Justine McCarthy on the Dalkey terrace where a house sold this week for a shattering £5.9mLast Wednesday morning, when the legal teams gathered in the Supreme Court for their final submissions in Charlie Haughey's five-day challenge to the Moriarty Tribunal, two of the lead senior counsel had a special greeting for one another.
The previous evening, the Haugheys' lawyer, Eoin McGonigal, SC, and the State's lawyer, Frank Clarke, SC, had driven from the Four Courts to their suburban homes to find that their seaside Victorian terrace had sensationally become the most expensive address in Ireland.
Overnight, the two men's personal worth had exceeded anything they could expect to collect in legal fees at the Supreme Court. Even the £1.3m given to Charles Haughey by Ben Dunne the trigger for the lawyers' appearance in court that day was knocked into a cocked hat by the staggering £5.9m price tag on their neighbour's house at Number 1 on Sorrento Terrace. A price which will undoubtedly enhance the value of their own properties.
Eoin McGonigal moved to Number 3 Sorrento Terrace in Dalkey from Monkstown after he acted for the marathon Beef Tribunal, earning a record £1m as the inquiry's senior counsel. He was soon followed to the compact terrace of eight private dwellings by his Law Library colleague, Frank Clarke, when he paid £470,000 for Number 5 in October, 1993. In less than five years, the house three doors down from the Clarkes, Number 8, had fetched more than 12 times the price they had paid.
While the buyer is remaining incognito, such names as Jack Nicholson, Michael Flatley, Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, Paul McGuinness and Glen Dimplex's Lochlainn Quinn are being bandied about as those most likely to have the wherewithal and the interest.
On the Dublin Riviera, which caresses the coastline from Bulloch Harbour and the length of the salubrious Vico Road, property price records have been spinning like skittles in the last three years. International celebrities with multimillion pound credit ratings rooted in platinum discs, Oscar statuettes and Formula One overdrive have colonised the beauty spot, pushing up values with unprecedented prices.
Mount Mapas, a Victorian villa on Vico Road, was sold last autumn for £2.3m, while the Donegal-born singer, Enya the world's biggest-selling female vocalist paid £2.5m for Ayesha Castle. Scattered along the golden mile or two dubbed Bel Eire are Bono, Van Morrison, Eddie Irvine, Damon Hill, Lisa Stansfield, Gloria Hunniford, Maeve Binchy, Chris de Burgh and the film-making brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen.
Sorrento Terrace, however, has managed to remain aloof from the Paddywoodery of its surroundings. Located on the easternmost end of Dalkey's heritage village, the row of eight four-storey houses with wraparound sea views has traditionally been an oasis of professional class anonymity.
Indeed, volumes of Thom's directories going back over two decades list proprietors on the terrace who would have been largely unknown beyond their own social circles. Yet it has always been a highly-desirable address with the capacity to command above-market prices. In 1979, for instance, a house on the terrace sold for £200,000.
Until the extraordinary sale of No 1 Sorrento House this week, the residents only boasted a single international `name' among them, that of Neil Jordan in Number 6, whose reputation as a serious author and cineaste puts him firmly in the category of literati rather than glitterati. Once described as ``the Heathcliffe of the Irish film industry,'' Jordan's neighbours respect him as ``a serious artist''. Among the trophies in the Oscar-winning director's house is the De Sica which he won for Mona Lisa, appropriately at the Sorrento Film Festival.
Apart from 96-year-old Mrs Dorothy Lavery, the widow of an eye surgeon and university professor and vendor of Number 1 this week, the other house-owners include three senior counsel, an investment banker, a property developer and a mysterious English heiress known on the terrace as Mrs Johnson. Six of the houses are family homes, with children ranging from a three-month old baby, in Robin Power's at Number 8, to teenagers.
The absence of ostentation inside the houses denotes a certain refined moderation and, though the eight houses boast three Jaguars and Robin Power's gold Rolls Royce out front, a local resident, when asked if any of the cars sported personalised number plates, replied, aghast: ``Certainly not!''
It was hardly surprising, then, that the neighbours refrained from wide-eyed chit-chat over the garden hedge on Tuesday night when they heard about the £5.9m paid for Sorrento House. Instead, they braced themselves for the inevitable day-trippers who, in the following days, boldly pressed their noses against the houses' back windows for an inside gander of the country's dearest address.
One resident confided to a friend that he believed the record price paid for Sorrento House was ``utter lunacy'' and, like several of his neighbours, set to fretting about the possible identity of the impending new arrival. It's all very well to see the value of your house leaping to the skies in an afternoon's feverish bidding, but there are the attendant drawbacks to be contended with all that publicity and the danger of lowering the tone of the neighbourhood.
This, after all, is a terrace so intimate with itself that it makes a residents' association redundant. When Frank Clarke moved in five years ago, for instance, he found himself living immediately next door to a former client, the onetime GPA executive Colm Barrington, winner of last week's Round Ireland yacht race in Jeep Cherokee, and driver of one of the terrace's three Jags, an XJ6.
