Thursday 24 August 2017

Flying the nest: This historic swelling was part of a children's home in Dun Laoghaire


Anne Murphy at York Road, Dun Laoghaire
Anne Murphy at York Road, Dun Laoghaire
The exterior of Killeen
An original feature window
The library
A detail of the wood-panelled stairwell
Kitchen and breakfast room
Dining room with tiled-inset fireplace
Views out to sea
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

The Bird's Nest at York Road is among Dun Laoghaire's best known buildings, having been one of the town's original three orphanages until 1975 when it closed.

Founded in 1859 by a Mrs Smyly, and run afterwards by the Smyly Trust, the Bird's Nest had a much better reputation than many of the other children's homes operated throughout Ireland, and the memories of its children, who include former Irish international soccer star Paul McGrath and Councillor Victor Boyhan, tended to be good ones.

Its legacy is stamped indelibly in the minds of older residents at the seaside town, who remember the boys and girls from ages five to 12 years walking to parks in one long line on their weekend outings.

Today, the imposing granite-fronted building is protected and a substantial chunk of the centre portion went on the market last year for €475,000.

The exterior of Killeen
The exterior of Killeen

Despite the building going through long periods of neglect since its closure, we owe its existence today to people like the Murphy family who acquired a big portion of the "girls school" end back in 1980 - a time when few cared about old historic buildings and those who did seldom had adequate resources to invest in them.

When English-born Tim Murphy came to Ireland from Cambridge and began working as a lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity College (latterly he was Math professor), he met his future wife, Anne, who had studied there and later would run the molecular medicine department.

The two fell in love and got married. Anne recalls: "Back then we really had no money to spare at all. I don't know how we did it. We had just lost out on a house and went to visit a property for sale which had been a big part of the Bird's Nest at York Road. The roof was okay but inside it was derelict. There was a big hole that ran all the way down through the floors.

"No one had lived there since the orphanage closed, apart from homeless people. But Tim and I fell in love with it and we decided then and there to buy it."

Times were hard for the couple who found themselves on bridging finance for two years solid at an 18pc interest rate. "We did it a little bit at a time and the only way we could. In the evening Tim would bring Trinity students home, maybe five at a time and gave them a small few bob for drinks to work one night at a time at making the property habitable. I'd cook for everyone and I fed them all.

"Tim had a friend who was essentially homeless and he housed him illegally in his rooms at Trinity. He used to come around and help us strip the ceilings. It took us two years overall."

Kitchen and breakfast room
Kitchen and breakfast room

Sadly Professor Murphy, a Cambridge contemporary of Professor Stephen Hawking, recently passed away and now, almost 40 years after acquiring "Killeen", at the Bird's Nest, his widow Anne has herself retired from Trinity and is looking to sell up and trade down to something more manageable.

"We've had so many of the former children come back as grown-ups over the years to see their old home. Almost all of them seem to have had happy times here."

In recent times, the Bird's Nest has been redeveloped into individual homes and business premises. The Murphy's home is essentially one huge multi-storey apartment occupying about 20pc of this building complex of historic character. At 2,863 sq ft it is more than twice the size of an average semi-detached estate house.

Enter through the original solid wooden front door - the old girls' school entrance - into a hall with a slate flag floor, original wooden wall panels and you ascend to the first floor on the original Victorian stairs.

There's a landing leading in to a back kitchen or pantry and then to the main kitchen and breakfast room with solid pine wooden wall and floor units, a stone-tiled splash back and solid beech work top. There's a Belfast sink, De Dietrich ceramic hob & double oven, and original large sash window. A door leads through to the dining room which has an open fireplace with original cast iron surround and tiled inset. Here, the sash windows come with the original wooden shutters.

The main bathroom is also on this floor with part-wood panelling on the walls. This floor also contains the music room or family room.

Dining room with tiled-inset fireplace
Dining room with tiled-inset fireplace

On the second floor is a utility room with a double sink and floor and wall units, and the main study and sitting room with large dual aspect sash windows, fitted carpet and a high pine ceiling. Floor to ceiling panelled doors lead to the drawing room with an original cast iron fireplace. The room is dual aspect and again has an original sash window with wooden shutters. There's also a bathroom on this floor along with the main bedroom which has extensive sea views and three sash windows.

The back staircase is a feature of period residences like Killeen, and was originally designed for the use of servants working in the house. This leads to the third floor with even loftier sea views and the library, with its floor to ceiling bookshelves, the academic nerve centre of this home since 1980.

There are two bedrooms on this floor and the library could make an additional large fourth bedroom. There's access here to the attic which has storage space and hasn't been accessed since the days when the Bird's Nest was an orphanage. So having being part of saving this part of the Bird's Nest for future generations, Anne is selling up and seeking €675,000. "I hope the next owners are as happy as we were here," she says.


The Bird's Nest, 19 York Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Asking price: €675,000

Agent: Janet Carroll (087) 4002020

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