A Blackrock gem overtaken by time for €3m
The grounds around this grand house, Lios an Uisce, have been compromised by a road, new-build and the Dart but it still offers rich rewards
Once one of Blackrock’s grandest houses, time and progress have colluded to consign Lios an Uisce to a footnote in the suburb’s history. Thousands of commuters pass its door every day, but it goes largely unnoticed tucked away on an elevated site behind high walls and pillared gates just beside the entrance to Blackrock Park at the end of the Rock Road.
The house which now stands on a little more than an acre, dates from the 1700s when Lady Arbella Denny (granddaughter of the famous Irish land surveyor Sir William Petty) lived there for many years.
A renowned philanthropist, who was ahead of her time, she added the two fashionable bow-end extensions for her main receptions and bedrooms.
Originally known as Peafield Cliff, Lios an Uisce with its copper-trimmed roof was named Lisaniskea from 1828 to 1935. A brief history of the house, written by Mary Pat O’Malley in 1981, records that it has seen about 20 owners, not to mention tenants including, at one point, Kevin O’Higgins, vice-president and first minister for justice of the new Irish State, in the 1920s.
The erosion of Lios an Uisce’s once imposing footprint began when the railway (now the Dart line) was built, and the house lost its uninterrupted sea frontage.
Today, looking across the front lawn to the sea, the occasional Dart sweeping by in the distance enhances this Dublin scene. At the end of the garden, a straight drop falls into the public park below, close to the playground and the bandstand.
A ring of rooms
The house shares its entrance with the very contemporary architect-built home of the former resident of Lios an Uisce, Niall Higgins. He is the last member of the Higgins family to have lived at Lios an Uisce ending the family’s tenure there, for over 70 years from 1935. This home was built in the former orchard – another inroad into the house’s original lands.
There are some impressive trees on the property including ilix trees planted by Princess Dashkov of Russia, a friend of Catherine the Great, who spent Christmas with Lady Arbella in 1779, and another tall oak to the front of the house. On the left is the high stone wall separating Lios an Uisce from the unrelenting traffic of the Rock Road, a final reminder of the gradual erosion of this house’s once expansive grounds.
To the right is the lawn, formerly the tennis court, and those views. Bounding the garden are carefully planted and tended mature trees and hedging. The house is now for sale for €3 million through joint agents McNally Handy and MFO Property Professionals. In 2004 Lios an Uisce was briefly on sale asking €8.5 million.
The interior layout is highly irregular and would certainly frustrate lovers of clean lines and open spaces. Extending to 516sq m ((5,554sq ft) over two storeys and a basement, the main body of the house has been laid out in a concentric arrangement of rooms. The outer ring of the ground floor begins with the rotunda hallway. Here, there are fine ceiling cornices and timber architraves framing impressive mahogany panel doors either side of the curved shallow staircase. To the right is a bow-shaped dining room, with tall sash windows, two of which look out to the sea. The sills double as comfortable window seats and the room is dominated by a black Kilkenny marble fireplace.
On the first floor, directly above, is a carbon copy of this room, the original drawing room, with an unusual domed ceiling and a Georgian marble fireplace. The current tenants – an American family – use it as a main bedroom, albeit with spectacular views and a baby grand piano standing casually in the corner.
Back downstairs, the dining room leads into a small breakfast room, which in turn leads into a small awkwardly shaped living room that is unremarkable in every way, apart from the fireplace that dominates it.
In 2006, following an auction of the contents, this rare Georgian Bossi chimneypiece sold for €110,000 but was never collected because Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council intervened to halt its removal, citing it as an essential feature of a protected structure.
Off the breakfastroom on the other side is the more recently added kitchen, leading into a good sized utility and a further double garage. A buyer might consider converting this space into a large contemporary living/dining area.
At basement level a large area with exposed pipes and a concrete floor denote a “party room” that needs a revamp. Off it, through patio doors, exposed arched brick shelves reveal the original wine cellar creating an unusual patio feature.
The first floor and its return is arranged as a warren of five vastly different and unusually shaped bedrooms and two bathrooms. The original master bedroom has a dated dressing room and en suite. A highlight is the most unusual pair of original concave doors on the first floor return and elsewhere a frieze randomly appointed on an inner hallway wall.
At the end of the front lawn in Lady Denny’s former greenhouse study or “chapel”, as she called it, is a long stone pavilion refurbished as a mews. It includes a small kitchen, bathroom and an open-plan sleeping/living space with amazing views towards Howth at the end.
Lios an Uisce is not the house it once was, but its deeply interesting history is palpable everywhere. The remaining original features are spectacular. Only a madman or a restoration zealot could take it on, but they will be richly rewarded.