Turtle Bunbury

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Auburn House, Malahide, Co Dublin, Ireland

By Turtle Bunbury

Mankind has cast an approving eye on the lands around Malahide at least since Sitric Silkbeard, the last Danish King of Dublin, retired here 850 years ago. By the late 18th century, wealthy Dubliners were flocking to the coastal village, eager to enjoy its fine views and bracing air. One of the finest residences built at this time was Auburn House, a golden-brown three-storey mansion located within a wooded demesne adjacent to Malahide Castle. Twelve years ago, Auburn House became home to the aviation pioneer Ulick McEvaddy and his wife Mary. With the help of John Deaton of Deaton Lysaght Architects, the McEvaddys have now completed a remarkable and sensitive restoration of the house.

Auburn House forms parts of the ancient barony of Feltrim, the stronghold of the once wealthy Fagan family. In the 1690s, the land was seized from the Fagans’ as punishment for their support of the doomed Catholic monarch James II. By the mid-18th century, the property belonged to the Crawfords, a prosperous merchant family from Fermanagh. The house was built in about 1779, probably to mark the marriage of its owner, James Crawford, with one of the Vernon girls from Clontarf Castle. It is presumed that the pretty courtyard, coach-house and walled gardens also date from this time.

In 1845, the eleven-bedroom house passed by marriage to William Donnelly, the son of a merchant from Armagh and nephew of Sir William Young, director of the East India Company. That same year, Donnelly was appointed to the new position of Registrar General of Marriages. He did much to enhance the Auburn estate over the next thirty years, extending the piggeries, farmsheds and stables, and adding romantic granite turrets to the redbrick garden walls. Upon his death in 1879, the houses passed to his son and namesake, William, then secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

By the early 20th century, Auburn House was in the possession of the Murphy family, the most celebrated member being the ecclesiastical architect Charles Homan Murphy, secretary to the Automobile Association in Dublin. In 1906, the Murphys commissioned architect Richard Orpen, the elder brother of the painter William Orpen, to design a new billiard room, or Ballroom, to the side of the house.[i]

The Murphys sold the house to Sir Geoffrey Thomspon, an assistant managing director of Arthur Guinness Son & Co. After his death in 1983, the house was purchased by the late Dr Daniel McCarthy, the engineer who built the Cork-Dublin Gas Pipeline. In 1996, Dr McCarthy’s widow sold the house to the McEvaddys.

Auburn House presents an exceptionally handsome exterior, its perfectly proportioned walls and ochre hue suggestive of something rather more Gallic than Gaelic. Undoubtedly this is what caught the eye of Mary McEvaddy, a fluent French speaker and dedicated Francophile. Mary’s love for France stems from long childhood holidays spent in the country with her mother. Her grandmother, the organist Kathleen O’Brien, was educated at the Conservatoire de Paris and ran her own music school in Brest.[ii] The French affair has now blossomed to such an extent that Mary has a small house in France, as well as a French son-in-law and French grandchildren. A passionate reader, Mary has absorbed much of her knowledge on patterns, style and colour from the pages of French interiors books and magazines. While in France, she frequently voyages around antique shops, design studios, interiors exhibitions and trade shows, gathering furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, dressings, lighting and, above all, ideas.

As such, it is perhaps no surprise that much of the ambience of the Auburn House interior is unmistakably French. At one extreme it is to be found in the wonderfully understated faux marbling [exact colour?] that now rolls along the walls throughout the house. The uplifting, sun-bleached earthy ochre effect was created by Stuccolite and echoes that of the exterior walls. In the drawing room, the tall multi-paned, deep-reveal Georgian windows are framed between rich hand-printed raw silk curtains made [by whom?] in Paris. The wild Connemara marble mantelpiece at the centre of the room demanded soft and mellowing colours.

In the dining room, the soft golden walls and burgundy carpet radiate warmth into sumptuous [colour?] curtains designed by a German firm [name?] who wowed Paris [at what show] in 1997. These curtains are complemented by some lively Art Deco tassels, handmade in France [by whom?]. Elsewhere through the houses, wall lamps, chandeliers, artwork, furniture and alcove statuary are also blessed with a French provenance. Mary confesses that the study, with its sumptuous deep aqua silk wallpaper, is almost entirely copied from something she saw at a show in Paris. Even the kitchen with its creamy white surfaces and copper pans exudes something defiantly Provençal, although it was designed by John Daly of Castleblayney. The new cantilevered cedar-wood conservatory adjacent to the kitchen was designed by John Deaton, and built by a team from Ballivor, Co Meath.

In Ireland, one of Mary’s closest allies is John Keane of Lantern Antiques in Dublin. He supplied many of the lead crystal chandeliers, sideboards and gilt mirrors in the house, including a particularly fetching pier mirror and console table. Other Irish companies to have worked on the houses include Irish Fine Art Plasterwork, who created the simple cornicing in the front hall, and JP Glass, who upholstered the drawing room sofas. A visit to Newbridge House inspired the large oak poles and solid brass fittings on the full-length curtains.

