Allez les bleus from the embassy belt


Resembling public service buildings circa 1979, the interior of the French embassy on Ailesbury Road doesn't quite match its grand facade

With the French poised to descend on Dublin for their Six Nations rugby encounter on March 9th, another French team is preparing to vacate 36 Ailesbury Road, Dublin 4, after 47 years there. The offices of the French embassy – the Chancery, as it is known – have gone on sale through Sherry FitzGerald, asking €5.5 million.

This compares dramatically with the €20 million sought for the two-storey house on an acre of gardens when it came to market in 2008. At that time the French ambassador’s residence across the road – a magnificent 11-bed mansion on 1.75 acres – was also on the market, with an extraordinary asking price of €60 million.

Even though clear signs of a downturn were there at the time, Denis O’Brien and Johnny Ronan were reported to have made offers for the two, while Derek Quinlan bid for the residence only.

It is estimated the residence would now fetch about €15 million. It’s academic anyway, as Simon Ensor of Sherry FitzGerald says the residence is not for sale. So why the change of heart, when five years ago both properties were on the table? It seems a complete French withdrawal from Dublin’s exclusive embassy belt did not go down so well back home and expats were concerned that the emerald in their Irish crown – the residence – would be lost forever. And so we have le compromise.

The French must be happy enough to sell off the Chancery, which stands on some of the city’s most valuable land.

Property developer Bernard McNamara’s former home on the same road, number 22, stood on a slightly smaller parcel of land and sold for €10 million in 2011, but there the comparisons end. McNamara’s home had been extensively refurbished (the dance floor, readers may recall, concealed a pool beneath). The Chancery’s handsome, ivy-clad facade with 140ft of frontage conceals an interior in need of a serious overhaul.

Les pauvres within, who amount to about 20, attend to the affairs of their state in a warren of low-ceilinged, poky rooms extending to 360sq m (3,840sq ft).

Even the consulate – the embassy’s interface with the public – resembles our public service buildings circa 1979. The ambassador’s office is accessed off the small front hall and is secured via two sets of doors that back on to each other – a security feature very much of its time.

To the rear is an extensive lawn with a secluded wooden walkway and car parking to one side. Over the rear wall are the grounds of Wanderers rugby club. It is envisaged the proceeds from the sale of the Chancery will be used to acquire modern city centre offices that will accommodate all the embassy staff, currently spread over three locations.

The ambassador, Emmanuelle d’Achon, will end her three-year term in July, and it is understood she would like to extend her posting here.

The Chancery, which dates from 1920, represents a footnote or two in the story of the State’s emergence. It was built by Batt O’Connor, a republican friend of Michael Collins, for a widow, Nell Humphreys, whose family were wealthy supporters of the fight for independence.

Used as a safe house during the War of Independence, the house was apparently raided in 1922 by Free State troops. They sprung IRA officer Ernie O’Malley from a hidden room in the basement during a gun battle that left one soldier dead and O’Malley injured.

The Chancery will appeal to individuals with deep pockets – there are some left apparently – looking for a prestige foothold in the heart of Dublin 4. It is estimated that another €2.5 million investment would be required to refurbish the house. It is understood five interested parties have been through, including one embassy.

The buyer will be somewhat restricted in what can be done to the property, as the Chancery is listed as a protected building. It has been reported that planning permission was refused some years ago to enlarge it. The facade will need to remain and schematics have been drawn up to help prospective buyers imagine how the building could be configured differently.