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Tales about a former piece of Ireland soon to be on the Washington property market

Government to sell the former Irish ambassador’s residence which has been visited by a number of presidents

Very early on in my stint in Washington, I was invited to a function one evening in the residence of the Irish ambassador.

The Covid-19 vaccination programme had been under way for several months and the city was tentatively beginning to reopen.

However, the streets were still largely empty and as darkness fell over the large properties in the salubrious Kalorama area, it took a while to find the redbrick house with the distinctive half circle of pillars surrounding the door with the official harp.

The residence is not just the home of Ireland’s top diplomat in the United States. It is also used for functions and dinners.


About a year ago the Department of Foreign Affairs decided to lease a bigger building nearby which could be used for larger events. There were, for example, several hundred people on the premises last St Patrick’s Day.

Last week a colleague sent me an advertisement for an estate agent which confirmed the Government had decided to sell the former Washington residence.

In July, Tánaiste Micheál Martin told Matt Carthy of Sinn Féin in the Dáil that the residence was valued at €8.178 million last year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it had been decided to dispose of the property at 2244 S Street “following a review of its property footprint”.

It has also been reported that a health and safety audit identified fire risks and other issues.

The former residence has been owned by the Irish State since 1965.

But as Dan Mulhall, the former Irish ambassador in Washington – who is now based at Harvard University – told me during the week, it had a storied history both before and after. It also had some quite interesting neighbours.

He said it was constructed originally in 1924 for a member of the Federal Reserve called Frederic Delano, uncle of the later president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

It is likely that FDR visited the house when his uncle lived there. If this is the case, FDR was not the last president to spend time in the building.

“Probably the most famous occasion was when president Reagan came,” said Mulhall. “I have seen photographs of Reagan sitting in the study at the residence with Tip O’Neill [the former Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives] sitting beside him.”

Mulhall said such a presidential visit to a social function in an embassy would probably not happen now given the security requirements it would involve.

President Joe Biden also visited the house on several occasions. Mulhall said that during the extensive St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington over recent years a tradition developed: after events at the White House and in the US Congress, the festivities would end with a late supper in the residence, starting at about 8.30pm.

“And that could go on quite late. And in the three years that I hosted events – there was not one during Covid – Joe Biden came, I think, to all of them.

“At that point he was out of office, a former vice-president. He also launched a Cambridge History of Ireland for me, which was a big event, and he gave a great speech that evening. But he had not declared as a candidate at that stage [for the White House] although he was clearly lining up [to run].”

A few years ago, a house down the street was bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for use as his Washington home.

Mulhall said Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have a house about five minutes away, while Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner lived in the neighbourhood when they worked in the White House.

Another former president, Woodrow Wilson, and his wife Edith lived in a nearby house when they retired from the White House in 1921.

Mulhall said the garden of the residence has a tree that was originally planted in honour of Tip O’Neill, while another honours Seamus Heaney.

He said there are also two busts; one of former SDLP leader John Hume and another of John Hearne, the first official Irish ambassador to the United States. Up to Ireland becoming a Republic in 1949, the top diplomat representing the country in Washington was known technically as Minister Plenipotentiaries.

Mulhall said he was sad to see his former home on S Street leave the ownership of the State, but fully accepted it was the correct decision given its significant drawbacks and the huge refurbishment that would have been needed.

The engagement of the estate agent means a former piece of Ireland will soon be on the Washington property market.