Farm in Dundrum reopensnext week, after an €11 million makeover. We take a tour
Airfield House and Farm might be five minutes from the cathedral of spending that is Dundrum Town Centre, and a short spin on the Luas into heaving Dublin city, but to pass through its gates is to leave the bustle and the noise behind and enter an altogether more tranquil place. The 38-acre estate is shortly to begin a phased reopening after an investment of €11 million, with the redevelopment including a cafe, a farm centre, horticultural gardens and an upgrade of Airfield House.
On arrival in the new car park, it is the sense of peace that is first noticeable. Then the cafe, designed by architectural practice Solearth, catches the eye. The single-storey structure of wood and glass looks almost as though it could be floating on the pond beside it. It is positioned so that visitors can park, eat and leave if they wish, without ever visiting the house or farm, though that would be a pity.
Airfield House was purchased in 1894 by Dublin solicitor Trevor TL Overend. He and his wife Lily had three daughters, Letitia, Naomi and Constance (who died aged one). Their eight-acre holding grew over the years as the family purchased surrounding lands.
Letitia and Naomi were, for the most part, educated at home by a governess. They led the kinds of lives that might not seem alien to fans of Downton Abbey, though on a smaller scale, with days spent playing tennis or golf, enjoying charity fêtes and the theatre, and when they were older, travelling extensively. They volunteered during the first World War, making bandages and writing to soldiers on the front. And on the farm, their prizewinning Jersey cows were named after characters from Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
When the two sisters died, Letitia in 1974 and Naomi in 1993, they left the house and farm in trust for the public.
At times, the operation of the trust, funded by the sisters’ investments, has been controversial. A strong sense of ownership among locals meant the sale of some of the land to generate funds for redevelopment raised concerns, and the closure of Airfield to carry out the work, in October 2011, was also criticised. The building programme took longer than expected, the hot summer delayed planting and locals grew impatient to see it open again. But it’s now nearing completion and will be opened gradually from the end of the month.
Trustee John Edmunson says the redevelopment will protect and enhance the legacy and values of the Overend family “for the public good through education and recreation”.
“We see this as a neverending project, continuously evolving and improving this wonderful place so Airfield can serve the public indefinitely into the future,” he says.