Gothic Killiney mansion with its own belfry fit for an archbishop

This extremely secluded property, set in a private woodland in Killiney, was once home to former Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who added a belfry tower, while more recent updates include a gym and saloon bar


The autumn brings with it the launch of some heavyweight houses to the Dublin property market, and Ashurst certainly packs a punch. The restored Victorian Gothic mansion has a colourful history as the home of the legendary and influential former Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, and more recently it served as the residence of the former South African ambassador, Melanie Verwoerd.

In 2000, this seven bed Killiney mansion on Military Road commanded a rent of £16,000 a month after its 890sq m (9,600sq ft) expanse had been refurbished at a cost of £1 million. This gave it the lofty claim at the time of being the most expensive rental in Dublin. By 2009, the rent had fallen to €8,000 a month and now it’s for sale through Savills on behalf of the receiver for €3.5 million.

Built on four acres, for the MP William Dobbs in the 1860s, Ashurst is like a mini-Hogwarts and has seen many changes since McQuaid lived there from the 1950s until his death in 1973. A close confidante of Eamon de Valera, McQuaid held huge influence over the State in the 1950s, overseeing major growth of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin during his term.

Notre Dame des Bois
Preferring Killiney to the Archbishop’s Palace in Drumcondra, he renamed it “Notre Dame des Bois” and had a pillared shrine to Our Lady installed in the garden. But the most dramatic structural change he made was the addition of a huge belfry tower, with a lift, where he viewed the skies and the panorama of Killiney Bay and the Sugarloaf to the south through a telescope.

Once through the electronic gates, Ashurst is in an extremely private setting bordered all around by mature woodland. Past the recently refurbished two-bed gate lodge, the lantern lined gravelled avenue leads to the main house.

The impact of the impressive gothic facade is a little lost because the house looms suddenly before you. The best vantage point is from the bottom of the sloping garden to the rear. Trefoil windows and patterns are worked into the vast brickwork, a neat nod to its ecclesiastic provenance.

Up three granite steps and through the huge oak double front door is a panelled hallway, which leads through to a further panelled inner hall with inlaid floors, intricate woodwork, and a fine bay window.

Three huge reception rooms flow through from here, each one boasting impeccably restored plasterwork and huge fireplaces. Despite its gothic design, Ashurst is a light filled house, thanks to huge restored sash windows at every turn. While built on a grand scale, the room proportions are not vast and the colour palette is warm throughout. It is easy to envisage it in use as a comfortable family home, albeit a very well-to-do one.

A long hall opens into the kitchen which steps down to the obligatory granite-topped island and a fine old Aga cooker which is said to survive from the archbishop’s time.

The old cellar can still be accessed down steep granite steps, and the original coal chute and surviving original pipes point to a time when the home fires would have been continuously stoked from this room. Later it was used as a wine cellar.

Other original features have not survived. Around 1996 businessman Liam Smith bought Ashurst in very poor condition for just over £1 million. He refurbished the house with luxury in mind, installing a large double height mirrored gym in what was once an oratory beyond the kitchen. From here, a spiral staircase leads to a pleasure dome of sorts, where three bedrooms were ripped out and replaced with a sauna room and saloon-style bar.

Flourishes upstairs
Upstairs the main bedroom is a fine space with a wide bay window looking towards Killiney Bay. Its en suite bathroom also offers glimpses of the sea from the raised, marble-panelled, Jacuzzi bath. Stained glass shutters provide a tasteful flourish.

There are six further bedrooms on this level, all fine doubles, three of which are en suite. The other three are located at the far side of the house.

The grounds outside are set mainly in tiered lawn and gravelled pathways, while a series of hidden prayer paths meander through the thick boundary foliage. The focal point of the garden is a classic fountain in front of the pillared shrine to Our Lady, whose dilapidated bosom is currently home to a nest of swarming bees.

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