The dining room features a remarkable low-leaf table, formerly of Malahide Castle, capable of seating thirty. Made from a mixture of Cuban and Brazilian mahogany, its low-level is attributable to the fact that people were generally smaller when this timber was shipped across the Atlantic 250 years ago. Also in the dining room is a fantastical oriental mirror which once belonged to the whiskey distilling family of Jameson.

Mary’s great-uncle Dr Vincent O’Brien taught Count John McCormack how to sing. But it was to Clane, the hometown of another great Irish tenor, Josef Locke, that Mary went to find the grand piano in the drawing room. Also here are several treasured heirlooms such as the sofas and standing lamps. A Wellington Grandfather Clock commands attention in the hallway. Artwork varies from Venetian oils to portraits of foreign royalty and works by modern Irish artists such as Marc O’Neill.

For several years, Auburn House was full of wheelbarrows, paint pots and step-ladders while Mary McEvaddy oversaw a complete top-to-bottom restoration of the building. The trio had previously worked on the restoration of two houses in Dublin.[iii] Although they had to rewire and replumb the mansion, perhaps the biggest job was restoring and re-roofing the back of the house. They cleared away the existing plasterwork and rendered the entirety, opting for a brickwork pattern that immediately gave this aspect a sense of grace. This also allowed the particularly fine Pilkington windows to breathe which was vital as, in conjunction with the Ventrolla System, each pane has now been properly restored, draft-proofed and painted.

John Deaton was also on hand to renovate the Orpen ballroom. This involved exorcising an outbreak of dry rot, removing a series of partitions, stripping back the plasterwork and replacing the windows and one of the overhead trusses. As the optimistic Orpen was one of the key figures of the Arts & Crafts Society in turn-of-the-century Ireland, Mary opted to decorate the walls with appropriate murals, painted by Patrick Fitzgerald [correct name?], depicting peaceful French land and seascapes, seen through arcades and decorated with garlands and wild birds. The Italian glazier Lambaire Calis spent the best part of three years at Auburn, restoring and painting the stuccowork in the ballroom. This superior space also features an original fireplace from Hicks of Dublin and is a favoured spot for classical recitals, family weddings and wintry birthday parties.

A flight of fifteen granite steps leads from an elaborate wisteria-entwined portico down to a half-moon of gravel that curves around the front of the house. The flow of these elegant steps continues with a second flight that runs beneath watchful lion sculptures to an oval pond with water gushing from a central fountain. Three sleek young Alsatians prowl like panthers around the demesne, their nimble paws crunching upon the gravel. Occasionally their eyes glance upwards at the airplanes rumbling in from the east towards Dublin Airport. Through timber railings, a sleepy donkey yawns in a buttercup filled meadow. Peeking from behind tree trunks and bushes, statuary and streetlamps point towards the sweeping avenue. Some of the Crawford’s original beech trees have already reached maturity and are starting to fall, but the McEvaddy’s have planted many more on the 28-acre estate. Secreted beneath stately sycamores and fern bushes is the entrance to the lower farmyard and three walled gardens. The gardens have also been renovated, with a tennis court installed and a plantation of plum and pear trees beside the orchard. Mary has also restored and extended some of the old worker’s cottages here to great effect. Also of note is a romantic granite folly, built in the 1840s, its granite and railings expertly restored by Paul Page Ironworks in the present century.


[i] The work was carried out by John Reid of Malahide.

[ii] The O’Brien’s lived on Parnell Square. Mary’s grand-uncle Dr Vincent O’Brien was founding director of the Palestrina Choir and Count John McCormack’s voice trainer. Her grandmother Kathleen O’Brien was an organist, trained at le Conservatoire de Paris who later taught in Brest. Both Mary and her mother were only children so much of the O’Brien legacy rests with her.
[iii] These were a dilapidated tenement terraced house on Pearse Square and a Georgian house on Upper FitzWilliam St which has been converted into offices.


[1] A civil survey of 1654 refers to an orchard and the walls of an old chapel on this site registered to Christopher Fagan. The original name of the estate may have been “Peasfield” (Registry of deeds 1720-1780)

