An exploration of art and history in Rathgar – Independent.ie | Candle Made Easy

17 Rathgar Avenue, Dublin 6. Asking price: €1.395m. Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Terenure (01) 490 7433

Here is a circular plaque on the wall at 17 Rathgar Avenue stating that George Russell, “the poet, painter, economist, and mystic,” lived there from 1911 to 1933.

Russell, writing under the pen name AE, was a central figure in the late 19th century Irish literary revival and a supporter of national politics. As Deputy Secretary of the Irish Agricultural Organization, he was also editor of several affiliated newspapers and a prolific author of essays, plays, poems and novels.

The 2,465-square-foot, five-bedroom Victorian mansion, which still retains many of its original features, could be said to have played an integral part in the literary revival of the period.

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The plaque in front of the house dedicated to George Russell

It served as a meeting place for artists, writers, poets, politicians and nationalists. Russell, a cultured and gregarious man, and his wife Violet kept “at home” in the back library. WB Yeats, Michael Collins, Oliver St. John Gogarty and even James Joyce were among the notable figures who attended regularly. The writer George Moore said of him: “He solves the difficulties of all and comforts the afflicted.”

WB Yeats, whom he met in his early days at the Metropolitan School of Art, was a lifelong friend and both were painters. The front room at 17 Rathgar Avenue served as AE’s studio and it was here that he painted and exhibited.

Both were advocates of theosophy, a late 19th-century movement claiming that divine wisdom controls our lives, and mysticism, and these were the subjects he wrote about. We can conclude that these and other issues, including the politics of the time, were discussed in number 17.

When Violet died in 1932, Russell sold number 17 and moved to Bournemouth, England, where he died three years later. However, it is fitting that a later owner, Anthony Cains, also played a role in the state’s history. Cains, originally from London, was a world-renowned book restorer who played an integral part in the book’s restoration Book by Kellsamong other projects, and was Director of Conservation at Trinity College.

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The dining room at 17 Rathgar Avenue

The most significant development in his career came in 1966 when he traveled to Italy to respond to the catastrophic flooding of the Arno River in Florence. There he was appointed Technical Director of Conservation at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (the National Central Library in Florence), where for six years he managed 90 staff in the rescue and restoration of thousands of mud- and water-damaged books.

When Anthony moved to Ireland in 1972, he bought 17 Rathgar Avenue and lived there with his wife Elaine and their three young sons – Matthew, Andrew and Timothy, who are now selling the house following the death of their father in 2020. They have strong ties to it.

Matt, the eldest, is also a conservator and works at the National Library of Ireland. He points out that during his lifetime his father treated the house similarly to the books he kept. “He never really wanted to change or remove anything. He wanted to do well with what was there,” he says.

As a result, the house, built in the 1840s, still retains many of its original features. The front door, for example, which is accessed via a stone staircase, is original. Under these stairs is a door that leads to a small lobby on the ground floor. This in turn leads to the kitchen/breakfast room and conservatory which opens onto the rear garden on one side and three bedrooms on the other.

Upstairs are two more bedrooms, a bathroom with a small art deco style stained glass window above the door, the dining room which was AE’s library and the living room – AE’s studio. “We actually found an old easel peg that had been splattered with oil paint when Dad was working on the electrical system in the house. We like to think AE Russell heard it,” says Matt.

The ceilings of the upper rooms are remarkably high and typical of the period. They still have much of the original intricate cornices, some restored by Anthony. “He was incredibly active,” Matt says of his father. “He had an incredible drive to learn and discover new things. He really was an artist.”

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The Conservatory at 17 Rathgar Avenue

There are original heavy wooden doors and door frames throughout the house, some of which have been replaced over the years. Anthony has also uncovered a large granite fireplace and stove in the kitchen which now has a modern range cooker – there is also a pantry off the kitchen. Upstairs there are original cast iron fireplaces in the three bedrooms, all of which are spacious doubles. Large windows throughout the property, some of which are original and still intact, flood the house with light and the walls are mostly white. This in combination with the high ceilings gives it a spacious feel.

In addition, there is the conservatory. It gets the sun in the evenings and opens onto the back garden which is 33 x 12 metres. Matt’s mother Elaine took care of it until her death in 2017. “Up to this point, it’s been flawless,” says Matt. “We’ve tried to preserve it as best we can, but now it needs a little maintenance.”

Considering that not much has been changed, the house is in remarkably good condition. It is a two minute walk from Rathgar Village which is a variety of cafes, delis and restaurants and only 10 minutes from Dublin city centre.

“The house has this calm quality,” says Matt. “When you’re in there, you really don’t realize you’re living in a city.” Matt and his brothers had a happy childhood here and it won’t be easy for them to part with it. “I hope his new owners give him the love and attention he deserves,” he says. “I hope they don’t gut the house and turn it into some kind of modern bijou loft. But instead they appreciate his beautiful character and wonderful story.”

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