Luke’s Liberties: in the red brick of Dublin 8, once the home of The Dubliners’ Luke Kelly

No1 Hanover Square, Patrick Street, Dublin 8 Asking Price: €395,000 Agent: Sherry FitzGerald (01) 496 6066

When Bronx-born actress and singer Deirdre O’Connell met banjo-wearing steel fixer and ballad singer Luke Kelly, “the attraction was immediate and final,” her sister Geraldine wrote.

In the early 1960s Ireland was on the verge of engaging in a revival of Irish traditional music, led by groups such as The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers.

The former had just emerged from the nucleus of the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group (incorrectly referred to as the Ronnie Drew Ballet Group in at least one city). Kelly, returning from London, had just joined them.

Reading by James Joyce dubliner, Kelly suggested acquiring his title.

From the apartments of St Laurence O’Toole, the dark-haired five-string banjo-picker with the voice of gravel had made a name for himself on London’s émigré ballad scene, which is where he first met O’Connell (though some say they met in O’ Donoghue’s pub).

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Luke Kelly and Deirdre O’Connell pictured with actor Tom Hickey at the Focus Theater

Born in the South Bronx to Irish parents, O’Connell discovered her early forays into theater in New York, who persuaded her to study with him at his Stanislavski Method school. While she was a student and sharing a flat with Barbara Streisand, O’Connell was already planning to “return” to Ireland to open a Stanislavski school and theater there.

Kelly and O’Connell married at Whitehall Church in 1965, the year they moved to No1 Hanover Square, a former commercial building off 8 Patrick Street, Dublin. It was also the year The Dubliners had their first signed a record deal.

After O’Connell opened her Stanislavski Drama Studio on Ely Place in 1963, she put her and Kelly’s money into setting up a 76-seat theater in a derelict clothing label factory at 6 Pembroke Place. The Focus Theater was born in 1967 and opened with Doris Lessings Play with a tiger.

Meanwhile, the Dubliners went on to perform internationally with Kelly at his creative peak top of the pops and The Ed Sullivan Show in the USA.

The pair, meanwhile, were at the center of Dublin’s balladesque social scene in the 1960s and early 1970s. He, the hard-drinking troubadour with the tousled head and she, the highly modern theater queen.

In her book children of the wide, Sister Geraldine Cusack O’Connell writes: “She (Deirdre) floated down Leeson Street with imperial grace, her red mane billowing, her cloaks and cloaks flapping in the wind, her eyes fixed before her, lost in thought. Black was the color she wore; flowing black skirts, black tights, black pumps and black scarves.”

It was always a tumultuous relationship and the couple separated after seven years in 1972, after which O’Connell devoted himself to Focus. Her theater became famous for its rousing avant-garde productions, putting big screen names like Gabriel Byrne and Bosco Hogan a step ahead.

Kelly continued touring with the Dubliners but later had health problems. He succumbed to a brain tumor in 1984, aged just 44, and his death affected O’Connell immensely.

From her home in Dartmouth Square, O’Connell continued to direct the performing arts through The Focus until her sudden death at home in 2001, aged just 61.

President Michael D. Higgins has since described her as “the greatest influence on Irish theater since the 1960s”. Without its energetic director, The Focus lost its way and eventually closed its doors in 2012.

Now the home at 1 Hanover Street, where the couple spent their turbulent early days together, is up for sale, having been renovated by its current owners.

They planned to emigrate but Covid intervened and they found themselves stuck between Airbnbs and broke up with the family.

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The terrace of the Liberties estate

After seeing No1 Hanover Square for sale, the couple fell in love with it and it became their lockdown project.

When they bought it it was a meditation center and needed a lot of work.

They invested in a new roof, replaced the plumbing and had it rewired. They redesigned the building to let in more light. It had a covered courtyard that they opened up and put in glass doors to. Then they went to the attic and also opened it up by installing skylights there. They have installed a new kitchen, a combi boiler and underfloor heating at ground level.

The connection between Kelly and O’Connell was only discovered by the owners after they moved in. One half of the couple, who does theater and also plays the banjo, said it “felt like destiny.”

The property measures 840 m² and consists of an entrance hall, a kitchen with access to the courtyard, a living room with a loft and a bathroom. There is a utility room that doubles as a guest toilet and two bedrooms, one of which is currently used as a studio.

The living room has its original hardwood floors, exposed brick wall, three windows with working shutters and the loft is accessed by a ladder.

Located just off Francis Street in Dublin’s Liberties, famous for its art galleries, antique shops and cafes, No1 is close to BIMM Modern Music College, St Patrick’s Park, Grafton Street and St Stephen’s Green. The green and red Luas lines are within walking distance.

It is still surrounded by old cobblestones. At the end of the adjacent alley there are stables from which a horse-drawn carriage drives out daily. Sherry FitzGerald demands 395,000 euros.

The old Focus location at 6 Pembroke Place has since been revived as a boutique Mutiny theater and cinema for hire.

No1 Hanover Square is also an iconic address in O’Connell’s native New York; as the longtime home of the famous Harry’s Bar and since the mid-noughties also as The Ulysses Bar and folk house venue for Irish performances.

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