Ranelagh home of trailblazers in psychiatry and feminism for €975,000

Prof Ivor Browne and feminist June Levine hosted Sebastian Barry, Charlie Haughey and others at D6 home

Gandalf, 31 Hollybank Avenue Lower, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Address: Gandalf, 31 Hollybank Avenue Lower, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Price: €975,000
Agent: Young's Estate Agents
View this property on MyHome.ie

It’s fitting that the house at 31 Hollybank Avenue Lower in Ranelagh is named Gandalf – in a nod to the wise wizard of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Though its moniker comes from some time ago, the last resident of the house was the late Prof Ivor Browne, the ground-breaking psychiatrist who played a pivotal role in de-institutionalising the treatment of mental illness in Ireland, and who died in January. Browne, who was intuitive and erudite, had a stature that could also be said to resemble the towering Gandalf.

When Prof Browne worked in the 1950s and 1960s, Ireland was said to have had the highest rate of incarceration of its people in mental institutions in the world. With a holistic view powered by his interest in yoga and meditation, Prof Browne was also interested in unorthodox explorations of therapy, and his achievements were summed up by President Michael D Higgins as “fearlessly challenging what was a dehumanising system”.

“Michael D would have been here quite a bit as would Charlie Haughey from their time in government,” says Browne’s stepson Mike Mesbur.


Browne married novelist, journalist and feminist and his partner of 30 years June Levine (Mesbur’s mother) in 1999, more than a decade after the couple moved from their former home in Dún Laoghaire to the two-bedroom Victorian house with an attic conversion in Ranelagh.

Front reception room has a period fireplace and a bay window. Photographs: Viv van der Holst
An archway divides the two reception rooms at hall level

“The house was the centre for lots of interesting people from playwrights and poets to other literary figures,” recalls Mesbur, adding, “the likes of Sebastian Barry, Colm Tóibín, Tom Murphy and Brendan Kennelly all came here for dinner – but it was never serious and always full of laughter.”

In addition to the literary crew, psychiatrists from all over the world including RD Laing and Stanislav Grof came to stay or dine, as did a number of feminists such as Nell McCafferty, who would go on to strike a blow for Irish women’s rights and more particularly their bodily autonomy by travelling with Levine to Belfast on what became known as the “contraceptive train” in 1971.

If the walls of this 127sq m (1,367sq ft) house could talk, there could definitely be a book in it – along with books such as Levine’s A Season of Weddings and Browne’s Music and Madness. Music was Browne’s first love before medicine. He played jazz on a trumpet, as well as the tin whistle, while his son Ronan Browne is today a noted composer and musician of the Irish pipes.

The terraced house, has a large converted attic, an 18sq m (194sq ft) room, in addition to the two bedrooms on the first floor, including a large principal room with a bay window.

The attic has been converted
Main bedroom has a bay window
Rear garden has lots of potential

Retaining many of its period features, it has a sunroom extension to the rear, and its westerly facing 15m-long rear garden has lots of potential. It has an archway rather than interconnecting doors between its two main reception rooms at hall level – an addition that, like its name, was introduced by previous owners.

Staged for sale by Sara Cruise Design, it would benefit from some modernisation in places – the kitchen is a bit tired as is the huge bathroom on the first floor – but the bones of a fine house in a much sought after location are what will sway buyers.

It’s close to Ranelagh village, a host of schools and the Luas – which will have you in town in about seven minutes, or, if you want to keep fit, it’s perfectly walkable in about 15-20 minutes.

Mesbur says the home was always a place for a bit of craic: “You can just imagine a table of largely male psychiatrists with a bunch of feminists who been on the ‘contraception train’ – it was a very busy and very social Dublin home.”

Gandalf at 31 Hollybank Avenue Lower, which has a Ber of C3, is now on the market through Young’s Estate Agents, seeking €975,000.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables