John Byrne and Dermot Desmond’s property grab

TWO of Ireland’s richest developers are quietly buying up property around one of the most expensive strips of open real estate in the country.

Having secured the freehold to Old Belvedere Rugby Club seven years ago, billionaire Dermot Desmond has been spending tens of millions on buying houses bordering the Ballsbridge grounds in Dublin’s leafy embassy belt.

So has reclusive Kerry-born John Byrne, who now owns a number of houses along one side of the Anglesea Road entrance to the club.

Rugby-mad Desmond – who attended a corporate lunch and auction at the club last Friday – is said to have recently acquired a string of houses on the opposite end of the same entrance.

However, his most recent big-money purchase is believed by locals to be No.28 on nearby Shrewsbury Road, close to fellow developer Harry Crosbie and the palatial Belgian Embassy.

That house sold in 2005 to socialite tycoon Niall O’Farrell for €7.5m. It is not known if he has since sold it on but it is currently being rented out to a businessman.

A wealthy neighbour, who owns a substantial property that also borders the rugby ground, said last night: ‘I heard Dermot Desmond had been buying up property in the area.

‘It is interesting, to say the least, and I look forward to the day he comes knocking at my door.’ There is no suggestion that Mr Desmond – who is known to be ardent supporter of Old Belvedere – has any plans to develop the rugby club land on which the sporting lease runs out in just under 15 years.

Indeed, Desmond, who is the brains behind the International Financial Services Centre in the Docklands, was one of the people who lodged objections to developer Seán Dunne’s ambitious plans to build a 37-storey tower in the heart of Ballsbridge.

There’s no suggestion either that multimillionaire Mr Byrne, a close friend of the late Charles Haughey and the Government’s biggest landlord, is interested in developing in the area.

If he was, it might cause some concern from locals as he is not known for sympathetic architecture. He is responsible for such hideous city-centre sites as D’Olier House and Parnell House as well as St Ann’s in Donnybrook.

Old Belvedere members are, however, so concerned about the future of the club that new membership is currently open to players only.

A veteran member said last night: ‘I can’t believe Desmond and Byrne are buying up property around here for the good of their health.

‘But although the lease runs out in around 15 years, we are confident there is nothing anybody can do to get us out.

‘He would be obliged to renew our lease at a rate that is consistent with its sporting use.’ He added: ‘If we have to stop playing rugby, the money from any sale of the club will go to charity.

‘We are making sure everybody is aware of this fact. We don’t want any carpetbaggers trying to get in here thinking they can make a fast buck.

‘If we do have to sell, every penny will go to charity. No one in the club will make a penny.’

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