Walford, 24 Shrewsbury Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Walford is the most talked about house in all of the madness – it is the proverbial White Elephant of the Celtic Tiger. The sale of the house in 2005 made headlines around the world, firmly putting Shrewsbury Road into the top 10 most expensive streets in the world. The house was guiding €35 million, but sold for a whopping €58 million and that was before the 9% stamp duty of approx €5,200,000 was charged to the buyer – bringing it to a total of €63.2m. The property sits on 1.77 acres, which meant the property had obvious development potential.
The Duggan family had lived in the house since 1954, and presumably had no mortgage or debt on the house when they sold it this astronomical sum in 2005. The patriarch of the family, whose death lead to the sale, was millionaire industrialist Patick Aloysius (PA) Duggan, cofounder of the Irish Glass Bottle Company. Duggan died in 2004 and thus Walford was an executor sale.
Prior to the Duggan family, Mr and Mrs Harold Osterberg resided at the home. Mr Osterberg’s full title was General Consul Harold A. V. Osterberg. They had one daughter named Alys Mary Osterberg, a son named Paul Osterberg and possibly other sons. Before them there was the Martin family (c.1927), who had a son named Francis Cyril Martin. Previous to this (c. 1915) was the family of Charles E. Lambkin, who had a daughter named Olive Lambkin. Presumably the first family to reside at Walford were the family of Mr. John M. Smyly Esq., who lived here at least from 1904 which is around when Shrewsbury Road’s development commenced. Walford was built in 1902, and extended shortly after to accommodate a library. John had a son named John Neville Smyly, a daughter named Ruth Eleanor Smyly and at least one other son.
In 2005, competition for the home was fierce at the time and due to this it was sold by tender rather than by private treaty, so all parties submitted their best offers. Supposedly six bidders competed for the home at that time. Even before the sale there was trouble at Walford, with disputes between the then-owners, the Duggan family, and their neighbours, the MacKenzie family of Runnymeade, 22 Shrewsbury Road. The dispute concerned the boundary of the property, as there was no solid wall or fence in place – just hedging and trees. Stephen MacKenzie, the prominent solicitor, claimed that the plants were no more than 2 or 3 foot in limited areas over his boundary, however the Duggan’s gardener, Gregory Quinn, claimed that it was much further in – as far as six foot in. It may seem like a petty dispute, but at the time every inch of Shrewsbury Road land was worth its weight in gold and owners would go to great lengths to ensure they owned as much as possible.
The aforementioned neighbour, Stephen MacKenzie, actually admitted to have bid on the house himself – one can be sure that he does not regret losing the house now, knowing what we know seven years on. At the time, there was much mystery surrounding the identity of the buyer. There were rumors flying around that financier Dermot Desmond had bought the property in order to add to and give access to the 10 acre Old Belvedere rugby ground that he supposedly owned the freehold to, which backed onto Walford. Others rumored to have bought the property were Michael Flatley and also Sean Dunne. Following the sale, it emerged that the property was sold by a company named Matsack Nominees Limited, the beneficiary of which was widely reported in the media as being Gayle Killilea, the wife of Sean Dunne. Finally, in February 2014, Sean Dunne admitted for the first time that Gayle did in fact purchase Walford in cash using a €100 million gift he gave her in order for her to be financially independent – an admission that formed part of his bankruptcy proceedings in the United States.
From 2006, ambitious planning permission applications were submitted to add a further three homes to the site – a seven bed 1468sq.m home and two four bed homes extending to 613sq.m and 590sq.m each. This represented a total overdevelopment of the site which would have been a travesty had it been granted. Thankfully it didn’t happen, but further planning applications rolled in over the last few years up until 2010, all involved adding additional properties to the site. Probably the worst plans, in my opinion, were the January 2010 application to build nine detached homes in the back garden of Walford. This is just completely out of character for the street, where every home as direct frontage onto the street (even if this frontage is just a gateway). Throwing a housing estate behind a house is just absurd, even if it is arguable that perhaps Ailesbury Wood was a similar development – but that was on an existing empty field with its own proper site entrance.
In 2008, the house was quietly back for sale at a price of €75m, despite the fact that experts then valued it at €40m or less. The sale was presumably due to the housing market crash, which had already reduced average prices by 20%, and by the failure to secure planning permission at Walford also. The house hit the open market once again in 2011 at €15m, reconfirming the fact that the Celtic Tiger was well and truly gone for good. A few months later, in early 2012, Walford was quietly taken off all of the for sale sites such as daft.ie, myhome.ie, property.ie, etc. and it was revealed in April 2012 by listing agents Lisney that the property had been withdrawn and was in fact not sold at all.
So what happened to Walford? In 2013 the property appeared as having sold for €14,000,000 in the property price register. The identity of beneficial owner of company that now owns the property, Cyprus-registered Yesreb Holdings, is shrouded in secrecy. It has been suggested that the property is essentially still controlled by the Dunne family, and the identity of the owner became a major talking point in 2013 when planning was submitted once again, this time by Yesreb, for the redevelopment of Walford and the construction of four large homes in the rear garden in addition to extending the existing house. Following vehement opposition from residents, an An Bord Pleanála planning hearing overturned Dublin City council’s decision to grant planning for the scheme and no further planning applications have been submitted since.