Cliff Castle, Coliemore Road, Dalkey
Cliff Castle is one of Dalkey’s most distinctive residences – commanding an enviable position on Coliemore Road, with Italianate gardens leading down to the sea and the home’s private dock. It is the neighbour of Inniscorrig Castle. Few properties have such a quintessential ‘Castle’ feel to them, but Cliff Castle most certainly does.
Cliff Castle was originally one of the ‘Seven Castles of Dalkey’ hundreds of years ago when it defended the main trade route in and out of Ireland. Although the seven castles supposedly date back to possibly the 12th Century, I believe that Cliff Castle as it currently stands dates back to the 1840’s when the home was built as a private residence, presumably a summer home, and then converted into a hotel in the 1920’s. It is possible that a smaller castle existed before 1840 which was added onto, or demolished and replaced with Cliff Castle. In the late 1970’s, the owners found signs that dungeons and underground caves exist under the home from the original 12th Century buildings, as well as ‘lost rooms’ high up in the battlements. The house was designed by architects Mc Curdy and Mitchell. It extends to over 6,135 sqft and stands on a similar site as that of neighbouring Inniscorrig Castle, each standing on approximately 0.77 acres. The house has been restored to its former glory, now boasts 6 bedrooms rather than up to 20 as it had during its time as a hotel. The new proportions are far more fitting of such a magnificent residence.
I cannot confirm who the property was originally constructed for. The first owner for which there are any proper records is Archibald M’Comas (McComas) and his wife Jane McComas, along with their family. Archibald died in 1876, leaving thousands of pounds in charitable donations to various charities.
The next owners were likely the Rogers family in the 1880’s and 1890’s. By 1910, it appeared that a man named Edward P. Johnson, Esq. was residing at Cliff Castle as his address, and in 1915 he still lived there. A reader of the blog, and great grandchild of Edward Johnson contacted me to inform me about Edward, who lived at Cliff Castle with his daughters- Emily and Elsa. Emily and Elsa married a father and son who had moved from Cork to Dublin in order for the son, John Victor Hearn Woodroffe, to study medicine at Trinity College. John and Elsa both lived at Cliff Castle and had a daughter, Florence Cyrilla in 1912. Elsa’s friend, Alison Hall, who lived in Killiney until she died at the age of 100, remembered being at Cliff Castle during a big storm in 1917 during which much of the jetty was washed away. John and Elsa moved to England in the early 1920s, and their son was born in Surrey in 1924. It is likely that the Johnson family, prior to moving to Surrey, were the last to reside at Cliff Castle before it was converted to a hotel in 1920 by the Murphy family, Timothy Murphy and Bridie (Bridget) Murphy. The Murphys acquired the property for the sum of £3,000 at the time. The hotel was popular as a seaside retreat and a 1924 ad describes one of its features as ‘excellent reception from all BBC stations’ – the definition of luxury.
Timothy Murphy was brought to court in 1925 for having large quantities of alcohol at the hotel without having a license to sell alcohol. In 1928 he attempted to acquire a license but was refused. In 1931, the hotel applied for a ‘Music and Dancing license’ and was granted their permission. Over the years, nearby neighbours complained about the noise generated by these dances and people driving in and out of the hotel at night and a court case in 1936 resulted from this. It seems that neighbourly feuds in Dalkey are not a 21st century phenomenon!
In 1946, a floating mine bomb exploded near the hotel causing all the windows to explode, roof tiles to shatter, and all the furniture was thrown across rooms and smashed by the blast. Floors, ceilings, piping, etc. were also very badly damaged and the cost of repair was expected to be high. Nobody was seriously injured but most guests had several cuts from the incident. All the houses in the vicinity were badly damaged.
Dalkey Literary and Historical Society met often at Cliff Castle. In 1956, ten years after the bomb blast, the ground floor lounge went on fire but was quickly put out by Dun Laoghaire fire brigade. The Murphy family finally ended their reign over Cliff Castle in the mid 1960’s when they sold up and moved themselves and their daughters; Ita, Ena and Fidelma, to the Bel-Air Hotel and Equestrian Centre in Ashford, Wicklow, which they bought prior to the sale of Cliff Castle. Timothy Murphy unfortunately passed away in 1970, and Bridie Murphy in 1981.
In 1971 the castle was for sale again. It sold for approximately £70,000 to Mr. Jack Kirwan, owner of the nearby Colamore Hotel (which has since been replaced by the modern Coliemore Road apartment development). The advertisement for the property in 1971 describes it as having 15 bedrooms, 8 chalets, dining room for 60-65 people, lounges and a function room suitable for 200 people. These chalets were built down on the lower terraces, which are obviously just terraces and gardens these days. Being the swinging 70’s, the new owner opened ‘Fingers Discotheque’ from 10pm till 2am (opening hours extensions were granted) with admission for £1 including supper with the slogan: “It’s a swinging Night for great People”. At the time, Sunday lunch was £1.80 for adults and 80p for children.
