Six-bed Georgian in Temple Bar for under €1m. What’s the catch?

Fownes Street house offers potential for conversion into apartments or niche hotel

It’s hard to fathom that, before a change of policy, Temple Bar was, in 1977, destined to be a bus station.  In 1991, the government-sponsored Temple Bar Properties announced its mission statement “to develop a bustling cultural, residential and small-business precinct that will attract visitors in significant numbers.”

While the body achieved its goal of increasing visitor numbers, it has been argued that the profile of those numbers has been at odds with the original cultural objective, and residents of the zone might agree.

Now a haven for travelling stag and hen parties, the streets are often filled with revellers overindulging in the area’s thriving pub and club scene. That said, architectural historian Peter Walsh describes the area in the 17th century as “a place where purses and throats were slit in the turning of an eye”, when the area had game parlours and bars. It seems that over the course of four centuries it has always been a place that lived on the wild side.

Tea importer

Fownes Street takes its name from tea importer Sir William Fownes, who built No 3 in the early 1700s. Fownes bequeathed his estates to his grandson William Fownes, second baronet of Ireland, who married Lady Elizabeth Ponsonby and built Woodstock House in Kilkenny. He later became guardian to Elizabeth’s cousin, Sarah Ponsonby, who was orphaned at seven.


When Sarah reached 19, after inappropriate advances from her guardian, she developed a relationship with Lady Eleanor Butler of Kilkenny Castle, an intelligent, sardonic woman 10 years her senior. Fownes, the story goes, took to the bottle and his wife just faded away.

After an attempted elopement with a pistol and a dog, the families tried to keep the two women apart. Through a series of clandestine meetings the pair eloped to Wales where they became known as the Ladies of Llangollen – their unique partnership becoming one of the most influential of 19th-century Britain. The Duke of Wellington, a lifelong friend, supported the women financially, allowing them to turn their cottage into a gothic mansion, Plas Newydd – now a museum – where Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley were regular visitors.

Although they sued a newspaper which suggested their relationship ran beyond platonic, it is generally accepted that Eleanor was a lesbian. The women referred to each other as their beloved.

Hirschfield Centre

At No 10 Fownes Street, just a few doors down from the house owned by the Fownes family, Ireland’s first LGBT centre opened in 1979, when homophobia was endemic in Ireland.

The Hirschfield Centre was named after Magnus Hirschfield – a gay Jewish doctor and campaigner for gender equality who fled Nazi Germany. Fownes Street was chosen as it was derelict and discreet.

Dr Noel Browne, a dedicated campaigner for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts unveiled a plaque to the centre in 1980 – even though decriminalisation did not occur until 1993. This plaque is now on display in the Little Museum of Dublin because the centre closed following a fire.

Photographs taken in 1991 of No 3 show the upper windows boarded up. Today it is a quirky 422sq m Georgian house, filled with history, character and creaking floorboards.

Currently run as hostel accommodation where long-term guests pay €150 per week for bed and board – there are beds everywhere – this six-bedroom house has three reception rooms and a very impressive atrium, albeit overlooking apartments to the rear.

All rooms bar two have an original open fire – some of the larger rooms have two. Despite the dark basement and lack of a formal hallway, details such as a panelled dining room add interest.

Options for this unique property proposition could be subject to planning permission (the absence of a separate fire exit may pose issues). The layout allows for possible conversion to apartments, a unique owner-occupier home, or, given the tiny street’s colourful history, a boutique hotel which could cater specifically to visitors and functions on foot of the 2015 referendum result.

The property was for sale with an initial asking price of €1.7 million, this was then reduced to €1.495 million through Sherry FitzGerald. Lisney has now priced the house to sell with an asking price of €995,000.