In 2002, when bankrupt developer Sean Dunne built his 8,700sq ft home on Dublin's exclusive Shrewsbury Road, he was well on his way to earning the title by which he later became known – the Baron of Ballsbridge.
Dunne's bold new home on this established thoroughfare would symbolise his arrival at the top in an industry not known for its retiring types. On a low granite pillar at the entrance steps the name Ouragh is etched, a townland near Dunne's birthplace of Tullow in Co Carlow, presumably a nod to his more humble origins. And there endeth the humility.
Ouragh is a statement home. It was built towards the end of Dunne's first marriage and shortly before he met and married his current wife Gayle Killilea, a former newspaper gossip columnist. Killilea and Dunne lived there up to and after their departure from Ireland in 2007 when the property market and many of Dunne's deals – including his ambitious €600 million Ballsbridge plan – had collapsed.
Until recently it was rented to the South African Embassy for €180,000 a year. When the lease ended Bank of Scotland seized control of the property and it has now been placed on the market for €7 million by joint receivers Michael Madden and Michael Coyle of HWBC Allsop.
Though unfurnished, Ouragh has been tizzied up for sale – through Colliers agent Peter Kenny – and it presents well.
The six-bedroom house, laid out over four storeys, has been fitted with the best of natural materials and carries off a look in keeping with the original interior styles of the Victorian and Edwardian periods; marble floors in the pillared hallway, exceptional antique parquet flooring on three floors, delicate plasterwork on the diningroom ceiling, a solid American oak staircase with a double-height, diamond-cut landing window, and a vast country-style kitchen complete with Aga.
But Dunne didn’t skimp on the comforts and Ouragh has been further indulged with some contemporary “must haves”, including a lift serving every floor, a hotel-style bar in the basement complete with taps and cooler system and a gym room with sauna attached.
The master bedroom suite spans the entire rear of the second floor, with a party-size jacuzzi at the heart of the huge en suite and a giant walk-in shower.
The first floor, with three bright reception rooms, was designed entirely for entertaining. A formal diningroom on the right leads through two sets of double doors via a discreet butler’s pantry – with sink and lift – to the vast drawing room of ballroom proportions running the width of the house.
It was here that Dunne posed under Killilea's admiring gaze for the now-familiar portrait by photographer Derek Speirs for a New York Times article on post-bust Ireland in 2008.
Legal proceedings What is surprising about Ouragh is that it stands on a cramped site of just 0.1 of an acre, leaving a garden space which is really little more than an afterthought.
Dunne purchased the site for IR£3million from Niall O’Farrell founder of the Black Tie chain in 1999. It was part of a 0.4 acre site O’Farrell had bought the previous year for IR£3.6million and O’Farrell built his former property, Thorndene, on the remainder of the site. Because the two houses are so close – Dunne and O’Farrell were involved in legal proceedings over boundary issues – there is a tendency to compare the two as they are similar in scale.
O’Farrell’s extensive use of sandstone on Thorndene’s facade gives it a warmer, more finished quality than the stark bay windowed façade of Ouragh. Thorndene’s latest owner has also added a very elegant Italianate sandstone staircase to the rear.The rear garden at Ouragh is accessed only at ground-floor level from the kitchen and it is unlikely to appeal to young families, as it’s a very limited space and the aspect is also northwest.
The site behind the rear wall is currently vacant and owned by Galway property firm O’Malley Construction. It has planning for nine townhouses which could get under way at any time. The limited site may explain why Dunne paid €58 million for Walford nearby on 1.5 acres in 2005 – the highest price ever paid for a private home in Ireland. Walford has since been sold to an unnamed buyer for €14 million (though the sale has been linked to a company connected with Dunne’s millionaire wife Killilea). Empty for over a decade it badly needs refurbishment.
Currently Dunne, Killilea and their three young children divide their time between the US, London and Ireland. Killilea owns a number of properties in Connecticut, including 22 Stillman Lane in Greenwich, one of the most affluent residential area in the US.
Agent Peter Kenny admits buyer interest in Ouragh will be “niche” and is likely to come from overseas because of the current strength of the dollar and sterling. Similar to the new owner next door, Ouragh’s new buyer may simply be looking for a Dublin “pad”. Or it might appeal to an ageing down-trader – it has that lift after all.