Back to the future in Dublin 7: the Stoneybatter home constructed by the Victorian equivalent of today’s ‘build-to-rent’ funds
40 Kirwan Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 Asking price: €495,000 Agent: DNG (01) 8300989
THE origin story of a double fronted period terrace at 40 Kirwan Street in Dublin’s Stoneybatter tells us just how much modern State housing policy in Ireland has gone back to the future and reverted to private capital methods popular under Victorian values of the 1870s.
No40 was built by the Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company (DADC) in the late 19th century, at a time when only the rich could afford a home in the capital.
At the same time not enough new houses were being built. Sound familiar?
Rather than house people at the taxpayer’s expense, the Victorian State decided it would be preferable to turn the crisis into a profit model for those running Ireland’s biggest businesses.
The Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company (DADC) was set up in 1879 by big company bosses (including patrons from Guinness and Jacobs) and backed with public money loans provided by Dublin Corpo, along with land at cost and an easy ride in planning.
It’s objective was to build thousands of small homes to be let out to regular wage earners but at much higher rents than normal. It was reasoned that overcharging would not only generate greater profits from the crisis, but would also attract only responsible earners with reliable full time positions in times when much employment was casual.
This rental income enriched DADC’s shareholders, it funded director salaries and paid down the original loans. DADC became the capital’s biggest developer and would finish out 3,600 small homes in Dublin between 1879 and 1933.
Its first scheme comprised big blocks of one bed apartments at Buckingham Street, much like those being completed by big private funds today. Later it would build mostly small one-bedroom cottages and two and three-bed terraces.
But the rents became so high that protests resulted, including at least one rent strike. The cost of housing became such an issue that in 1932 a spanner was thrown in the works when Fianna Fail (considered dangerous subversives by many) were elected to Government for the first time. The party had promised faithfully to address housing.
Policy changed and the State began cranking out new social housing schemes of quality. This caused DADC’s patrons to complain vociferously to the authorities that this just wasn’t cricket. The new State social housing effort, providing good homes at reasonable rents, was completely undermining the DADC’s private profit model.
Its pleas were ignored and the DADC ceased building homes the following year. By the 1960s it was selling houses back to its tenants.
Today we’ve come full circle and the DADC state-aided private profit housing model is once again back to the fore.
Most of the homes built in Dublin this year (as in the late 19th century) will again be smaller units constructed in great numbers by the private sector.
Once again these are designed to be rented to steady wage earners at above market rents in order to generate the biggest profits possible.
This time Government is helping them profit from the crisis and dominate the market through the use of favourable tax rates and fundamental changes to the planning laws.
The house at 40 Kirwan Street in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 is among the larger ones designed by the DADC, which otherwise stuck to a small palette of designs with the one bedroom cottage (The E Type) being the most constructed of all.
Likely built around 1890, in 1901 it was home to postman John Corr, his wife Hannah and their four children aged 1 to 8.
The Corrs and other tenants of the neighbouring homes reflect the calibre of the steady waged lower to middle segment sought by the DADC, who were willing to pay those higher rents in exchange for quality housing.
Next door in 1901 is the Plenderleith family of seven headed by George, an engraver. On the other side is Ed O’Neill, a carpenter with his wife and two lodgers.
That the DADC did build quality homes is testified today by professional nurse Stuart O’Sullivan who bought No40 Kirwan Street in 2011. It was an executor sale and he acquired it at the bottom of the market just before the recovery kicked in.
“It was old fashioned and needed modernising inside. But structurally it turned out to be perfect,” says O’Sullivan who has since transformed it into a bright and colourful modern home worthy of the enclave recently deemed by Time Out to be among Europe’s ‘coolest’ neighbourhoods.
Most of its high quality original cast iron fireplaces were still there says Stuart, even if the living room’s was hanging on a wall outside in the yard.
The quality of these pieces, not usual for smaller homes of that time, again echoed the message to DADC tenants that their homes were a step up.
With the help of his Dad and a small team of skilled tradesmen, Stuart got to work. “We stripped it out and installed insulation in the outer walls and in the ceilings upstairs. I had all the cast iron fireplaces sent off to be sand blasted and restored.
"One was missing and I replaced it with a version that had been gifted to Mam and Dad years ago by an uncle of mine. I put in new wooden floors and a front door and I replaced the brown aluminium windows.”
He upgraded the bathroom with an Edwardian style suite, installing a new shower and covering the walls in bottle green subway tiles with a chequer board black and white tiled floor.
“The tiler turned out to be a really good carpenter too so he handmade the kitchen as well as the fitted wardrobes upstairs and the understairs storage press.” The stainless steel oven and cooker with its matching overhead fan came from Ikea.
In furnishing the house, O’Sullivan fell back on his taste for vintage mid century furniture. His pride and joy is a fabulous sideboard acquired in the Dublin Flea Market.
The repro Eames chairs in the living room were sourced from a warehouse in Dublin. Outside he has applied his personal touches to the rear yard, adding a deck at one end.
Now after eleven years in situ he’s placing the house for sale.
“I am only moving because I don’t have a garden and I want to start growing stuff. The one thing I will really miss is the neighbours who are amazing. There’s a great mix of older and new residents here and in the cottages and everyone keeps in touch. There’s regular clean up events and Facebook and Whatsapp groups.”
O’Sullivan was spoiled for choice with the great mix of pubs (his favourite is the Belfry), restaurants, cafes and shops for which the locale is renowned. “Canton City has the best curry sauce in Dublin.”
Accommodation at No40 includes a living room, a dining room to the front, a kitchen, a shower room, two double bedrooms upstairs and the L shaped courtyard out back. To the front there is residents’ on-street parking.
Within walking distance of the city centre, No40 backs on to TUD Grangegorman and is near The Phoenix Park, and the Zoo. Also close are The Law Library and The Four Courts, and it’s handy for the Luas.
The price is €495,000 through DNG, which would certainly surprise postman John and the wealthy DAD board members who disposed of the double fronted home back in the day.