It was a sanctuary in the heart of Dublin city for high-profile entrepreneurs who scaled financial heights only to suffer loss of fortune in the autumn of their lives. This is just one of the many recurring themes associated with this elegant Georgian house that has been an almost continuous residence for centuries.
Number 2 Fitzwilliam Square is a 4 Storey over basement building on the east side of the square. As such it forms part of what was once the longest intact Georgian street vista in Dublin city before the state’s Electricity Supply Board development at Fitzwilliam 28.
Located in the civil Parish of St. Peter, the house was built between the 1790s and 1820s. When completed it had 15 rooms and was 24 feet six inches wide front and rere and 224 feet deep. Its garden was small but residents had exclusive access to the central landscaped square which was enclosed in 1813 and which is private to this day. The green retains much of its original layout, especially its perimeter shrubberies. No. 2’s original outhouses included a stable, coach room and harness room.
One of the first known occupants of No. 2 Fitzwilliam Square were Margaret and Peter Roe, the likely founder of Roe’s Whiskey Distillers at Thomas Street, Dublin, in the 1750s. Peter Roe died at the house in 1826 aged 80.
Henry Roe Senior, the son of Margaret and Peter Roe, occupied the house from the 1830s through to the 1850s when Griffith’s Valuation was undertaken. Henry also owned No. 6 Fitzwilliam Square North. His next door neighbours at No. 2 were Nathaniel Hone (No. 1) and MP for Cashel, Mathew Pennefather (No. 3), one of the ‘plundering Pennefathers and their bigoted gang’ so despised by Daniel O’Connell.
During Henry Roe’s time at No. 2, Roe’s distillery became the largest distillery in Ireland. Henry's role as a major shareholder and manager of the company enabled him to become extremely wealthy. Roe Distiller's 150 foot high windmill chimney with its distinctive smock shape topped by a green cap, is a familiar shape on the Dublin skyline to this day.
Henry Roe Senior died at Warrior Square, St. Leonard’s on Sea, in 1881 aged 88, although newspapers mistakenly reported that he had died in France. His body was brought home for burial at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross. By the time of his death, Roe left slightly in excess of £1000 pounds in his will, a more modest sum than might be expected. His estate was granted to his son Henry Roe Junior who remained as the ground landlord at No. 2. Henry Roe Junior( who died in 1894) was perhaps best known for his dedication to the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral and for having brought the French culinary legend, Michel Jammet, to Ireland as his personal chef.
By the mid 1860s, the railway engineer, entrepreneur and patron of the arts William Dargan and his wife Jane Arkinstall had taken up residence at No. 2. The move allowed Dargan to avoid the long journies from his office on South William Street to his residence at Mount Anville, Goatstown. In February 1867, Dargan died in the house of liver disease compounded by the effects of a riding accident on the Stillorgan Road a few years before. A plaque on the wall marks the few happy years he spent at the house.
Dargan’s funeral on Monday the 11th of February 1867 was one of the largest ever witnessed in 19th century Dublin despite the miserable weather. Had you been outside No. 2. that morning, you would have witnessed 500 railwaymen of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway gathering from 9 o'clock to walk in solemn procession with up to 250 carriages and countless numbers of Dublin mourners following behind as they accompanied Dargan to his final resting place at Glasnevin Cemetery.
Jane Dargan, an Englishwoman, departed Fitzwilliam Square in late 1868. Left in a precarious financial position because of her husband's stupendous debts at the time of his death, she went to live soon after in Penge, England, never to return to Ireland.
Her departure led to an auction of the contents of No. 2, which gave an insight into how the Dargan house was decorated. Mahogany or rosewood fittings and furniture predominated while soft furnishings such as curtains and chair covers were done in crimson silk or damask.
In the mid 1880s, Marion Hamil Stewart (1817-1904) took out a lease on No. 2 for 21 years at a yearly rent of £150. She had recently been awarded a pension of £200 after her husband, John, one of General Gordon’s staff, lost his life in the Siege of Khartoum.
John J. Twigg, a barrister, was resident in the house by 1891 and he was also its occupant in 1901 when the census was taken. Twigg came from County Armagh. His census return showed that the property still retained its original stable, coach house and harness room. Living with J.J. Twigg and his Dublin-born wife Eliza (née Lowry ) were three servants, two of whom were from Ulster: Martha McGuffin and Annie McGuin. The trio was completed by Kate O’Leary, the cook. Twigg later moved to Bournemouth where he died in 1920.
Staff in the house
For much of its long history, the operation of the house at No. 2 Fitzwilliam Square was kept going thanks to a large group of mainly anonymous domestic staff. Although the identities of these workers could be found in 20th century censuses (despite the owner of the house playing fast and loose with their names as in the 1911 census) earlier sources for this population came indirectly from relevant parish records such as those of St. Peter’s or St. Andrew’s or indeed through a chance and usually rare mention in the newspapers.
