There’s no place like home — Noel Costello on the garden village of Killester

Officers, other ranks and a bidding war

Very few houses are sold by auction now but it was at an auction that I bought my first house. Well when I say I bought, it wasn’t me who actually did the bidding. My late brother Padraig suggested that a friend of his, Martin, who was in business, come along. He was to prove his worth.

I was 23 back in 1979 when the auction took place in Molesworth Street, Dublin. We arrived to a packed auction room managing to get seats at the back. Martin asked how high I could go and I told him my maximum was £16,250.

Bidding started at £12,000 and when it reached £15,000 there were only two bidders left. I was beginning to give up hope as Martin sat there impassively. At £16,000 Martin made his move with an extra £250. The auctioneer inadvertently did us a favour by saying: “Bid from new man at the back.” A further bid from one of the two amigos who had been battling away came in at £16,500 but quick as a flash Martin was in again and it was all over.

I was stunned by those few seconds as I had gone from a no-hoper to prospective owner. There was only one problem; my limit was £500 under the price, a significant sum then. I raised this with Martin and he assured me I’d sort it out!


Back then buying a house involved bridging from the bank. This meant the bank lent you short-term before the mortgage from the building society kicked in. My mortgage had conditions. I had to replace rotten wooden floors with concrete ones, rewire and put in skirting boards. The rate of interest charged was an unbelievable 14 percent.

The vendor of the house was the Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, and the property, a semi-detached cottage in Killester, was three miles north of the city centre. The homes had been built for ex-servicemen who had fought in the first World War. The area was once known as Little Britain and even had its own Legion Hall, which is now in private hands.

The estate recently celebrated its centenary with the publication of “Killester Garden Village, The Lives of Great War Veterans and Their Families”. It details who lived in each of the 247 dwellings built and was researched by Nigel Henderson and Michael Nugent.

I grew up on the Howth Road in Killester just up from the soldiers’ houses. It was an interesting mix with a diverse community of Catholics and Protestants. My mother’s best friend was Daisy Allen who lived a few doors down, a respectable Church of Ireland woman.

They were very close and Sunday drives for my mother, courtesy of Daisy’s daughter Joyce, were a regular feature. I remember when Mrs Allen’s pride and joy of a bicycle was stolen and she was devastated. I was about 13 at the time and put word out that a woman’s bicycle was missing. Distant contacts provided one with all the bells and whistles, including a basket. Mrs Allen was delighted with the bicycle and the price. To be honest I couldn’t swear to its provenance but it would be a brave garda indeed who would have stopped Daisy Allen.

We all got on in Killester and it was the warring tribes from adjacent areas that were usually the problem. Of course, there were differences. Our house backed on to a railway bank with a steep incline. If you were at the bottom, it was tricky to get back up. Some of the lads of the other persuasion in the 1950s insisted on my brother Bernard, reciting “Red, white and blue, brave English crew, Green, white and yellow, cowardly Irish fellow” before letting him up.

Killester was built as a garden village and officers were allocated the detached bungalows and small gardens, while other ranks got semi-detached dwellings but with much larger gardens to grow their own vegetables. It was divided into three main sections: the Demesne, Middle Third and Abbeyfield. I could never understand why Middle Third never got a proper name.

My house was in Abbeyfield and my neighbour was Tony Byrne, a painter and decorator. He had been a Desert Rat fighting against Rommel in North Africa in the second World War. He was a great man for the sun and in summer would rest in his back garden on the hottest days, soaking up the rays. He also liked a drop of whiskey.

I remember him telling me how he and a neighbour had joined up to fight against Hitler but how only he came home. The mother of the lad who didn’t make it used to stare at him as he passed and it always upset him. I think he had survivor’s guilt. A nice man and a good neighbour.

I left Abbeyfield in 1986 after failing to get planning permission to expand as we had a growing family. I see the house sold this year for €530,000 but not at auction.