30 July 2016
Dartry House: from mill owners and
strike breakers to missionary priests
During one of my afternoon walks in the Rathgar area this week, I walked along Orwell Park, to photograph a house where the playwright John Millington Synge had lived during his early childhood, and then found myself at Dartry House, a house that I had known over ten years ago, and that has been impressively restored since then.
Dartry House is an imposing two-storey mansion built about 1810-1840 with several later additions such as a turret which was incorporated in the building about 1900.
It was originally built as Dartry Hall for Obadiah Williams, a wealthy merchant of Huguenot descent.
From 1844 to 1849, Dartry Hall was owned by William Wallace, the proprietor of the Dartry Mill. In 1849, he sold the house to William Drury, and it remained in his family’s ownership until 1883, when the house was bought by the industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy (1845-1919), who was then living nearby in Rostrevor Terrace, Rathgar.
Murphy was originally from Bantry, Co Cork. He moved to Dublin in 1875, and from 1878 he was living at No 7 Rostrevor Terrace. But within a decade of moving to Dublin he had moved into Dartry Hall.
In Murphy’s days, the grounds of Dartry House included walled gardens and a tropical greenhouse. Murphy made a number of additions to the house, including the mansard attic rooms and a turret, which was built around 1900. Although the turret can not be seen by the public today, these additions create a the image of a French chateau or even a Disney-style fantasy castle to this house in quiet, secluded corner of suburban south Dublin.
Murphy owned a number of businesses in Dublin, including the Irish Independent, Clery’s department store, the Imperial Hotel and the Metropole Hotel and the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC), and he was a central figure in the Dublin Lockout in 1913, when the union side was led by Jim Larkin.
Ernest Cavanagh’s cartoons in the Irish Worker in 1913 depicted Murphy at the gates of Dartry Hall, and labelled him ‘William Murder Murphy’ and ‘The Vulture of Dartry Hall.’ The poet WB Yeats also expressed his disdain for Murphy in a number of poems that had an enduring impact on Murphy’s image in subsequent generations.
James Larkin described him as ‘the most foul and vicious blackguard that ever polluted any country … a capitalistic vampire.’
The DUTC owned by Murphy built the tram line from the centre of Dublin to Dartry and the No 14 tram line came to an end at Dartry Hall. The terminus and the associated sheds now house an engineering firm.
Murphy was a constitutional Nationalist, and was an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Dublin Saint Patrick’s from 1885 to 1892. Murphy sided with the majority Anti-Parnellites when the party split. However, Dublin was a Parnellite stronghold and in the bitter general election of 1892, Murphy lost his seat to a Parnellite newcomer, William Field by a wide margin of 3,991 to 1,110.
Murphy was offered a knighthood by King Edward in 1907 for his contribution to the Irish International Exhibition in Herbert Park, but it is said the offer was firmly but politely refused.
With his father-in-law James Lombard, also a Nationalist MP, Murphy built hundreds of houses in the Dublin area. Murphy died on 26 June 1919 at Dartry Hall from a heart attack caused by aortic valve disease. He is buried in an unmarked vault within the O’Connell Circle in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Murphy was succeeded at Dartry Hall by his son, William Lombard Murphy (1876-1943), and his daughter Eva Magdalene Murphy (1883-1958), who stayed on at the house. During the Irish Civil War, Dartry Hall was attacked by Republicans because a member of the family was a pro-Treaty member of the Rathmines and Rathgar Urban District Council.
When Eva Magdalene Murphy died in 1958, Dartry Hall was sold by the Murphy family. It was bought in 1958 by the Mill Hill Fathers, a congregation of missionary priests. By then it was known as Dartry House.
While the Mill Hill Fathers were there, the house hosted the offices of many mission agencies and voluntary organisations. I regularly attended meetings of the Irish Missionary Union and other organisations in the first decade of this century, until the house and its grounds were sold.
Dartry House and about four acres of ground at Orwell Park were sold to Eugene Renehan of Walthill Properties for around €30 million in 2005.
The house underwent extensive conservation and restoration works in 2008-2009 to provide seven new spacious apartments. The architects were Niall D. Brennan Associates.
The apartments have views over and access to the listed formal gardens located beside to the house. The restoration works carried out to Dartry House sought to ensure that this building is retained as a pivotal focus for the surrounding area of Dartry and Rathgar.
The rest of the site was developed with low-density schemes of apartments and houses. The site has a southerly orientation and backs on to a large belt of trees that divide it from Dartry Park and the River Dodder.
Eugene Renehan had already converted the 18th century courtyard at Headfort Estate in Kells, Co Meath, into a residential area. His other schemes included the Moorings at Portobello Harbour and Rathmines Wood at Lower Rathmines Wood.
The Mill Hill Missionaries used the proceeds of the sale to maintain priests returning to Ireland from the missions, and built a new house, Saint Joseph’s, on part of the original site.
Six of the original and impressive granite entrance pillars at Dartry House are still standing: four in two pairs just off Orwell Park, and and a pair for a pedestian entrance on Dartry Road, near the old mill and almost opposite Tramway House.
A modern plaque on one of the pillars outside Dartry House today says the house was “lovingly restored” by Eugene Renehan in 2010, and quotes John Ruskin in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849): “When we build, let us think that we build for ever.”
For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.
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