Sorrento Cottage, Vico Road, Dalkey, South County Dublin
Constructed by the wealthy MacDonnell family in the late 1930s, who were also responsible for constructing Sorrento Terrace, Sorrento Cottage was the family’s seaside retreat. Sorrento Cottage was the first property built on the headland, which was acquired in 1837 and comprised all of the lands now occupied by Sorrento Park, Dillon’s Park, Sorrento Terrace and Sorrento Cottage. Barrister Hercules MacDonnell was the last MacDonnell family member to use the home before selling in 1873.
The buyers were Lord Francis Brady, a legal eagle, and Lady Brady, who took over the house as a retreat from their townhome at 26 Pembroke Street Upper, Dublin 2. Under their ownership, the Bradys cultivated the home’s extensive grounds and were well known for their horticultural prowess. Francis brought exotic plants to the garden, such as valerian and silver ragworth, which, from a single packet of seeds, spread across the surrounding cliffs. Over thirty-five years after acquiring Sorrento Cottage, Sir Brady died in 1909, however the house was not offered for sale on the open market again until 1924.
The next resident one of its most prominent, being the renowned playwright Lennox Robinson and his wife, Dorothy Robinson (née Dorothy Travers-Smith). Robinson threw large garden parties and also staged plays in gardens, such as “The Cyclops” and “Iphigenia in Taurus”. Noteworthy guests of Robinson’s at the house were the likes of WB Yeats, Rutherford Mayne, George Bernard Shaw and Lady Gregory. Writer Frank O’Connor also referred to the house in his “My Father’s Son.” Having moved to the house around 1925, Robinson likely left the house c 1943 when the family of Coleman White moved in, and subsequently moved to 20 Longford Terrace, Monkstown.
The home’s greenhouse curiously acted as a small vineyard and the house produced its own wine.
The property next came on the market in 1973 through Adams and was purchased for about IR£92,000 (€117,000) by artist Diana Tomkin, who renovated the property and subsequently sold it just two years later in 1975. The artist took quite a hit financially, selling the property for just IR£65,000 (€82,500) – considerably below what she paid, especially when the cost of renovation was taken into consideration. The buyer was advertising executive John (Jack) F. Young, who was until then living at Seacroft on Killiney’s leafy Seafield Avenue.
The price paid turned out to be quite the bargain for the Young family, when Jack Young’s widow later sold the house in 1991 in a private deal to property developer Harry Crosbie for a reported IR£800,000 (€1,015,000). Crosbie immediately rented the house to musicians U2.
U2, it seems, grew fond of the house as guitarist David Evans, aka The Edge, became very publicly known as the home’s owner from 2000 onwards as he sought to bring the dated two-storey residence into the 21st Century. Evans presumably purchased it privately from Crosbie some time between 1991 and 2000 and occupied it as his principle family home. By this stage the house had been modified heavily over the years by prior owners. An awkward flat-roofed extension juts out from one side and there are a number of unattractive outbuildings. Inside, the ceilings downstairs were lowered to accommodate overhead duct space to route services through. It was clear that the home would need a great deal of improvement to bring it up to the standards warranted by a house occupying such a huge site in one of Dublin’s most exclusive enclaves. Evans sought to extend the house to 7,900sqft, but specifically chose to retain the pink-coloured Sorrento Cottage, keeping it as the centrepiece of the property, and building modern extensions behind it. The redevelopment was initially granted planning permission until An Taisce lodged an appeal against the decision, leading to it being overthrown and rejected by An Bord Pleanala.
The move seemed to come as a shock to all, given the sensitive approach taken by Evans towards the redevelopment, and the musician eventually sought a judicial review of the planning process. Since the downfall of the initial application, Evans has opted to leave Sorrento Cottage as-is, and moved on to Fortlands, a mansion on nearby Killiney Hill Road. While it was a win for An Taisce, it was definitely a loss for Sorrento Cottage, which could have very much benefited from investment and upgrading.
While it may be trapped in the 19th Century, Sorrento Cottage is without a doubt one of the finest properties – by virtue of its site alone – in Dublin. It enjoys an unrivalled position in prime Dalkey, with a magnificent mature site and one of the best views imaginable. All of the large detached houses on Vico Road apart from this are separated from the sea by the DART, whereas Sorrento Cottage has direct sea access. It is the only detached seafront home in Dalkey with a southwesterly orientation.
Originally the adjoining Sorrento Terrace was to extend to 22 houses in length, however as the famine set in these plans were quashed and the terrace, which began with Sorrento House, was capped off with 8 Sorrento Terrace, and Sorrento Cottage was left with the remainder of the lands after acres were turned into public parks. Its site is so extensive that the entire Sorrento Terrace could be replicated on Sorrento Cottage’s lands (but without most of Sorrento House’s gardens, naturally) as its road frontage is longer than that of the entire terrace. Unbeknownst to many, the home’s site actually spans to the west and wraps around Vico Terrace and Vico Lodge. The distinctive pink house is totally screened off from the public, with rows of high trees shielding it from passersby, however it is visible from a number of viewing points along the Vico Road.
Sorrento Cottage’s future may be uncertain, especially with a high-profile planning failure muddying its past, however it is clear that it has the potential to be a world-class trophy property, capable of commanding one of the highest prices in Dublin if redeveloped.