[2] While the exact date of the present house is unknown, we can take an educated guess based on a lead cistern lately removed from the building and dated ‘1779’. It was probably built shortly after James Crawford’s marriage of 1776 to Frances Vernon of Clontarf Castle. The Crawford family were closely linked to the families of Hassard, Leslie, Kane and Gosford Acheson. During the early 19th century, Auburn House was home to James’s son Andrew Crawford (28.07.1777 - 04.01.1845) who made some alterations to the house. Andrew was probably the son of James Crawford of Auburn by his 1776 marriage to Frances Dorothy (d.20 July 1844), elder daughter of George Vernon of Clontarf castle. He was married to his cousin Catherine, daughter of Henry Crawford of Milwall. Andrew died at Auburn on 4 January 1845, ‘most sincerely and deservedly lamented’ said the Armagh Guardian. His last will and testament from 1843 states that “I shall die at Auburn and my remains shall be interred in the churchyard of Clontarf…”. Andrew Crawford’s eldest daughter Annabella (d. 1891) was married on 20 April 1843 to Whitney Moutray, son of the magistrate and landowner John Corry-Moutray of Favour Royal, Co Tyrone. (They had issue Whitney-John and John-Thomas). Annabella’s sister Louisa Frances married William Donnelly of Auburn House, Registrar General of Ireland. Annabella’s younger sister Eliza was married on 20 October 1842 to Whitney Moutray’s younger brother Thomas Moutray (1806-43) who, like two of his four brothers, was in Holy Orders, but he died the following year. Whitney and Thomas Moutray’s sister Margaret was married in 1810 to Sir James Richardson Bunbury. Another sister was married to a Waring-Maxwell and another to a Hornidge. Upon Andrew’s death in 1845, Auburn House passed to his son-in-law, William Donnelly.

[3] William Donnelly, CB, LL-D, Registrar General from 1844 – 1876. Born 14th April 1805 in Armagh, the fourth son of John Donnelly, esq., a gentleman/merchant of Blackwater Town, Co. Armagh , and Rebecca, sister of Sir William Young, barrister, Co. Cavan. Probably educated at Dungannon. Entered Trinity College in October 1820, aged 16. B.A. Trinity College , Dublin , Spring 1825; Admitted to the Gray's Inn , England during the Easter Term, 12 May 1830 ; M.A. November 1832; LL.B. and LL.D. Spring 1846. Admitted to the King's Inns, Dublin , during the Michaelmas Term, 25 May 1853 . Companion of the Order of the Bath - 13 June 1857. Married Louisa Frances, second daughter of Andrew Crawford, esq. in ........... and lived in Auburn House, Malahide, Co. Dublin. Appointed Registrar-General for Protestant Marriages in Ireland on 4 November 1844, at a salary of £800 per annum. His initial brief was to oversee the central collection and custody of all Protestant marriages in Ireland. Post expanded to Marriages, Deaths and Births in 1864 which provided for the inclusion of Catholic marriages, together with all births and deaths, at which stage a comprehensive registration system was in place.Held this post until his retirement in 1876 when succeeded by Dr Burke. (Thomas Wrigley Grimshaw succeeded to the post in 1879). Chief Census Commissioner in Ireland in 1851 (an important medical census) and 1861, and also a Commissioner of the Census in 1871 (when Sir William Wilde was Assistant Commissioner). In a bid to cleanse Dublin's epidemic riddled slums, Donnelly also orchestrated several medical census in conjunction with Oscar Wilde’s father, Sir William Wilde. Superintendent of the Agricultural and Emigration Statistics from 1851 until 1876. Member of the Sackville Street Club, Dublin . Died at home on 25 October 1879 , aged 74 years.

[4] The house, courtyard, gate lodge gardens and turrets are described and recorded in Griffiths valuation of 1848. The first ordinance survey map of 1837 does not show the garden turrets indicating that these were built during the 1840’s (famine relief works?) William Donnelly’s chickens won first prize at the Swords and Fingal Agricultural Show in 1862. In March 1866, the Donnelly’s coachman, Dowdall, was found dead in his bed. Dr Davys, the county coroner, deemed the cause to have been disease of the heart.

[5] William Young Donnelly also worked in the General Register Office for a period and c. 1877 became the Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. In 1870 he married Caroline Felicia Barrington, eldest of seven daughters born to Sir Croker Barrington (1817-90) of Glenstal, Co Limerick. She was a sister of Sir Charles Barrington and aunt of Winifred Barrington who was killed in an IRA ambush in 1921. William died on 28 Nov 1888, leaving a son, Thomas Barrington Donnelly (b. 14 Jan 1874, educ Haileybury), and a daughter, Muriel Felicia Donnelly. Another son John Alexander Donnelly was educated at Rugby. (Rugby School Register, by Frederick Temple, Rugby School)

[6] Charles Homan Murphy (1889-1966) was secretary to the Automobile Association in Dublin from 1923 to 1954. Homan was the maiden name of Margery Lennon, Charles' great-grandmother. Much research has been done into the ancestry of this branch of the Lennon Family. With thanks to Julia Turner (nee Wormell)

I suspect William Yoiung Donnelly’s son Thomas Benjamin Donnelly married Edith Beatrice Emilie McCorquodale (d. 7 June 1960). She was the second of five daughters born to George McCorquodale, High Sheriff of Lancashire (1882) and Anglesey (1889). Edith’s mother was Louisa Kate Honan (of Co Limerick). George McCorquodale founded the firm of McCorquodale printers at Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire in 1846, to do railway printing.