At the time of the failed GPA stock market flotation, Colm Barrington's personal stake in the company was estimated at £11m. More recently, the Enniskerry-born nephew of Supreme Court Judge Donal Barrington sold his aviation leasing investment bank, Capital Aviation Management, to the fourth biggest aircraft finance management company in the world, Babcock & Brown.
However, after the flotation of GPA was aborted in the early '90s, the Bank of Ireland, which had lent him $1.5m against the value of his shares, froze $500,000 in Colm Barrington's bank account. He took the bank to court, represented by Frank Clarke the man who vowed to rid his profession of its `fat cat' image when he became chairman of the Bar Council in 1993. The High Court ruled in Colm Barrington's favour and, fortunately for his neighbour-to-be, granted him full legal costs.
Colm Barrington and his wife, Maryrose Cruess Callaghan, who live in Number 4, are actually adjoined by lawyers on both sides. Number 3 is the home of Charlie Haughey's senior counsel in both the Dunnes and the Moriarty tribunals, Eoin McGonigal, and next door to him, in Number 2, is the terrace's third legal eagle, Ronnie Robins SC, who has a substantial personal injuries law practice. His wife, Glynis Robins, a designer of gossamer knitwear and aestheticjewellery, has shops in Roundstone and Dalkey village.
The easy relationships that prevail on the terrace were captured some time ago when two adjoining houses were thrown open on the same night for separate parties: Neil Jordan's at Number 6 and the Clarkes at Number 5. Frank Clarke and his journalist/radio producer wife, Jacqueline Hayden, the biographer of Lady Valerie Goulding, were celebrating Frank's `benching' at the Kings Inns with a party in their minimalist-style home.
As guests began to arrive simultaneously for the two parties, some confusion arose over who was going where, while the hosts issued directions, whereupon a young barrister attending the Clarkes' party was overheard proclaiming: ``This party is a great career move. It's the first door policy I've come across that lets me in and keeps Bono out.''
Later that same night, one of the lawyers at the Clarkes' party, perhaps emboldened by the bewitching hour, wandered out to the road and, noticing that the neighbouring front door was open, strolled inside. The lawyer followed the sound of music until she reached the kitchen. Upon opening the door, she was confronted with the sight of Neil Jordan, Bono and Brad Pitt in deep conversation.
Situated just two doors down from the record-breaking Number One, Neil Jordan's own property-buying history puts this week's amazing sale into perspective. Just last February, the maker of Michael Collins, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy paid a modest £400,000 for a five-bedroom mansion on seven acres of Bantry Bay, where the scenic appeal at least matches that of Dalkey. Similarly, West Cork is a mecca for the international jet set, including such residents as film producer David Puttnam and the actors Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack and Maureen O'Hara.
In Sorrento Terrace, Neil Jordan is known to work on his movie and writing projects at home while his neighbours, Eoin McGonigal and Ronnie Robins, pore over their law briefs in their studies.
At the opposite end of the terrace to Sorrento Terrace, the home of Robin Power and his wife, Michelle Kavanagh, is even larger than the one sold this week, though the view would not be as spectacular. Finished in yellow ochre, the light thrown in through the big picture windows from the three-tier garden is described as ``spectacular''. This is a couple au fait with local property values, having bought up a string of seafront houses between Monkstown and Dalkey in the past few years.
The Cork-born qualified dentist, who founded Power Corporation only to resign as its chairman three years ago with personal debts of £8m, had earlier held a 13pc stake in the company, valued at £33m. In his Power Corp days, his property portfolio included such prestigious buildings as the Ambassador Hotel & Rodeo Drive, the Rhinelander Mansion in New York and the Gucci Building in Palm Beach. Probably his most colourful venture partner at the time was the major Manhattan landlord, Donald Trump.
Among the properties which Robin Power and/or Michelle Kavanagh have bought in the past three years are the former Hansel & Gretel children's shop in Glasthule (£320,000), a house in De Vesci Terrace in Monkstown (£425,000), a split-level bungalow on Vico Road (£382,000), a pair of Victorian semis in Dalkey (£900,000) and a house on Scotsman's Bay in Sandycove (£700,000). The couple rent out most of these properties, usually to tenants from overseas, for about £3,000 a month.
Meanwhile, they reside in what could well be the second most expensive house in Ireland, at the other bookend of Sorrento Terrace. While Colm Barrington is embarking on a major refurbishment of his house at Number 4 (he is said to have engaged the architect responsible for GPA's American offices), the house adjoining this week's record-maker is currently on the market.
Number 7 was bought privately from the Dublin antiques dealer, Neil Forsythe, nearly three years ago by a British family trust. Since then, it has remained largely unoccupied. The woman whom the other residents believe to be its effective owner, and whom they only know as Mrs Johnson, ``an heiress of some sort of other'', has seldom been seen in the vicinity.
Like the other seven houses, this one comprises four storeys, two of which are below street level, and a rose and fruit tree garden sloping down to the sea. Bizarrely, just 24 hours after Number 1 on the terrace had been sold for £5.9m, putting it in the league of a Merchant Ivory Room With A View, the speculation was that Number 7 would go for around £1.5m. But then, this is Sorrento Terrace where the seascape vies with understatement as its major selling point.