Mount Eagle House, Vico Road, Killiney
Mount Eagle House was built c. 1840 by the local land owner Robert Warren (who also built Enya’s Manderley Castle). The perfectly formed cut-stone three-storey house extends to approximately 5,000 and occupies a c. 4 acre site, which includes tiered gardens with swimming pool, tennis court and italianate gardens. The estate also contains a substantial two story coach house, bounded by Vico Road, which was used in the early 90’s by then-owner as a private art gallery. The property is is incredibly private, with high walls on every side, and the only brief glimpse of the property that one might catch is from a more elevated position on Victoria Road.
Mount Eagle originally stood on about c. 6.5 acres of gardens on the seaward side of Vico Road and was possibly the greatest estate in all of Dublin. The property was owned for years by the family of Con Smith, of the Smith group, who sold the home to businessman Jimmy McShane. The house was renovated twice in the early 1990’s: During their ownership, bookmaker Joe Donnelly’s family completely gutted the Victorian interior in favour of a minimalist space with japanese limestone floors, but haulier Robert ‘Pino’ Harris restored many of the Victorian features following his purchase of the property in the region of £1.5m in 1993 – a price that made Mount Eagle the most expensive home in Dublin at that time. However, Harris didn’t keep the house long – and seeing where he lives now in Dalkey, I’m not sure I blame him. He sold Mount Eagle in 1997 to a businessman, son of one of the former chief of Ireland’s largest supermarket chain. The businessman and his wife ran an artificial Christmas tree business in Wicklow- clearly Christmas trees are far more lucrative than one would think, considering they are believed to have paid in the region of £3 million for Mount Eagle, a substantial amount which made it, yet again, the most expensive house in Dublin for the second time in the space of 4 years.
This price was in respect of the house and about four acres of land, as the Donnellys split the property in order to accommodate a new structure on the northern side of the original 6.5 acre site.
Due to the strict attitude taken by planners towards the conservation of the beauty of Vico Road, the Donnelly’s decided to build an art gallery rather than a private residence which would probably have been denied planning. The family had already decamped to a more central home, Fintragh on Shrewsbury Road. The initial planning application for the gallery was submitted in 1994, however the application that was eventually accepted was lodged in 1995 and amended again in 1996. They broke ground on the site in 1997 and completed construction in 1999. The architect is world-renowned Claudio Silvestrin, who has designed many other high-profile homes such as the Kanye West residence, Los Angeles. The gallery’s design is striking- a mammoth rectangular structure extending to approximately 6,300 sq.ft, sporting a grass-covered roof, which renders it practically invisible to satellite images and enables it to blend into the natural green, wooded landscape. Art work in the gallery supposedly includes ‘three paintings by George Baselitz, two of which are from his `upside-down period’; a Matisse drawing; a Picasso drawing; a pair of fur-covered stilettos by Dorothy Cross; a stuffed headless doll by Sarah Lucas; and a Willem de Kooning ‘bronze woman seated’, clearly Marie and Joe Donnelly’s tastes in art are equally expensive and fine as their taste in property. The gallery’s operation has ceased supposedly since c. 2005 with the Donnelly family leaving Ireland, according to a 2012 planning application, and it therefore lies idle.
In August 2012, The Donnelly family applied to convert the property into a single residence, thus removing the art gallery function, however this application was denied. It is a pity that structure, undoubtedly one of Dublin’s best modern buildings, cannot be enjoyed on a full-time basis. Ideally Mount Eagle house would have been left in tact with its sprawling 6.5 acre site but, alas, the reality is that the art gallery is here to stay – hopefully a more practical use will be permissible in the future.