History of the Residence
Ailesbury road was planned in the middle of the 19th century as a residential road in south-east Dublin, in the district then known as the Pembroke Township, which formed part of lands owned by the Earl of Pembroke, whose family seat is at Wilton, near Salisbury, England.
The road was so named as a tribute to the marquees of Ailesbury, who had married a daughter of Lord Pembroke, and was also heir to the title and estate of Lord Cardigan, who led the charge of the light brigate at Balaclava in 1854.
Ailesbury road was then the longest straight road in Dublin - one mile from the church at Donnybrook to the railway at Sidney Parade. The original design set for houses to be built on this road is shown in n°1 to 51 on the south-east side of the road, which are built of red brick and granite in various combinations, with a uniform flight of granite steps leading to the hall door, and with iron railings bordering the front garden. The houses n°1-27 inclusive were built by Alderman Meade, whose designs here and elsewhere in Dublin are characterised by circular granite pillars at the entrance gate. His own residence, which he also designed, is now St Michael’s School at the Merrion end of the road.
The house n°53, formely known as Mytilene, that follows this series of more or less uniform red-brick and granite residences, differs completely from them. It is much larger, detached and standing in a wooded garden, and has twin gates flanked by square granite pillars, with a granite balustrade and wide steps leading to a pillared front entrance. This house is constructed of white bricks with inset designs of black bricks and an ornamental rosette frieze, also made of bricks in the same porcelain finish. The story of this house and of its construction is, according to local memory, as follows.
Donnybrook fair, an annual occasion dating from a grant of King John in 1204, was held annually in the summer on the site where the rugby ground now stands. This fair became widely known for drunkenness, violence and theft, and was finally suppressed in 1860.
About the year 1840, a homeless and penniless boy, who was selling newspapers at Donnybrook fair, found a notecase containing a large sum of money. With considerable difficulty he traced the owner, who was impressed by his honesty and rewarded him generously. With this money the boy, George Bustard, then aged about 14, boarded a ship bound for Australia. Althought completely uneducated, he was intelligent and industrious, and soon mastered the various skills connected with building.
In due course he made a fortune, and during these busy years in Australia he planned for his retirement and impressive house in Ireland, close to the site of the fair he had known in his youth. He did not live to realise this dream but after his death in Australia it was found in his Will that the construction of the house was placed as an obligation on his son and his three daughters. In his testament, the location, style and materials of the house were minutely described. The site finally chosen on Ailesbury road was not extensive enough for the house envisaged, but not other available plot could be found "close to the site of the fair" as stipulated in his Will.
The white bricks of which the house was built were specially made, and each brick is said to have cost a considerable sum at the time. This house, on George Bustard’s instructions, was named Mytilene. He had become interested in the history of Greece and Rome, and the name "Mytilene" accidentally overhead while he was still very young, had opened up an interest which remained with him all his life. This name was carved vertically on the entrance gates.
The house contained separate suites for his son and daughters, with communal reception and dining rooms. Complicated stair-ways and approaches were needed to make these suites possible, and it was said that at this time the house contained 40 rooms of various sizes. In the dining-room, the table was in the shape of horse-shoe, and some of the furniture was specially made from the timbers of a wrecked sailing ship similar to one that brought George Bustard to Australia.
His son moved on his marriage to Northern Ireland, leaving the house to his three unmarried sisters, the eldest of whom died shortly aferwards. The two surviving sisters lived until the end of the 1920s, more or less in seclusion, althought the younger, Miss Kate Bustard, was a sweet and friendly person who often invited local children to explore the garden, full of cedars and forest trees planted according to her father’s Will, or the gloomy rooms with their victorian furniture, heavy draperies and ornate chandeliers. At the dining-room table, according to the Will of George Bustard, places were always laid for his four children, whether they were present or not, and his practice continued until Miss Kate Bustard sat alone at the horse-shoe table in the empty house. Shortly before her death, she moved to a smaller house in Donnybrook, and her fortune passed to her brother’s son, Reginald Bustard.
Mytilene was purchased by the French Government and became the residence of the first Minister for France to Ireland, Monsieur Alphand. The name was removed from the pillars at the entrance, and the house is now known as 53, Ailesbury road.