Life Homes

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Built by the man who inspired Dublin's Corporation streets

A family house for sale in Rathfarnham represents an important piece of the city's social history.

Published 18/07/2014 | 02:30

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23 Butterfield Drive
Chapelizod
Mount Caffrey Estate

TALKING to Nanno Kelly at the lane that day, Mary asked, "Where is this Ballyfermot, anyway, Nanno?"

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"I went down there a few months ago with Sadie Caffrey," said Nanno. "Got the bus from Nelson's Pillar, all along the Liffey and out to Chapelizod. We went up a big hill. So big that the bus nearly stopped and the conductor was only short of asking us to get out and push.

"Lovely houses they are. Mansions, gardens for yourself in the back as well as the front. You could feed a dozen cows there, so much garden. Three bedrooms and a bathroom and a lavatory upstairs and three rooms downstairs for ya as well. There's a kitchen, another big room for eating in, and another big room for whatever else."

The excerpt from Bill Cullen's bestseller 'It's A Long Way From Penny Apples' shows how the Cullen family and others in their city centre tenement community in Summerhill gleefully anticipated their new Dublin Corporation home in Ballyfermot, part of the massive rehousing effort by Dublin Corporation from the 1930s on to eliminate the Dublin slums famously judged to be worse than Calcutta's.

In a mammoth achievement for which the State rarely gets credit, tens of thousands of families were rehoused from single rooms in tenements to houses built by the State.

And not all were so happy about it.

Brendan Behan famously described Crumlin, where his family relocated in 1937, as "Siberia".

While Dublin city authorities were criticised for breaking up tight-knit communities and for the sheer scale of some of the estates, the new homes constructed over a 20-year period saved the lives of children who had formerly slept six to a bed. Perhaps this sort of drive is needed again given the 100,000 housing list faced by the city authorities today.

Some argue that it couldn't have been done so well without the architect Thomas Joseph (TJ) Byrne, many of whose revolutionary ideas of what could be achieved in Irish social housing in earlier years were carried forth as the better aspects of those homes built in the 1930s and 1940s.

Published last year, his biography 'TJ Byrne, Nation Builder' by Michael Fewer and his grandson John Byrne, examines the role of the pivotal Englishman.

The son of a Wexford man and brought up in Kingston Upon Thames, Byrne came to Ireland as a student to work for the Scott practice in Drogheda and ended up marrying the boss's daughter.

A hundred years ago, he was called in to redesign the McCaffrey's Estate in Mount Brown, Kilmainham in what was not the Corporation's first housing scheme but probably its most significant in terms of setting out new standards.

In 1923, he was charged with rebuilding the Custom House, the GPO and the Four Courts.

He designed workmen's cottages in the county area which stand today noted for their attractiveness in Chapelizod, Terenure, Tallaght, Palmerston and other suburban locations. His work was a big influence on those who designed the big 1930s estates.

His biographer Michael Fewer adds: "It was TJ Byrne, among some others, who insisted on standards of accommodation that had not been before – for example, the insistence on a parlour room, on an indoor bathroom and toilet and on sizeable gardens which were vital for growing vegetables."

These were the "good" principles carried into the new Corpo estates, but only after TJ Byrne had worked himself to death for his adopted city.

He died in 1939 just a few years after designing an urban house at 23 Butterfield Drive in Rathfarnham for his son Thomas.

Buyers now have a chance to secure themselves a chunk of Dublin city history with the forthcoming sale of the property by the Byrne family.

With slight arts and crafts touches, this is what Michael Fewer describes as "a beautifully proportioned and substantial house with some stained-glass detail which is very much of its time."

At 2,600 sq ft, it's more than twice the size of the average family home.

TJ Byrne was known to be immensely fussy about the fittings and fixtures in his houses, even to the point of personally selecting the width of the bars in the fireplace grates.

This level of precision is evident throughout this property which is not ostentatious despite its size.

The features include coving, glass panel doors and sash windows.

Located just off Butterfield Avenue and a few minutes walk from Rathfarnham Village, it has a kitchen, a family room/breakfast room, a study, five bedrooms (two of which are ensuite) and a separate upstairs bathroom as well as a downstairs wc and the gardens span a third of an acre for vegetable growing if you like that sort of thing.

The entrance hall comes with an especially warm hardwood floor and mahogany inlay, both main receptions have antique fireplaces and other floors are made of French oak (the study) and maple (the family room). This unique built piece of Dublin's social architectural history is on sale through local estate agents for €1.495m.

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