Alfie's secret house
No one knew that Alfie Byrne owned a house in D1 on the proviso that he used the rent to look after relatives
Amongst the items displayed during a 2015 exhibition on Alfie Byrne at The Little Museum of Dublin was a satirical postcard published after his visit to America in 1945. It shows Alfie boarding the boat back to Ireland, watched by a huge crowd of people, all of whom have one arm in a sling. A cat has its arm in a sling and even a tower clock in the distance has a bandaged hand. Alfie, meantime, has his big hand out to shake with those on board, who are nervously peering out.
Indeed, Byrne, who held the position of Mayor of Dublin a record 10 times, was so adept at pressing the flesh and canvassing that he was dubbed 'The Shaking Hand of Dublin'. His mark on life was somewhat forgotten in the decades after his death in 1956, but at the height of his career, he was so famous that men wrote to him for help finding a wife, children chased him down the street for the lollipops, chocolates and sweets he regularly dispensed, and he received fan mail and begging letters from around the world.
Byrne, however, has re-entered Irish public consciousness since the 2015 exhibition of his personal archive, and since the publication last year of a new warts-and-all biography called Alfie: The Life and Times of Alfie Byrne, written by Trevor White.
Born into poverty in the inner city in 1882, Byrne left school at 13 to go to work and support his siblings after his father lost his job at Dublin Port. Despite being a teetotaller, the industrious Byrne bought a pub at the age of 26, which enabled him to tap into the hot issues of the day. By the time of his death, Byrne had earned a reputation as a vote-getting machine and was the only Irish politician to become an MP, a TD, a senator, and a councillor.
However, Alfie, as he insisted people call him, was a man full of contradictions. He presented himself as a simple man of the people who cycled everywhere, did his own bike repairs and helped the dozens of people who gathered outside the Mansion House every morning without an appointment in search of aid. But he was also a prosperous businessman who lived in a large pile on Palmerston Road in Rathmines, enjoyed an income as a ticket agent from the Irish Sweepstakes, and leveraged his power "to carve out a fiefdom in a part of Dublin that he abandoned as soon as money allowed", according to White.
The author has described him as dressing like "a 19th century gentleman": his attire, which involved a three-piece suit, a top hat, and a large white waxed moustache, made him look like he was appearing in "a comedy by Oscar Wilde". Yet Dubliners had fond memories of him, and his funeral was the largest seen in the city in years. The Evening Herald reported that "traffic in O'Connell Street was held up for almost 20 minutes to allow the cortege of over 150 motor cars to pass, and at all the junctions along the route to Glasnevin, people silently gathered to pay tribute to one of Dublin's most famous sons".
White has described him as the "darling of Irish housewives" and Patricia Richardson's mother was no different. Knowing there was no statue to Byrne in the city, she wanted a plaque erected outside their home, at 19 Belvedere Road - stating that the serial Lord Mayor himself had owned it. But until recently, few knew about Alfie's secret city centre house.
"My Mum said he was really popular and very kind to the poor," says Patricia, revealing that Alfie, while living in the posh southside, owned a house on the QT on the northside. She was eight years old when her family moved into No 19 in 1964 and first heard the rumours that their home was once owned by Byrne. But after her mother's death last year, when she was handing the deeds of the house over to the family solicitor, she finally got her confirmation - Byrne's name was handwritten on the papers.
"Alfie had inherited the house from his aunt, Annie Dowman, back in 1940 and he kept it with the proviso that he would rent it out and the rent would be divided between all the siblings to keep them," she says. "He later sold the house to a Mr Maguire in 1952 and my parents bought the house from Maguire in 1953. But I don't think Alfie ever lived in it. Maguire put his own family crest of arms in the living room fireplace."
As both of Patricia's late parents had been in nursing homes, 19 Belvedere Road was in the Fair Deal scheme and has just been put on the market.
"Six of us children lived there and two were even born in the house," she says. "We have lovely memories of it. Our house was the first on the road to have central heating. Peader Kearney, who wrote the national anthem, was born up the road, next to the school I went to."
Belvedere Road, just 1.5km from where Alfie grew up on Lower Oriel Street, is near the North Circular Road, sandwiched between the Mater Hospital, Croke Park and the city centre.
No 19 is a four-bed Edwardian two-storey-over-basement property. The front of the red-brick terraced home, which was built in the 1890s, has a glass front door, the original railings and gates, and a landscaped garden with rose bushes, irises and lilies. To the rear is a west-facing walled garden and a patio.
The period property has 1,841 sq ft of accommodation laid out over three floors, including three bathrooms. Off the entrance hallway with its high ceilings, original archway, and ornate coving, are two reception rooms and a shower room. At the basement level, there is a kitchen/dining extension that Patricia's father put in, a bedroom currently used as a games room and a second bedroom with laminated wood flooring, a mahogany feature fireplace, and ceiling coving.
The first floor is home to two double bedrooms, one of which retains the original cast-iron fireplace, a picture rail and a ceiling rose. The other bedroom has a marble feature fireplace, fitted carpets and original coving. Also on this level is a second kitchen: it has pine units, vinyl floors and wall tiling, so could do with money invested in it for a proper refurbishment and upgrade.
Because Belvedere Road is within walking distance to three hospitals and the IFSC, it will likely appeal to both investors and potential owner-occupiers looking for a project, according to selling agent Vincent Mullen from DNG Phibsboro. The area has been recently enhanced with the addition of the Luas. Viewings of Alfie Byrne's secret house start tomorrow, from 12.45pm to 1.15pm.
19 Belvedere Road
Asking price: €475,000
Agent: DNG (01) 8300989