In 1978, it was sold again to Galway-born Mr. David MacDonald for the sum of £120,000 with ambitious plans to spend a further £100,000 on extensive refurbishments such as impressive indoor waterfall and stream… which I believe may have materialised (unfortunately!) MacDonald was a successful London restaurateur but intended to return to Ireland to be head chef of Cliff Castle. His wife, Esther MacDonald, was also involved in running the hotel. The hotel’s new Polynesian-style night club was named The Coral Reef. ‘Caves’ with tables were built overlooking the dance floor for privacy and genuine palm trees were also used in the club. The nightly band who played were a Tongan group named ‘The Friendly Islanders’, one of the members was supposedly a relative of the King of Tonga.
To my surprise – or maybe not to my surprise given the tackiness of the aforementioned refurbishment – the property re-emerged for sale in the same year, 1978, first guiding £240,000 but was then withdrawn and re-listed as guiding £275,000. The Castle lingered on the market for well over a year and finally sold in 1980. At this time, the hotel supposedly only had 11 guest bedrooms – it had 15 in 1971. The agent selling the property (Hooke & MacDonald) at the time described the property as “depending on how the public areas are split up, there is altogether a total of some 10,000sq.ft of space”. The house currently extends to just over 6,000 sqft and I know there were some minor demolitions in the 1990’s, but perhaps there was more before then also. In any case, I believe that the 1980 buyer was McGettigan Ltd. headed by Mr James McGettigan. The hotel came under more criticism from local residents, as it did years ago under the Murphy’s ownership, and they were refused renewal of drink, music and dancing licenses in 1984 due to the behaviour of the hotel’s patrons who were supposedly littering, urinating, vommiting and shouting on Coliemore Road. The Phelans, of The Miami Showband, supposedly managed the hotel before McGettigan so perhaps they purchased the hotel in 1980 and then McGettigan subsequently purchased it after a short period of time.
McGettigan sold the property in February 1989 to a new family who sought to keep the castle as a residence, rather than a hotel. They spoke of how random people constantly wandered in off the street into their home thinking that it was still a hotel. The residents of Dalkey and others who had stayed there had fond memories of the parties held there over the years, including weddings, 21st birthday parties, etc. The new owners, however, did not stay long at the house and sold up 10 months after they purchased the property. They had yet to undergo the extensive renovations and redecorating necessary to transform it back to its former glory as a high-class home. The owners were selling due to the fact that they had to move elsewhere to pursue business opportunities. The dimensions of the rooms at the time make me wonder, yet again, where the square footage has disappeared to over the years. The castle, at this time, boasted a lounge (988 square foot), a ballroom (1827 square foot) and a drawing room (535 square foot), to list just a few. Those three rooms alone make up over 3,500 square foot – more than half the current size of the property. The Irish Times speculated that the property would make £750,000+ in this late 1989 sale. The house sold during a period with booming prices. The 1994 owners supposedly purchased the property for an unknown sum at the end of 1989
By 1994, the property’s ballroom had been demolished and more demolition occurred in 1995. Perhaps this explains the 4000 square foot reduction in the size of the castle, as the ballroom alone was c. 2000 square feet. I believe the sellers in 1994 were Ann and Liam Curry, who sold to Mr Tony Corcoran, previously residing at 4 Violet Hill, Church Road, Killiney. Corcoran submit planning permission for demolition (partial) and refurbishment of the property before actually buying it – presumably it was a term of the sale. Despite the house being listed originally at £480,000 in 1994, Corcoran paid in the region of £350,000 for the property and its separate mews annex. This price was a bargain for the property and Corcoran was lucky to have purchased it during the minor slump at the time but by 1997 the market was back in full swing.
Corcoran listed the house for auction in 1999 guiding £2,500,000 – a big increase on the £350,000 he paid 4 years previously. I cannot be sure whether it sold or not at this time, but the house was ‘quietly for sale’ sixth months later at £3m, but I don’t know if it was a new seller or not. In 2001, a businessman involved in the sale and rental of formalwear supposedly paid £3m (€3.81m) for the property. A few months following his purchase, in 2002, the owner listed the property for rent at £10,000/month (€12,700). The castle was rented for years by the Moroccan Embassy. In recent years, following the Moroccans leaving the property, it has been for rent for €10,000/month, and later €6,500/month, but is believed to currently require significant renovation.