Sunday 17 December 2017

History lessons on the leafy roads of Dublin 4

While Dublin's Ailesbury and Shrewsbury Roads are often dubbed millionaires' row, a quick trip in the time-machine reveals a colourful past

ALTHOUGH developers Paddy Kelly, Bernard McNamara and Derek Quinlan may soon be forced to sell their houses there by Nama and the banks, the enviable addresses of Ailesbury Road and Shrewsbury Road remain home to successful businessmen such as Paul Anderson and Dermot Desmond.

A look back at the 1911 census and other records reveals that even then, both roads were home to many wealthy families and their past residents have a varied and interesting history.

We begin with the history of Donnybrook Parish, which reveals that in 1866, enterprising builder Michael Meade built Donnybrook Church, and what is now St Michael's College as his private residence, as well as many of the houses on Ailesbury Road.

Mainly in their 40s, 50s or 60s, the residents included several barristers, solicitors and mechanical and civil engineers. Vet, doctor, shipowner, brewer, accountant and building contractor are also among the job titles, as are several merchants, stockbrokers and one or two former senior military men.

Every family had at least one servant and were attended to by a variety of cooks, nannies, nursery maids, parlour maids, and general domestic maids, as well as a few chauffeurs, gardeners, coachmen and grooms from every corner of Ireland.

Living at 12 Shrewsbury Road were 45-year-old Thomas Quirke, a solicitor and professor of property and real estate and his 31-year-old wife Mary.

Although most of the neighbouring families employed two or three servants, they employed five staff in total: a chauffeur, a cook, a housemaid and two nannies to look after their two young sons.

Scottish businessman John Boyd Dunlop lived nearby at number 46 Ailesbury Road. Although fellow Scotsman Robert Thomson invalidated his pneumatic tyre patent in 1890, he had still played a part in transport history that year when his factory in Belfast began making rubber tyres. He spent his latter years living at the exclusive Dublin address until his death in 1921, when he was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

A neighbour at 37 Ailesbury Road was Samuel Geoghegan, a Dublin-born architect and chief engineer who worked for Guinness.

Having learned his craft in England, Scotland, Turkey and India, he then set about putting his engineering and architectural skills to good use at the home of the black stuff, where he designed the hops store, part of which now forms the Digital Hub building, and a curved building at Grand Canal Harbour, which supplied water to the brewery and the rest of the city.

In 1876 he custom-designed a steam train for Guinness that could run on both narrow gauge and broad gauge railways that ran beside St James's Gate and within the brewery itself. Several of the narrow-gauge engines hauled malt wagons, spent grains, barrels and hops, running on two miles of track and a spiral tunnel, which he designed so that the trains could move from a lower level of the site to an upper one.

But it is the neighbouring house and former French Embassy at number 36 whose history is most interesting and action-packed.

Batt O'Connor, a close friend of Michael Collins, built it in 1920 for Limerick woman Nell Humphreys, whose brother, Commandant O'Rahilly was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers killed outside the GPO during the Easter Rising.

Many of the Irish leaders, including President de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, visited the house, where they held meetings of the Dail, Cabinet, headquarters staff, and Republican courts.

During the War of Independence, defence minister Cathal Brugha used the house as his headquarters and often slept at night in a secret room that had been added during its construction.

Free State troops got wind of the secret room though and in November 1922, they raided the house and burst straight in. Nell Humphreys' sister Ann O'Rahilly got shot in the jaw in the ensuing gunfight, during which anti-Treaty Ernie O'Malley, who was also there at the time, killed one soldier and wounded several more, but was then captured while trying to escape via the back garden.

Sunday Independent

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