Just over a week ago, one of our readers, Peter Branigan, reached out.
“Is there going to be anything done with Aldborough House?” he asked. “It seems a great shame to let it go to waste.”
He’s seen a lot of big houses on his native Southside lost to developments, he said, and doesn’t want the same to happen to Aldborough. So we said we’d pull together an update on what’s going on with it.
For those unaware of Aldborough House on Portland Row, it was built in 1796. The city’s second-largest private residence, it has fallen victim to vandalism and decay over the last two decades.
The Civic Trust and An Taisce have called — for years — for its immediate restoration.
In 2005, the house was sold for €4.5 million to Aldborough Developments, a subsidiary of the Ely Properties network established by developer Philip Marley. In 2006, the Irish Times reported that the company intended to restore Aldborough and create a daycare facility on the site.
Soon after the sale however, Ely Properties was placed in receivership and the Bank of Ireland took over ownership of the house.
In the years that followed, the property took something of a beating. The windows were smashed open. The lead piping was stolen from the parapets and gutters, which led to extensive water damage.
In 2011, the Structure at Risk Fund — which was set up by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to aid in the conservation of heritage structures — “paid €85,587 towards necessary roof repairs with the council contributing an additional €25,274,” a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said.
In 2013, a suspected arson attack nearly destroyed the premises. At that time, the house was boarded up to protect against further damage.
These measures prevented Aldborough from collapsing, but in restoration terms, it’s the bare minimum. Considering the restoration order attached to the house, any potential buyer would face considerable costs.
A Recent Buyer
On 4 September 2014, the house was purchased by Reliance Investments Ltd, run by Pat O’Donnell, whose company Pat O’Donnell & Co are self-described as “Ireland’s leading supplier of heavy and compact machinery.”
An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society, the Civic Trust and the council all hoped to see restoration finally commence.
So far they’ve all been disappointed.
It’s unclear yet what O’Donnell’s intentions with Aldborough are. Organisations like An Taisce and city councillors like the Green Party’s Ciaran Cuffe have sought clarity on the matter.
In 2015, Cuffe tried without success to have the following listed into the Draft Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022: “To seek a public cultural use for Aldborough House on Portland Row in Dublin 1, that would facilitate its restoration.”
In late 2015, activity was seen on site as debris chutes were seen leading from the upper windows. Whether this was the start of restoration or base clearance of the house is unknown. Since then, however, work has apparently stopped.
Those works were “intended only to temporarily secure the building in accordance with best practice until ongoing legal proceedings between the new owners and other parties are resolved,” according to the newly appointed conservation architect employed by Reliance Investments Limited, as quoted by a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
So, until these issues with “other parties” are resolved, there’ll be little movement towards full restoration, it seems.
In a letter from Reliance Investments Limited’s legal aide to Dublin City Council, the new owners say they are determined to settle these ongoing difficulties in order to “bring the property back to its former glory”.
For the last number of years the grounds of the house were open to facilitate cheap car washes. These were in breach, according to the legal aide, of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2013 and have since been stopped, with 24/7 security now in place on the premises. It’s unknown who authorised the grounds to be opened to allow for this activity in the first place.
Waiting For News
Stewards of the city’s heritage say they haven’t had any luck reaching the owners to work out what the plan is.
An Taisce “have repeatedly sought contact with [Mr O’ Donnell] to seek information of future plans for the building, but have not had any response,” said heritage officer Ian Lumley.
The Civic Trust has been trying too.
“We have no knowledge of the present ownership of the house, but we remain extremely concerned at its ongoing vulnerability to deterioration from weathering,” said the Trust’s Graham Hickey.
Similarly, we couldn’t reach Mr O’ Donnell. His machinery website has only telephone numbers. Over several months, these rang out. We couldn’t find contact details for Reliance Investment Limited and his solicitors have yet to respond to our queries.