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The History of Airfield and the Overends

 

Trevor T. L. Overend, was a successful Dublin solicitor. He was born in Portadown in 1847 but moved to Dublin in 1855 with his parents and five siblings. In 1879 he married Lily Butler and they had two surviving daughters Letitia (b. 1880) and Naomi (b. 1900). Trevor and Lily Overend first lived at 12 Ely Place, later the business premises of 'T.T.L. Overend & Co.'. In 1894 they purchased 'Airfield' in Dundrum from a member of the Jury family of Jury's Commercial & Family Hotel.

Letitia and Naomi Overend grew up surrounded by a close circle of aunts, uncles and family friends. They were particularly close to their mother's sisters and grandmother, Letitia Butler, who lived in Sandymount, to their cousins, the Bartons of Donegal, and to Tommy Overend (President of the Calcutta Stock Exchange). Both girls were educated at home by a governess although Naomi did finish her education at Alexandra College. In their early years they spent their days having lessons, playing tennis of golf, visiting friends with their mother, walking with their father and enjoying various bike rides, tea parties, fancy dress, charity fêtes and the theatre. Encouraged by their parents (and a twenty year age gap!) they led quite separate and independent lives although they always remained close, enjoying a similar sense of humor and determination. They were united in their interest in the house and farm at Airfield, their, dogs, friends, and travel.

In 1913, Letitia Overend started her training with St. John's Ambulance.This began a lifetime of work and friendship within the association. In 1955 she was awarded their highest honour becoming Dame Justice of the Order Of St. John and in 1961 she proudly accepted an Honorary Doctorate from Trinity College in recognition of her public services.

On the farm the family's great love was the Dromartin herd of Jerseys. The animals were named after different characters in the Gilbert & Sullivan operas and were regular prize winners at the RDS Spring Show. Besides the herd, horses were kept for ploughing and transport, eggs, vegetables, and milk were sold and there was always a large population of cats and dogs.

(the above text is taken from the Airfield Trust website – www.airfield.ie )

 

 

See below for additional history and the history of the Trust:


 

 

From the 1920s the Overends began buying up any land in the vicinity of Airfield that came up for sale. Their last major purchases were Eden Farm in 1964 and Dukes’ Meadow in 1970.  They appear to have disposed of only two parcels of land – the site for Taney School in 1967 and in 1969 the house and most of the land at Rockfield, which were sold to Dr. Murray (protected by a restrictive covenant).  The sisters gave an interview to Jim Farrelly of the Evening Herald in 1973 and he reported “(The Misses Overend) have issued a stern warning to speculators and developers that their cherished Jersey cow farm and 19th Century home are not for sale at any price. … (They) say they will not sell even half an acre of their precious property and … are daily resisting the most enticing offers for strips of land for building sites at the extremities of the farm.”   It was well known in the area that the sisters wished to preserve Airfield.  In the 1960s they were approached by the OPW, who asked that they sell to them so that the house and farm could be preserved (as Argillen, Newbridge House, etc.).  They refused.

 

In 1974 (Miss Letitia was 94), the Trust was set up.  A letter dated 13th June, 1974  attached to the Trust Deed, signed by Mr Raymond A. French (their solicitor at the time) states that “The prime Charitable object is to retain the grounds around Airfield as an open space for the use at the Trustees’ discretion of the various objects set out in the Deed of Trust.”  Unfortunately, the Trust deed itself gives the Trustees wide powers and does not mention the prime Charitable Object as being the retention of the grounds.  The original trustees were Letitia and Naomi Overend, The Honourable Theodore Cunningham Kingsmill More, William Millar and Raymond Arthur French.  In addition a Company was also set up, owned by the Trust.  See the link to “Legal Structures at Airfield”.

 

Miss Letitia died in 1977 and Miss Naomi in October 1993.  The total area of Airfield land at Miss Naomi’s death was around 50 acres, although it was known that some would be lost to Luas and the Wyckham Bypass Extension.  At this time the trustees were Raymond and Guy French (sons of Raymond Arthur French) and Garth May.   Shortly after, two new trustees were appointed – Olivia Goodwillie and Cyril Forbes.   In 1995 the house’s furniture was sold at auction.  The farm and the house were “mothballed”.  Around this time Pembroke Estate Holdings approached the Trustees to exchange the lands around Riversdale in return for the freehold on the rest of the Airfield land (the land around the house was leasehold with the lease running out in 2032).  The question of the restrictive covenant on Rockfield was also raised.

 

By 1995 plans were already at an advanced stage for the opening of the estate to the public – for a new Jersey herd, cheese and butter-making, crafts based around all the produce of the farm, e.g. weaving and spinning wool;  basketry;  carving;  food-production.  However, the Board became split between those who wished to start farming and those opposed to the idea.  Garth May resigned in 1996, Cyril Forbes became Chairman and a new CEO, Maggie Giraud, was appointed.  She started opening up the estate – Taney School sent children over for blackberry-picking, the gardens were opened to the public and a team of volunteers was established to work in the garden and on other projects.  However, Maggie’s tenure in the house was short – she resigned in 1997.  Proposals for partnership arrangements with many outside organisations were brought forward and rejected.  Around this time the swop of land for what would become the Gannon development was arranged in exchange for freehold on the remainder of Airfield land and the restrictive covenant on Rockfield was lifted.  In early 1998 Cyril Forbes resigned as a Trustee and Director. 

 

In Spring 1998 farming was started again at Airfield, the gardens were open to the public, major renovations were carried out on the house and educational programmes began.  An archivist had already been appointed and was joined by an education officer.  Brian Dornan became a Trustee and subsequently CEO.  Later Peter Todd and John Edmondson became Board members. 

 

See the link “The SaveAirfield 2004 Campaign” for information on the way in which the Trustees’ efforts to sell land for development were frustrated by the massive volume of submissions sent to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in early 2004.