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Mystery owner of €58m Walford money pit has given up the ghost

"There it is, the Amberson mansion. The pride of the town... Sixty thousands dollars worth of woodwork alone. Hot and cold running water, upstairs and down. And stationary washstands in every last bedroom in the place."

The Magnificent Ambersons (Director Orson Welles, 1942)

WALFORD: In 2005, and at the height of the property boom, its redbrick walls and everything in between sold for an astonishing €58m to a mystery buyer.

Today, the only signs of life at No 24 Shrewsbury Road are the weeds escaping through the terracotta chimney pots and the moss that creeps along the curve of its pockmarked driveway.

The tycoon holding its title deeds has never revealed his identity to the neighbours, choosing instead to leave that matter to their imaginations.

And the chances of Walford's owner ever being unmasked would appear now to be more remote than ever, following his decision three weeks ago to withdraw an application to redevelop the house and its 1.8-acre gardens.

Not that the residents of Ballsbridge and its environs aren't confident that they know who he or she is.

All the whispers, and indeed the fingers of the chattering classes, have long pointed in the direction of the so-called Baron of Ballsbridge Sean Dunne; and more recently to his glamorous wife, Gayle. But with neither Mr Dunne nor Mrs Dunne forthcoming on their link or lack thereof to Walford, nothing has ever been proved.

Adding to the intrigue surrounding the imposing Edwardian pile is the fact that all the while the planning applications for Walford's redevelopment have continued to pour into Dublin City Council under the name of Matsack Nominees, a faceless trust with a business address on Sir John Rogerson's Quay.

Three proposals have been put before the city's planners, with what would now appear to be the final throw of the developer's dice coming last February. The fact that Mr Dunne's name has remained on the lips of Shrewsbury Road residents as the man behind the quest to transform Walford has always been understandable, given the ambitious and distinctly modern nature of those plans.

According to the last proposal, the house's anonymous owner sought to build no less than nine new houses, varying in size from 4,370sq ft to 5,500 sq ft, to the rear of the original, decaying residence.

There were also plans for underground parking for each property, which would have been accessed by a car lift.

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In the end, however, it all appears to have been too much for all concerned.

Three weeks ago Dublin City Council's planning department sought further information from the Matsack Trust in relation to its plans, including a report on the presence of bats on the Walford site from a "competent bat specialist" as well as an explanation on the need for traffic lights on Shrewsbury Road.

In the best of times such queries would more than likely have been addressed post haste, such would have been the developer's appetite to break ground and get on with the business of 'sweating' such a prized asset.

But now that we are in the worst of times, things are somewhat different.

Walford's mysterious owner won't be responding to the bureaucrats in city hall now or in the foreseeable future it seems, given his decision to withdraw his application on August 9.

Speculation is rife along Shrewsbury Road, and across the surrounding embassy belt, that the finance for the boom-time vision of Walford has finally dried up.

The Sunday Independent understands that the house -- once the home of the late millionaire industrialist Patrick Aloysius (PA) Duggan -- is now quietly on the market again.

Estimates on its current value according to real estate experts sit stubbornly between €17m and €18m, some €40m less than was paid for it in 2005.

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