Inside Ireland's most expensive house
. . . you’ll find ripped out fireplaces, bare walls and stripped floors. Bought for €58m in 2005, Walford is now for sale for €15m – but it needs a total refurb. says FRANK McDONALD
FOR A house that’s famous as a symbol of a property market gone mad – and which fetched the record Irish price of €58 million in mid-2005 – Walford has surprisingly little presence on Shrewsbury Road, Dublin 4. Behind its granite garden wall, hedge and three soaring Scots pines, the Edwardian redbrick, which faces onto Old Belvedere rugby club, actually turns its back on what has always been the most expensive road in Dublin.
During the boom, high net worth individuals (as they were known) fought to pay mad money for houses in Shrewsbury Road, in some cases pulling them down to make way for new Edwardian-style mansions with several bathrooms and sleek modern kitchens.
Walford beat them all as the most over-priced house in Ireland.
It was the cachet of Shrewsbury Road, and particularly the development potential of Walford, on 1.8 acres, that drove the price over the €35 million guide back in 2005, with its then agent describing it as “the finest house to come on the market” in years.
Because it was conveyed to a trust called Matsack Nominees Ltd, the identity of the purchasers has never been revealed. But it is known that the beneficial owner is Gayle Killilea, wife of the one-time “Baron of Ballsbridge” Seán Dunne, who was in the process of accumulating the Jurys/Berkeley Court hotels site at the time.
Asked to confirm that Dunne and/or Killilea were the vendors, Lisney director David Bewley, who is jointly handling the sale of Walford with Savills, said their “instructions came from Matsack Nominees Ltd”, via a firm of quantity surveyors. “To be perfectly honest, we are light on detail,” he told The Irish Times.
It is being offered for sale by tender on October 27th with a guide price of €15 million – “just shy of 75 per cent below what it made six years ago,” as Iris Keating of Savills noted.
“The tender route will suit a lot of buyers because it’s more discreet. And at the end of the day, it’s Shrewsbury Road – and this is the biggest plot on it.”
Built in 1902, the Tudor-style Edwardian house was occupied by the same family, the Duggans, for 50 years prior to its spectacular sale in mid-2005. A brochure from that time shows that it was elegantly furnished and had two 18th-century marble fireplaces in the main reception rooms.
But the fireplaces were taken by thieves while Walford stood vacant for the past six years and there isn’t a stick of furniture in the house now. Black-and-white marble-effect linoleum in the entrance hall has gone too, leaving just the concrete floor, and all of the rooms have bare wooden floors and stripped walls; this is Bleak House.
The large rear garden is so devoid of planting that it looks like a ploughed field, fringed by some new trees planted on its southern boundary. Planning permission was granted for a pair of detached houses in the extensive grounds, but this has lapsed.
Inside, there is evidence of renovation works – rewiring, new radiators (but not a central heating boiler) as well as plumbing and tiling for four bathrooms.
This may have been done after the permission was refused to replace Walford with a new detached three-storey-over-basement seven-bedroom house.
It is one of the unfortunate features of Tudor-style houses with too many stone mullions and not enough glass that they are not exactly filled with natural light.
That’s partly true of this house, especially so on its east-facing sude, although the west-facing reception rooms and main bedrooms above are a lot brighter.
There is a distinct lack of grandeur about Walford. The two main reception rooms are L-shaped, plasterwork is minimal and the principal staircase (with a pink-painted cloakroom below it) is also underwhelming. There is a plainer secondary staircase leading from the dark kitchen to the servants’ quarters.
The house appears to have been extended not long after it was built to provide a library and more bedrooms: it mainly contains rather pokey rooms, with bits of stairs running this way and that at different levels.
The conservatory on the southern side is in decay. On the northern side, a blank brick wall adds to the darkness of rooms in the extension. However, the west-facing side of the house has three sets of French doors, one opening onto a balcony overlooking the garden and Old Belvedere.
As a house, Walford was never worth anything like the €58 million shelled out for it in 2005 and even with its Monopoly board premium address, it may not make €15 million in the current climate.
But there might be someone out there who can see more potential in it than I did.
Also for sale on Shrewsbury
THERE are four other houses on the open market on Shrewsbuiry Road: Thorndene, owned by businessman and star of Dragon’s Den Niall O’Farrell, is a modern seven-bedroom house built in a Victorian style that came on the market in 2009 with an optimistic price tag of €14 million. It is now for sale at €8 million through Colliers International.
Designed by the late architect Sam Stephenson, has a 50ft swimming pool, steam room, shower room, gym, cinema, bar and wine cellar and measures an impressive 864sq m (9,300sq ft).
Meanwhile, the house next door, Woodside, in which the offices of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland are located, is also on the market through Colliers International at €8 million.
At around 836sq m (9,000sq ft) and on 0.8 of an acre, the agent says it could easily be converted back to residential use. Colliers International says both houses have attracted bids from embassies and wealthy buyers.
At the corner of Shrewsbury Road and Merrion Road, numbers 1 and 3 Shrewsbury Road, owned by financier Derek Quinlan, are on the market through Sherry FitzGerald for €7.5 million. Quinlan bought them at the height of the boom for €27 million and got permission to convert them into a 1,236sq m (13,300sq ft) detached mansion but didn’t go ahead.
The two five-bed houses stand on one acre and need renovating. Number 1 is 358sq m (3,855 sq ft) and Number 3 is 325sq m (3,500 sq ft).
Sean Dunne has rented 20A Shrewsbury Road to the South African embassy while Paddy Kelly has let his home Clonmore to the Chinese Embassy for use as a residence for its officials.
Earlier this year Sherry FitzGerald got around €7 million for Derrymore at 6 Shrewsbury Road, owned by financier Derek Quinlan. He bought the five-bed 465sq m (5,000sq ft) Edwardian semi, with swimming pool, in the mid-1990s for around £1.5 million (€1.9 million). It has a double drawingroom with steps down to a grand diningroom with wall panelling by Queen Elizabeth’s nephew, Viscount Linley, and a 150ft back garden