Magnificent Malahide villa with link to Haughey for €7.5m

Georgian villa has a secret tunnel to Abbeville, home of Charles Haughey

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Address: Emsworth, Malahide Road Kinsealy, Dublin 17
Price: €7,500,000
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes, Sherry FitzGerald Blanc, Christie's International

A Georgian villa, designed by James Gandon, on 17 acres just 12km from Dublin city centre has been comprehensively renovated since it was bought by a Dublin financier 3½ years ago.

It now combines period and contemporary style in a grand house that’s also a comfortable family home. The owner spent several million euro renovating and redecorating Emsworth and lavishly refurbishing the grounds which include formal gardens and woodland, an outdoor heated pool, floodlit tennis court and playing pitch, a zipline, a coach house converted to a two-bedroom guest house and a cottage that houses a fully-equipped gym.

Inside, a handsome curved staircase rises on the right of the double-height entrance hall, just above a trapdoor in the floor that leads to the tunnel running between this property and nearby Abbeville, former home of the late Charles Haughey. Accommodation includes a large new kitchen, four bedrooms upstairs and four very smart new bathrooms in the main house as well as a cinema room.

Lights, sound, heating and security systems can all be remote-controlled by the owner, a tech-minded businessman who travels to the UK frequently. Emsworth’s proximity to Dublin Airport – an eight-minute drive he says – was one of the reasons he bought the house in 2014. He reckons he can save around a full working day a week compared to the days when he commuted from Dublin’s southside.

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The house, the only intact Gandon villa to survive in Ireland according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, had previously been owned by media chief Gerry McGuinness, founder of the Sunday World, then by tax consultant Noel Corcoran, who put Emsworth up for sale for €4.5 million in 2012. It finally sold in 2014 to the present owner for €1.425 million.

The property – the 402sq m (4,330sq ft) house and 17 acres is now for sale for €7.5 million through Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes and Sherry FitzGerald Blanc, as well as through Sherry Fitz affiliate Christie's International. (The sale does not include 64 adjoining acres leased to agri-food research institute Teagasc). The owner, who has lavished a lot of time and energy on revamping Emsworth, says he is a reluctant seller who is moving because one of his children has a long commute to her school in Killiney.

Gandon remodelled Abbeville in the 1790s for its owner, John Beresford, whose banking partner James Woodmason then commissioned the fashionable architect to design a house on nearby land. The result was Emsworth, which was completed in 1794. There are many stories about the use of the underground tunnel that linked the two properties right up to Haughey’s time. The owner says that at present, you can walk along the tunnel but it is bricked up on each side. Abbeville, on 250 acres, which sold in 2013 for a reported €5.5 million, was bought by the founder of Japanese hotel chain, Toyoko Inns.

Emsworth is on the Malahide Road in Kinsealy, Dublin 17, its entrance is across the road from Kinsealy national school. Low electronically-controlled gates open into a very long gravelled driveway between woodland and lawns, looping around two long water features leading up to the front of the house. The gardens, revamped and restored by landscape architects Murphy & Sheanon and Carragh Landscaping, are lovely: paths lead around through woodland, a brick-walled garden, past a newly-built lake with a deck beside it, the tennis court and sports pitch and nearer the house, the patio where the swimming pool – heated to 26 degrees – is located. Unsurprisingly, the gardens need a full-time gardener to maintain them.

Inside, the house was re-roofed, rewired and replumbed, it got a new kitchen and new bathrooms and was completely redecorated by Elizabeth Kirby Designs. It has a comfortable, family-friendly layout and that classic contemporary look, where original plasterwork, huge sash windows and modern furnishing and fittings combine to smart effect. Most of the floors are new, a mixture of parquet, wide plank and narrow plank French oak. Neutral shades mix with vivid colours – deep red in the drawingroom, deep blue in the cinema room for example.

Four rooms open off the large entrance hall, floored with black and white tiles. There’s a sittingroom/library straight ahead, where a huge original sash window opens so that you can walk out on to the terrace; the cinema room opens off the library. The drawingroom on the right of the entrance hall has large sash windows and an imposing Adams marble fireplace.

The new kitchen/breakfastroom to the left of the entrance hall has cream units, a restored 1960s Aga and a large utility room off it. The kitchen opens onto a wide pergola-covered terrace with a barbecue; an adjoining outbuilding has a large automatically cooled walk-in wine cellar as well as a kitchen, wetroom and bathroom.

The coach house has a large open-plan kitchen/livingroom, with a big open fireplace and French doors opening on to a large outdoor terrace; upstairs are two under-eaves bedrooms. Another white-painted outbuilding houses some of the owner’s classic car collection as well as the gym and a pilates room.

Agent Roseanne De Vere Hunt says, "Emsworth is an extraordinary residence combining classical elegance with modern-day living in this private setting, with the convenience of an eight-minute drive to Dublin airport". The vendor says, "It's now the ultimate home for a family with three or four kids, whose owner travels a lot on business."

Frances O'Rourke

Frances O'Rourke

Frances O'Rourke, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property