A Co Dublin home was once part of a merchant’s charitable vision
24 Arkle Square, The Chase, Stillorgan, Co Dublin
Asking price: €495,000
Agent: DNG (01) 2832700
There’s nothing quite like Arkle Square off Brewery Road in Dublin’s Stillorgan, a U-shaped scheme of ornate Victorian homes with a striking clock tower, which was originally constructed in the 1860s to house “elderly gentlewomen of slender means”.
In the days before the old age pension, it was felt that society ladies who had fallen on hard times, usually due to the deaths or indeed debts of their husbands, would suffer more from the workhouse than their less well-off counterparts. So it was felt they should be housed somewhere special in their penury.
This and four other clusters of what has to have been some of Ireland’s most beautiful social housing, was the brainchild of the wealthy Down-born shipping merchant Charles Sheils. Born in 1782, he made a fortune from the port of Liverpool and the transatlantic trade.
Fervently anti-slavery, he started his career when Liverpool was the slaving capital of the world. One in 10 Africans who were abducted from their homes were shipped through Liverpool, estimated at 1.3m people and with more than 180,000 fatalities. The trade represented 40pc of the city’s income. Indeed, the famous Penny Lane was named after the slaver James Penny, who vigorously fought Parliament legislation to abolish the trade, claiming that it would ruin the city of Liverpool.
Sheils’ enterprise took advantage of the void and built up his alternate Liverpool business rapidly once the 1807 Slave Trade Act had ended the shameful trade in Britain. In his later years, he witnessed the misery of the Irish Famine and decided he would leave his fortune to be invested in Irish social housing. There were five Sheils almshouse centres built in the 1860s, but only one is south of the border, possibly because the northerner spent his last years in nearby Killiney.
The fund he left to fulfil his dream would ultimately provide 125 shelter homes. It hired the architect Sir Charles Lanyon who designed Queens University. The five almshouse centres were noted not only for their non-denominational ethos, but also for their especially beautiful craft and design.
In the case of Arkle Square, at The Chase, the scheme features fabulous stone and brick work, a central garden green with a three-tiered fountain and an ornate clock tower. When the houses became rundown in the 1980s, a deal was reached with a developer who acquired the properties, refurbished them and sold them on as a private scheme, and then enabled new apartments for the Charles Sheils Charity, which still houses people today.
Recently, Arkle Square residents had a big garden party to celebrate the development’s 150th anniversary, with the Sheils residents attending.
Eleven years ago, Declan Nash, who had been living in Dun Laoghaire, was out home hunting in a buyer’s market and he arrived in the area to view another property. “My daughter was with me and she spotted the sign up for Arkle Square. I loved it. To me, it has always looked like a gingerbread house. Every day since I bought it, I blow it a kiss,” says Nash, who is now selling up with plans to move to the seaside.
“I have lived in a lot of different places over the years and I always felt the house loved me back. It’s just so welcoming. But the other great thing about living in Arkle Square is the community. We’re always out mixing with each other and the garden party for the anniversary was just magic.”
The house was in good condition when he bought it, but Declan felt it could do with a little bit of updating. “So I put in a new main bathroom and a new ensuite, and I replaced the kitchen. I love white, so I had the interior painted white and I replaced the front door with a version suitable to the scheme.”
At the heart of the house is a substantial open-plan living and dining space with a tongue and grooved timber floor and big glazed floor-to-ceiling timber double doors and windows facing out into the garden. There’s a kitchen in white with a tiled floor.
Upstairs, the house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The master bedroom has its own ensuite and the main bathroom comes with a Mira Elite ST shower. At the front, there’s off-street parking and a landscaped garden area, while at the rear, the scheme opens into the scenic central communal garden with its fountain. Number 24 is one of the end-of-terrace properties, so it’s a bit different to the others.
Recently, the private residents who live in the clock tower portion uncovered the original mechanism and had it restored. Between 8am and 8pm, it chimes on the hour. Now it’s time for Declan Nash to move on. His lifestyle change will take him to Greystones, where he plans to spend a few years beside the sea.
DNG is seeking €495,000 for 25 Arkle Square. As for Charles Sheils, who died in 1861 aged 79, he could never have imagined how far his fortune would go in providing housing for those who needed it most. And latterly, for down traders lucky enough to get a Square deal.