IF you happened to be a Nazi spy on the run in Ireland during the war, your luck was surely in if you discovered that Florenceville, off Shanganagh Road, in Shankill, was to be your designated "safe house"?
Currently being offered for sale through Douglas Newman Good, this early 19th Century mini mansion in Dublin 18 was owned in the 1940s by IRA explosives whizz and occasional Nazi stasher, Jim O'Donovan. In 1940 it became the wartime hideout for the famous German military intelligence operative Hermann Goertz.
At 4,628 sq ft – more than four times the size of an average Irish abode – Florenceville has lashings of lebensraum: five bedrooms and six reception rooms over three floors – ideal dimensions for hiding out without having to invade your host family's borders.
It's just a short stroll from here to the seafront at Killiney beach – perfect for nocturnal U-boat pick-ups and the city centre rail links are ideal for your daily intelligence gathering excursions into town.
An acre and a quarter of enclosed grounds provides privacy for high kicking exercise drills and the walk-in wardrobes will stash your secret radio transmitter away nicely. If the rozzers do come calling, the garden has a full sized ruined 18th Century mill – the perfect dramatic setting for that last shoot out, arrest and final cyanide capsule crunch scene.
But when it came to spying for Hitler, Florenceville's incumbent Nazi was never really at the master races.
Initially rejected as a secret agent by the Germans in the mid-1930s, Goertz headed to the UK on his ownsome to dazzle the Nazi brass with a spot of freelancing.
He soon got lifted in Blighty for sketching and photographing RAF airfields. They didn't buy his cover story – that he was writing a book on the "Expansion of the RAF" – and slapped him in jail for four years. His Old Bailey trial made him a household name and put his mug in every newspaper.
Not good for an aspiring secret agent.
Released and deported back to Germany, Goertz was finally made an intelligence operative just before war broke out. Recognisable throughout Britain, he was instead parachuted into a field in Bellivor, Co Meath – his mission to link up with the IRA for Plan Kathleen, a bampot plan to invade the North with a dual force of landed Nazis and IRA men.
Goertz lost his transmitter and probably his change of clothes as he had to walk all the way to Dublin in full Luftwaffe uniform, stopping en route to ask directions at a garda station. Not good.
He went on the run after his parachute and Wehrmacht medals were discovered laid out in his bedroom in Templeogue.
He then went into hiding at Florenceville – the plush home of Jim O'Donovan, an ESB manager by day and in his spare time, the instigator of more than 40 explosions across Britain through 1939 and 1940. The lady of the house was Monty, sister of IRA martyr Kevin Barry.
O'Donovan was described as "mad, bad and dangerous to know". The former UCD chemistry student invented a whole new line in IEDs and was the closest thing the world got to Sergio's Leone's explosive genius IRA character from 'A Fistful of Dynamite'. As the rest of Ireland settled down to the Sunday night news bulletins, the O'Donovans were also huddled around the wireless, broadcasting their own bulletins to Berlin.
Goertz was finally rumbled by G2 Irish Intelligence who decided to feed him false instructions by letter. These facetiously included a rank "promotion" from Berlin for all the good work. He was apprehended and sat out the war in Dublin.
In 1947 he was on the verge of deportation to Berlin when he bizarrely bit on a hidden capsule containing prussic acid while in garda custody. He is buried in Glencree.
The extraordinary tale of the Nazi secret agent and the maverick rebel bomb maker is just one from Florenceville's colourful historical repertoire that stretches back through three centuries at a time when interest in home histories is at a peak and when the calibre of yarns for regaling dinner guests can add viewers and even value.
Florenceville was constructed in 1826 and has recently been restored at no expense by its current owners, a Dublin-based business family. The ongoing project has managed to achieve the difficult balance of modernising the house without compromising the architectural aspects that make up its historic character.
The main reception rooms retain their period marble fireplace surrounds and cornice work while the lower and ancillary rooms have been lifted in a clean modern style.
From the entrance, there's a good sized hall with a porcelain tiled floor. The drawingroom and diningroom both have sash windows and period fireplaces, the latter with an Arts and Crafts style oak surround with a slated inset. Both rooms have polished wooden floors.
The kitchen/breakfast room is an all modern affair with an island unit incorporating a Smeg gas hob and Cherrywood floor and base units with a granite worktop above. There's an American style fridge freezer, a gas stove and a polished timber floor.
The lounge is designed for modern comfort with a Rocal wood burning stove, there's a shelved study/library, a games room, sun room, boot room and utility. It has a sun room but a big bonus is the American barnwood panelled conservatory looking out across the 1.25 acre gardens. These in turn have been designed by 2002 Chelsea gold medallist Mary Reynolds – also called upon to design a space for the world famous Botanical Gardens at Kew in London.
Upstairs there are five bedrooms with walnut panelling in the master chamber which looks across Shanganagh Castle. The main bathroom is particularly luxurious and spacious with a big old free standing enamel tub on brass legs and the room's own fireplace.
Florenceville is approached via a winding driveway which runs through the 1.25 acre gardens.
The latest agent to become embroiled in this home's history is DNG's David Dobbs who reckons that Florenceville offers a slew of opportunities to a buyer for the €1.475m asking price.
"This historic house on grounds is right on the border between Shankill and Killiney – if you were in Killiney proper, you'd be paying twice the price for a property like this. The other big advantage here is the huge stone mill which offers an opportunity to convert it into a second large residence of character with potential for a rental income."
This has access to a separate site entrance.
There are blueprints available – and you won't have to eat them after reading.
Douglas Newman Good (01-23301616)