Fitzwilliam Square, the last and smallest Georgian square to be constructed in Dublin, was laid out in 1791 but took nearly three decades to complete due primarily to the impact of the French wars on the economy, and also to the uncertainty about the impending Act of Union.
One of the benefits of this location is the park, which the 69 houses overlook and which was enclosed in 1813. It is only accessible to resident key holders – apart from the weekly lunchtime markets.
In its heyday, the busiest time of year on the square was from January to St Patrick’s Day, when the Irish Social Season – the period when aristocrats from around the country left their rural piles to descend on the capital for entertainment and social functions – was in full swing.
By the 1950s only 24 houses remained as private residences and by the 1970s the square was filled with legal, accountancy and medical offices. Today just a handful remain as private family homes.
Number 44 was purchased by the late housebuilder Patrick Joseph Kelly – a towering figure known in the trade as “Gentle Paddy” – in 2002, when he and his wife Mary restored it to a family home.
A native of Suncroft, Co Kildare, Kelly trained as a plasterer and worked in London for a number of years before establishing Kelland Homes back here along with Joe Shannon in the 1970s. Their company built thousands of homes in Dublin, mainly in Tallaght, Rathfarnham and Clondalkin, schemes noted for their consistently high quality.
At that time, number 44 had operated as a Montessori school and it took the Kellys four years to complete the renovation. “They had such a great team in place: Dad engaged [the late] conservation architect Jeremy Williams, and the troupe of specialists were really passionate about the property’s heritage. There were only two fireplaces in situ, so Dad would be off at auctions trying to find others that would be best suited to the house,” recalls his son Patrick.
In addition, Kelly engaged artist Michael Dillon, whose works include Harrods and Fortnum and Mason in the UK, to create floral murals in the day room, bathroom at garden level and a clever trompe l’oeil archway on the first return.
The property is currently devoid of furniture as its exceptional contents were due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s last March – an auction highlight that had to be postponed owing to coronavirus . The auction is now scheduled to take place in London on November 10th, and what remains of the house is its fine restored Georgian structure.
The finest rooms in the house are the two piano nobile drawing rooms on the first floor (a study and formal dining room are located at hall level), where views overlook the private square to the front
Two impressive chimney pieces take centre stage in each room, with a magnificent Bossi-style marble example in the room to the rear, and a Blue John in the room overlooking the square.
“The house, its proportions and fine features really speak for themselves, but what is spectacular about number 44 is the fact that when you look out the windows from the main drawing room – you see just the gardens of the square, and none of the traffic – which is quite incredible for a house in the city,” says David Bewley of Lisney, who is handling the sale.
When they were originally designed, houses on Fitzwilliam Square would have come with a complement of staff scurrying about Upstairs Downstairs-style. But when Kelly came to reconfiguring the property, a great deal of thought went into practical solutions for modern day living.
The main kitchen, along with a breakfast room, is located at garden level, but to facilitate the formal drawing room at hall level there is an adjacent secondary kitchen for catering, and a dumb waiter serves the garden, hall and first floors.
In addition, rather than have to traipse up and down the five floors there is a further kitchenette on the third floor, which serves upstairs bedrooms and the main bedroom suite, which occupies the entire second floor.
But the real surprises at Number 44 are the garden and the two-car garage that lies to the rear – a complete rarity given the location.
“At the time Jeremy [Williams] carried out a report on what an early 19th-century garden should look like, and the design, which is sympathetic to the house, was all about formality and structure,” says Patrick.
Laid out to an Italianate style, with structured box hedging set in low-maintenance gravel pathways, the use of Hornbeam – which is espaliered – gives much architectural ornamentation to this beautiful secluded space located just five minutes’ stroll from St Stephen’s Green.
“Mum and Dad did not get the opportunity to spend a long time here, but they really loved it. They would go to Mass in the University Church on Stephen’s Green and pottered around the city every day,” says Patrick.
Important pieces from number 44 in the upcoming Sotheby’s sale will include William Scott’s Deep Blues, featuring familiar motifs of simple domestic tableware against a blue and black background (€354,000–€590,000), in addition to four Jack B Yeats paintings. Furniture includes one of the most impressive beds to come from an Irish house; a French empire gilt bronze lit en bateau from 1810 (€11,800-€17,700) and a pair of George II giltwood pier glasses from 1749 (€23,600-€35,400).
Paddy Kelly died in 2011. His and Mary’s home, standing over five storeys and measuring 550sq m (5,920sq ft), is on the market through Lisney seeking €3.5million.