Belmont, 21 Shrewsbury Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
BELMONT is home to billionaire telecoms mogul, Denis O’Brien. The substantial Edwardian house was built in 1904 and designed by Richard Caulfield Orpen – brother of the artists William Orpen – and sits on c. 0.66 acres.
Orpen designed the house for a wealthy shipping family, the Murphy family, and it was originally known as ‘Hawthorn’, Shrewsbury Road. The Murphy family reigned over Belmont for a very long period. Throughout the early 1900’s up until his death in 1963, this home was owned by Sir George Murphy, Baronet, and his wife, Lady Frances Murphy. The couple were a prominent couple, often gracing the personal pages of newspapers, which detailed their frequent trips to London to events such as the Royal Coronation and their travels further afield, such as to Switzerland to enjoy a spot of winter sports. Sir George, son of Michael Murphy and born on March 31st 1881, was a director of the National Bank for many years and served as chairperson of the board of the Irish bank for 16 years, from 1935 to 1951, along with holding other appointments on other boards. Lady Frances, born c. 1892, was the daughter of Mr. Richard Davoren who resided in the Friarsland area of the Taney Parish in Dublin 14. Sir George and Lady Frances presumably did not have any children as his obituary states that he is survived by his wife, but has no mention of children. In November of the year of Sir George’s death, 1963, Belmont was sold.
I believe that the buyer in 1963 was Prof. Timothy Counihan as Thom’s directory lists Counihan as the owner of Belmont (Hawthorn) in 1967. Professor Counihan has children, including Ms. Anne Counihan (Webster), Michael Counihan, Timothy Counihan Jr., and Dr. Peter Counihan. The family constructed a new two-bedroom residence in the side garden of Belmont, which adopted the home’s original name (Hawthorn) and still holds this name today. The Counihan family still reside at the new Hawthorn.
Although a price was not publicly disclosed in 1992 when Prof. Counihan sold the house to businessman, Mr. Martin Anthony (Tony) Kilduff, in an off-market deal, the sale price achieved was believed to be between £800,000 and £1,000,000 (although it was reputedly more towards the upper estimate) – which was rumoured to be the highest price ever achieved in Dublin 4 at that time. Mr Kilduff had established a software company named Kindle (banking software) in 1979 that became highly successful and operated in 56 countries by 1992 when he sold his shares in it for a sum believed to be in the region of £15 million. This was the same year during which he purchased Belmont and later began investing in property. Kilduff, who already lived in Ballsbridge, decided not to move into Belmont until construction had finished at Prof. Counihan’s new home on the half acre (approx.) site he retained. At this time, the home offered accommodation of five bedrooms, three reception rooms and a large hallway with fireplace that acted as a fourth reception room and was in almost original condition.
Celtic Tiger – Denis O’Brien
In 2005, Tony Kilduff agreed to sell Belmont to Denis O’Brien for a sum in the region of €30-35 million – making it the third most expensive home sold that year, after Barrington Tower, Carrickmines, D18 (€36m) and Walford, Shrewsbury Road (€58m). The sale officially closed on the 27th of January, 2006. While O’Brien is always reported as being the beneficial owner of the home, the official owner is Grapedown Ltd., St. George’s House, Bay View Road, Port St. Mary, Isle of Man. At the time of purchase, the home’s interiors and even though it provided spacious accommodation, many of the rooms’ proportions were not particularly good and some of the rooms were also very dark. Nevertheless, the home still had 7 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, numerous reception rooms and a kidney-shaped indoor pool.
O’Brien’s purchase of the home has gone down in the Celtic Tiger history books as one of the most outrageous acts of the boom, when he applied to demolish his new €30m home in order to replace it with an approx. 22,000sqft home. In reality, wishing to demolish the home was not uncalled for due to the significant intervention that took place c. 1994, where the property underwent partial demolition and significant construction to the north and south of the home. Before this, Belmont was still wider than most homes on Shrewsbury Road, where average homes occupied about 50% of their site’s frontage. Following the additions, Belmont has since occupied practically 100% of the site’s frontage. The new additions brought the house to about 7,850sqft but unfortunately they were poorly constructed, using 100mm leaf cavity walls with minimal insulation. The only way to bring the home up to modern BER standards the home would be to demolish and reconstruct it, according to a report by John Kelly of de Blacam and Meagher Architects. It is a real pity that so little of the original 1904 house remains today and that the quality of the build has been compromised to such an extent by recent additions. de Blacam and Meagher’s plans for the home were modelled on a house in Sandwich, Kent. The house, known as ‘The Salutation’, on Sandwich’s Knightrider Street, was designed by famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, but is not in the same style as neighbouring homes on Shrewsbury Road and for this reason among others, the planned redevelopment was rejected.
In 2014, Grapedown applied for planning permission to demolish part of the existing 7,850sqft home and to double the size of the remaining structure. Planning was granted and while the main house as can be seen from the street will not undergo any material change, all of the construction will take place to the rear of the property, with the existing indoor swimming pool to be demolished and a substantial open-plan living room/dining room/kitchen being built at ground floor. Below this there will be a basement level with a large entertainment/play room and storage. In total, the home will extend to 10,736sqft once extensions have been completed – however three other homes on Shrewsbury Road are being extended/built at the same time as O’Brien’s extension is taking place that will trump his in terms of size.