Irish Independent 18th OCTOBER 2013
by MARK KEENAN
You don't meet a James Bond actor for ages and all of a sudden two of them come along at once. A few months ago, the Dublin-born artist Gerard Byrne answered a knock at the door of his Sorrento Road home to find Pierce Brosnan standing on the doorstep. The eminent actor had been filming a television advert across the road in Finnegan's pub and the avid motor enthusiast had spotted Byrne's vintage Jaguar. So he called in to ask about the car. Brosnan, who originally studied as an artist, came inside to Byrne's studio and the conversation got to art and to Byrne's paintings, which are well known in Irish gallery circles for their colourful and broad impressionistic touches. The James Bond star had originally studied art and it was his main passion prior to acting. As Brosnan left, he told Gerard that his visit had convinced him to go back to his painting.
A few weeks later, there was another knock on the door. This time it was Timothy Dalton. He introduced himself as Byrne's new next-door neighbour. Dalton had arrived in Ireland to make a film and was renting the adjoining abode.
This sort of thing happens all the time in Dalkey Village. But Byrne's purchase 10 years ago and his subsequent restoration of his Victorian home, now called ''the Art House'', and the presence of the iconic Finnegan's pub across the road have been a big catalyst, not only for his work - Dalkey's landscapes and seascapes have long inspired him - but also for his life. Had he not bought the house, he wouldn't have met his wife Agata, who he married just tree weeks ago.
Around this famous seaside village, people like Enya, Chris De Burgh and Eddie Irvine potter around the shops by day, while this year, Gerard had a daytime lock-in at Finnegan's as Bono hosted Michele Obama and the presidential children for some pub grub. As you do.
He still misses Maeve Binchy, who lived directly across the road until she passed away recently. 'Maeve was lovely. She asked me to paint her a picture of her house for a postcard. She found that visitors who came to stay, particularly from America, usually expected her to live in a huge mansion. So when people were coming, she'd send them on this postcard as a sort of subtle warning that her home would not be what they expected."
A decade ago, the self-taught Finglas-born artist found himself sitting quaffing a pint on a summer's day outside Finnegan's when he noticed the rundown Victorian home across the road was for sale. "I looked around and decided this was a very nice place to be. I went to the auction and I bought the house.
Byrne, who once worked as a flying electrician in the Australian outback, has also just opened a studio gallery on Castle Street, Dalkey. The Gerry Byrne Studio is the first new gallery to open in the area after the recession closed the three it had. "It's a new departure for me and it's a big space to fill, but so far it's ticking over nicely."
Back when he bought "The Art House", Byrne was single. "I wanted it to be an open house, a party house for entertaining. The first time I did this was one Christmas Eve when I decided to go into the house on a whim and lit a few sticks in the fireplace - then nothing but a hole in the wall. The room was stripped out and the place was uninhabitable. I invited a few people back from the pub and one guest noted that the room was great for acoustics. He launched into a series of beautiful Christmas carols for the people assembled. It turned out he was one of the Celtic Tenors."
And so, Byrne and "The Art House" became renowned for cultural events and parties. "I'd do things like bring in an orchestra for their dress rehearsal, borrow seats for 40 guests at the restaurant across the road, and at the end of the night, we'd pass a hat to pay the musicians. There were lots of poetry readings, music and performance events."
The spontaneity and synchronicity generated by "The Art House" has had far wider effects and ripples. One night, a lady by the name of Mia Parsons was asked to sing. "She had just written a song about a son she had given up for adoption back when she was a teenager and for whom she was searching. She sang it in the house in front of guests and there wasn't a dry eye. The next day, one of the guests was being interviewed on the radio and was asked about the music he liked. he described the remarkable performance the night before. The radio people got in touch and asked for her CD. She had to record one. The song got airplay and in turn led to a documentary called 'A Song For My Son' ('Would You Believe'). The documentary led to the adoption authorities being a good deal more cooperative and this is how she eventually got in contact with her son. All from a spontaneous performance of a song."
The restoration of the Sorrento Road house, built in the mid 19th Century as a Victorian holiday home, took some time to complete. It took two years to get it right. There were no original features to restore. The ceiling was low and it needed a lot of work. I literally stripped it out inside from back to front and started again. I wanted an "open" house. I lifted the ceiling inside to give a sense of space and extended it out the back, doubling its size from 1,100 ft to 2,350 ft." The artist has also used its walls as his gallery space with almost every square inch a domestic exhibition.
One night three years ago, Agata, a trained landscape and horticultural designer, started waitressing at Finnegan's after arriving in Ireland from Poland. For a besotted Byrne, the rest was history.
"This house has been my house so now it's time for us both to find a new house together and make it our own. That's why I'm selling it. We won't know what or where and we won't go looking until we sell "The Art House".
Spread out over two levels, there is a front reception with a vaulted ceiling and a teal limestone floor. The family room also has a vauted ceiling but with a solid mahogany floor. The drawing room, again vaulted and also with a mahogany floor, has a Japanese marble fireplace with polished granite hearth. The big kitchen dinning room is where all the entertaining has taken place. This comes with a teal limestone floor, a contemporary kitchen suite with an Atag American-style fridge freezer, pulled-out larder units and integrated dishwasher. The four bedrooms have a range of walnut and teal limestone floors with an ensuite and dressing area off aone bedroom, another ensuite off the main bedroom and a flower balcony off the third. Outside, the private granite patio area has been spectacularly landscaped by Agata to include a feature waterfall, granite steps to an upper deck, walled flower beds, contemporary statuary are used to great effect.
Now for € 1.6million, who wants to live next door to James Bond?