Buttons in the Shape of a Stag
One example of this was Michael Carr, servant, son of George Carr, and married to Mary Dunbar of 27, Leeson Street in 1851. He lived at Harmony Row. Coachman to Henry Roe Senior. Henry Roe also kept a country home at Beechwood, Killiney. Michael Carr testified as a witness in the case of robbery of lead at Roe’s stables at Beechwood in 1837. The case threw up many interesting details, including the fact that Michael Carr’s livery coat, which was among the items stolen, had buttons in the shape of a stag.
Martha McGuffin. C. of I. 38. Single. From Tyrone.
Annie McGuin. C of I. 17. Single. From Tyrone.
Kate O’Leary, the cook, RC. 30. Born Co. Dublin
Jessie Patrick. (Fitzpatrick? )C of I. Aged 61. Nurse. Widow. Born Co. Down. Lisburn mill worker in 1901 ?
Eliza Shannon. C of I. 62. Single. Born Co. Wexford. Died High Street Wexford 1919?
Lizzie Hughes. C of I. 23. Single. Born Co. Cavan.
Charles Kelly. RC. 15. Born Dublin. Went to the trenches during World War One. Served with the Royal Engineers. Survived the war but died in 1921 in Dublin of tuberculosis aged 25.
The 1916 Rising and the Adelaide Hospital
Dr George Peacocke was living at No. 2 Fitzwilliam Square by 1906 and during the time of the 1911 census return as well, which he completed for the household that year. The original harness room had been done away with at this time as use of the motor car in the 20th century advanced.
Son of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Joseph Ferguson Peacocke, George Peacocke was already a resident of the square (No. 14) when he married Elizabeth Chapman in 1902. A Trinity College graduate, he was associated for most of his career with the Adelaide Hospital, a voluntary hospital which was within walking distance of his house.
Doctor Peacocke remained at the Adelaide for the duration of the 1916 Rising as there was a steady stream of up to 70 casualties admitted during Easter week, both military and civilian. He also compiled the Adelaide’s medical reports during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, which are thought to be one of the most revealing sources on the subject as they give an accurate picture of the complicated and often fatal pneumonia cases accompanying the virus.
Ironically, on Christmas Day in 1920, Dr George Peacocke was carried off very suddenly by influenza related pneumonia at the relatively young age of 52.
Blind and Deaf
William Doolin (1887-1962) FRCS, had consulting rooms at No. 2 from 1927 into the 1930s. A gifted medical lecturer, he carried out some important research on cleft palate. Doolin was also a member of the Free State Medical Council. The building continued to be used as doctor’s consulting rooms through the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to William Doolin, other medical practitioners associated with the house included Eoin O’Malley, Oliver McCullen and Count Henry Viani.
One remarkable occupant of No. 2 Fitzwilliam Square from the mid 1940s was Ear Nose and Throat consultant James Hanlon (1908-1961). At the height of his powers, a fluke eye infection contracted from the sputum of a coughing patient, robbed him of both his sight and his hearing. Against the odds, Dr James Hanlon went on to train as a physiotherapist in London (his application was rejected by Trinity College Dublin as impractical) . He continued to practice professionally in that role at 2 Fitzwilliam Square, with a particular expertise in diagnosing and treating polio sufferers.
Kentucky Derby Winner
In the late 1960s, a new chapter opened up for No. 2 Fitzwilliam Square when it became the headquarters for bloodstock agents, Kerr and Co. Ltd. The company was founded in 1920 by Bert Kerr (1896-1973) a former Bohemian’s soccer player who represented Ireland in the 1924 Olympics. Kerr and Company enjoyed an international reputation for buying and selling winners for the race track. When the horse, Tomy Lee, won the Kentucky Derby in 1959, Kerr’s were the first non-American agents to have a winner, a record that still stands. Among Kerr’s Hollywood clients were film directors John Huston and Raoul Walsh who both had Irish heritage.
In the mid 1970s, Ireland international and Lion’s rugby player Jammie Clinch (1901-1981) occupied the mews at No. 2 , which by now had a separate entrance at Lad Lane with 3 bedrooms and an enclosed courtyard. So too did one of Ireland’s best-known opera singers, Virginia Kerr, a niece of Bertie Kerr.
A Quiet Sale
In the mid 1990s, No. 2 was occupied by the offices of Anderson and Co., Solicitors. It was also during this time that businessman and newspaper proprietor Tony O’Reilly turned No. 2 Fitzwilliam Square into his Dublin town house and private office, much as William Dargan had done 130 years before. Then in 2014 the house was sold very discretely in a creditor’s sale handled by Jordan Town & Country Estates.
Since 2021, there have been proposals to open the green in the centre of Fitzwilliam Square to public access, reversing over 200 years of tradition. This proposal gained momentum during the Covid Pandemic but has since gone quiet. Some citizens of the town have even expressed fears that if this proposal goes ahead the green may well go the way of other public squares in Dublin and emerge bare and bald at the hands of clippers-happy local authorities.
Whatever the future holds for this house and square, it is sure to be just as interesting as its past occupants and events reveal.