Sunday, 1 February 2009

From simple beginnings to Shrewsbury Road luxury

FROM a wedding reception on the yacht formerly owned by Aristotle Onassis to his penchant for three-piece pin-striped suits, there are few characters who epitomise the Celtic Tiger more than Sean Dunne.

But as he is quick to point out, the flamboyant builder was not born into wealth and was working from the age of 12, a detail which was illustrated to the 'New York Times' recently during an interview in the early hours of the morning in Doheny & Nesbitt's.

It was here where 'Dunner' bent to pick up a cent coin, allowing him to declare that he is "never, never too proud to pick a penny up from the floor".


The background of the silver-haired developer is far from the detached Shrewsbury Road home he shares with wife Gayle Killilea, his early years having been spent in Tullow, Co Carlow.

As the fourth of five children, he told last year of how he and they would go for a swim in the River Slaney when they needed a bath and of making hay and picking potatoes before he had even become a teenager.

Having qualified as a quantity surveyor in 1977 and spent two years working abroad, his first experience in the building trade proper came as he oversaw the construction of houses in Jobstown in Tallaght.

It was in 1983 that he set up with colleagues as DCD Builders but the vicious economic climate of 1980s Ireland resulted in a move to London for work before coming back in 1989 and quickly building up his empire.

Deals such as the purchase of Woodtown Manor in Rathfarnham, a Georgian house on 150 acres of land, for the bargain price of €1.4m in 1997, elevated him to one of the country's most prominent developers, but he remained relatively anonymous to the general public.

This changed when his wedding to former journalist and socialite Gayle Killilea transferred him to the society pages.

In a style to which he has become synonymous, their wedding took place in 2004 in an opulent 17th-Century villa in Santa Margherita, Italy before a 14-day celebration aboard the Cristina O, the yacht formerly owned by Aristotle Onassis.

Surrounded by guests such as designer Karen Millen, impresario Michael Colgan, Irish Nationwide chief Michael Fingleton and rugby player Ronan O'Gara, in the middle of the celebrations there was a pause to take a call from then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern -- a close friend.

As the story goes, it was Gayle who was asked by her husband to to pick a number between €253m and €275m when deciding on his final offer for the first tranche of the Dublin 4 land on the Jury's and Berkeley Court site.

Known as a man who is not afraid of a fight, his most recent disagreement was with hotelier John Brennan earlier this week when the two settled a legal battle over the ownership of the name "d4 hotels" at the Commercial Court.

Balancing a personality which has been described as aggressive is a streak of generosity. He is known to fly friends to rugby matches and has bought a €1m flood-lit all-weather pitch for Clongowes Wood College in Co Kildare, where his two older sons were educated.

Shane Hickey and Bairbre Power
Irish Independent

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