Airfield House opens after €11m facelift

by Staff Reporter

STRING quartets, a 1920s Rolls Royce, Ministers of State and academics were all in evidence at Airfield House and gardens recently as the newly refurbished estate, complete with interactive museum, was officially reopened after being closed for three years.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney led the way in praising the quality of work on the entire project. When sisters Letitia and Naomi Overend, philanthropic owners of the Airfield estate, set up their charitable trust in 1974, said the Minister, they had bequeathed to the people of Ireland, an opportunity “to refresh a connection with food and where it comes from”. All food produced on the Airfield farm is used in the on-site cafe, an airy building at the estate’s entrance.
Minister Coveney added: “I congratulate the team who have built on something very special here and must give credit to the family’s obsession with food, gardening and their connection with the soil and what it can produce.”
He said most people associated Dundrum with the shopping centre but that Airfield was “an oasis of calm” in the city.
He said that unfortunately, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter could not attend the opening as he was on the floor of the Dail. However, Minister Covney said he would tell Minister Shatter all about it: “He’s had a tough couple of weeks and I will be recommending he come for a walk here.”
The Overends were the only children of Lilly and Trevor, who was a successful Dublin solicitor. Museum guide Sheila McDonald brought me through the house and told me the story of the two women.
In the first room, the living room, the tour begins with replica period costumes, the sisters’ story books and all the correspondence they meticulously retained over the years. Although they’ve became fabulously wealthy thanks to a legacy from their uncle Tommy Overend, a stockbroker in New York, they “very thrifty but very generous with the causes they adopted”.
One of their campaigns was to supply milk from their Jersey herd to the malnourished tenement children of Dublin’s inner city. Another pet project, and one which, according to archivist Ciara Joyce of NUI Maynooth, was “the making of Letitia”, was the St John of God’s Ambulance Service.
“By working with the St John’s Ambulance, Letitia really came out of herself. She had led a very quiet life up to that but, through St John’s, she grew to have a huge circle of friends,” said Joyce.
Indeed, Letitia refused an OBE for her work after the first World War as she preferred not to be singled out for praise. It was also the Ireland of 1920 when politically things were delicate for wealthy Protestants. “They weren’t fools,” said McDonald on Letitia’s refusal of the royal honour.
Joyce, who has worked on the project for the last two-and-a-half years, said: “It’s wonderful to see it today after working on it for such a long time and the local people are really happy and seem really happy about [their connection to] the Overend family.”
Airfield House, Garden and Cafe opened to the public on Friday, April 11 and are open daily from 9.30am until 5pm. Admission prices for adults are €10 and €5 for children.

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