Joe Cosgrave: an appreciation

Property developer who blazed a trail in pursuit of excellence in housing

Kind, hardworking, loyal and honourable. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe Joe Cosgrave by those who knew him, since his death last week at the age of 62.

There are many more good things that could be said of the man, who together with his brothers Michael and Peter transformed their family housebuilding firm over the course of four decades into the Cosgrave Property Group, a company responsible for the development of over 7,500 homes and some 1.75m sq ft of office, hotel and other commercial space. When in 2019, the Cosgraves produced a book detailing the evolution of their business, its 116 pages featured 76 residential schemes across the capital and numerous of the city's leading office and retail developments, including the George's Quay office complex on the Liffey in Dublin 2 and Gulliver's Retail Park in Santry.

The names of Cosgrave housing schemes, such as Morehampton Square, Donnybrook Manor and Ardilea Wood, are well known thanks to the quality of the finish that the brothers pursued from the very start and formalised in 2012 with the introduction of their company’s five pillars of excellence, in which they insisted on quality, sustainability, low maintenance, user-focussed design and community. Honey Park and Cualanor, which the Cosgraves built on the former lands of Dún Laoghaire Golf Club, are arguably the developments of which Joe Cosgrave was most proud.

That pride was certainly on display when he brought The Irish Times on a tour of the show apartments at the Eustace Court block in Cualanor in 2017. Clearly enthused by the company’s decision to incorporate large P-shaped baths into the apartments, Joe took it upon himself to demonstrate their generous size by sitting into and stretching out his own 6ft 4 inch frame, declaring that they were designed “for a big fella like me”.


His favourite pastime involved visiting other builders' show houses armed with a steel tape to measure the room sizes being offered by the competition

“Two-metre Joe” as he was known on site, was for more than 42 years the brother who led the Cosgrave Property Group’s delivery on the ground, showing up without fail at 7am each morning to direct that day’s operations. His favourite pastime involved visiting other builders’ show houses armed with a steel tape to measure the room sizes being offered by the competition.

Peter, who died in 2019, bought the sites while Mick and the youngest brother, Willie, became the experts in passive house delivery and design respectively. But whatever their speciality, all four brothers displayed a capacity for hard work ingrained in them by their late father Jack, originally a breeder of pigs and turkeys in Churchtown, south Dublin, and their mother, Patricia.

Speaking at her funeral in 2014, Joe recalled how in the early 1970s she had reared five young children and managed the family farm at Barn Elms when her husband was struck down and nearly died from brucellosis. He remembered too how their mother had played a pivotal role in the delivery of her sons’ first housing development.

He said: "In 1979 we bought a small site from Patrick Gallagher in Farmleigh in Stillorgan for five houses. At that time it was impossible to get a phone on a building site, so we operated two-way radios from the site to the kitchen table in Barn Elms where my mother would order all the materials."

'He was great company and always good fun to be with. He was very proud of the work that Cosgraves produced, but success never changed him one bit'

Paying tribute to Joe Cosgrave, Ken MacDonald, whose estate agency Hooke & MacDonald worked closely with the Cosgrave Property Group for many years, said: “I have known and admired Joe for over 40 years. He was a giant of a man in every respect, a true gentleman who went out of his way to help everyone he could – most of it with unseen acts of kindness and generosity, with honesty and integrity to the fore. He was great company and always good fun to be with. He was very proud of the work that Cosgraves produced, but success never changed him one bit. He will be greatly missed.”

Joe Cosgrave died suddenly, but peacefully, at home last Friday. He is survived by his wife, Denise, daughters Kate and Laura, his mother-in-law Lily, his brothers Mick and Willie, sisters Helen and Patricia, brothers-in-law Pat, Jimmy, Alan and Edward, sisters-in-law Oonagh, Nadine, Annette, Jessie, Annette, Elaine, Martina and Susan, and his wider family and circle of friends.

His funeral Mass will take place on Friday, February 25th, at 11am at the Church of St Thérèse, in Mount Merrion, Co Dublin.

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan is Property Editor of The Irish Times