Of love and war (and fresh fish) in Howth

Long-time Paris correspondent, war writer and hopeless francophile Lara Marlowe is selling up in Howth

The living room

Mark Keenan

21 Abbey Street, Howth, Co Dublin

Asking price: €595,000 Agent: Lisney Sotheby’s (01) 853 6016

Back when Lara Marlowe was five (and not French), her mother left her temporarily for the holiday of a lifetime. To Paris. Deemed ‘too little’ to travel, Lara had to stay behind in California while her older brother was taken along. They returned with fabulous tales of La Ville Lumière and she was presented with a little statuette of the Eiffel Tower.


Lara Marlowe in her study

So from that day forth Ms Marlowe would be utterly obsessed with Paris and all things French. She would be destined to have her own adventures there. And everywhere. Most will know Lara Marlowe as the long-serving Paris correspondent with The Irish Times. Having fulfilled the role with aplomb since 2013, she has just ‘retired’. The policy at The Irish Times, like many companies, is that everyone must retire at 65. “Well, I don’t agree with it,” says Marlowe.

Property: 21 Abbey Street Howth, Co Dublin

It’s a hot topic of late. Mary Kennedy, formerly of RTÉ recently spoke about her displeasure at being forced to quit, and last year the then Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced plans to end the practice. Too late though for the much- respected Marlowe, who has also served many years heading The Irish Times’Washington desk. Before that she had worked for Timemagazine and as a producer with CBS.

A view of the lighthouse in Howth. Photo: Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images© Getty Images

A lauded author, Marlowe, alongside her late husband of 12 years (the legendary Robert Fisk) has also covered some of the most brutal wars of our generation, from Beiruit to Baghdad and Afghanistan to Algeria. For two decades she went to war with Bob, interviewing maniacal strongmen, dodging kidnap attempts (“It was touch and go when our car was stopped by Hezbollah”) and ducking snipers (“the most terrifying of all”) .

Unlike so many less fortunate war reporters like US journalist Marie Colvin (assassinated in Syria) and France’s Arman Soldin (killed just this week in Ukraine), Fisk and Marlowe lived to tell their tales. “Robert always said ‘don’t dare be so vain to think there’s a bullet with your name on it’.” He would die of a stroke in Dublin in 2020.

The study where Marlowe does her writing

For her part Marlowe once described Fisk as being “part Tintin boy reporter and part James Bond”, although her own accomplished work and tight escapes in war zones must surely give this Lara a whiff of Croft. But what most of us don’t know about Marlowe is that Howth in Co Dublin has long been her chosen port of refuge — far from of the war zones, Washington, Beirut and her beloved Paris. She bought her neat Victorian double-fronted end-of-terrace at No21 Abbey Street in 2007 at the very height of property market madness.

The exterior of 21 Abbey Street, Howth, Co Dublin

“It has been my retreat. I had split with Robert and previously we had been living in Dalkey. He helped me with the house hunting. I knew I wanted to live by the sea so I looked in Portmarnock, Skerries and Howth. Prices were at an all-time high but I fell in love with No21 to the degree that they immediately asked for another 20 grand. Besotted as I was, I paid it willingly.

“I remember thinking it had a lovely feeling to it. And you know it has been the only place that I can write my books. When Covid came I sat in my study and I wrote and I wrote. In the winter I had the study fire lit. I didn’t leave. It was lovely and cosy. This house has always been cosy.”

The result of Lara’s lockdown is Love In A Time of War, published last year to cracking reviews. It details her 20 years at wars alongside Fisk and their changing relationship in those times.

Lara Marlowe's book Love in a Time of War

Through her Irish Timesrole, Marlowe has lived between Dublin and Paris where she resides at a fourth-floor apartment in a classic Parisian Haussmann. In 2019 she completed her six-decade journey to become a French citizen.

“Although I’ve travelled all over, the cities I have felt most at home in are Paris, Beirut and Dublin.” For Marlowe, Dublin means Howth. “I love it. I walk every morning to the light house and back. They used to feed the seals until they got too fat and the fishermen stopped it. There’s a sign up.” (The fine is €5,000).

The kitchen

“Christmases have been particularly lovely. I’ve filled the house with family and friends and we walked the cliffs on Christmas Day. I’d recommend it because you have them almost to yourself. And then all back for conversation and a few glasses of wine in the living room.”

From the outside, her spick and span Victorian looks ever so slightly officious; as if built perhaps for a post master or station master back in the day when fishing was Howth’s main economy.

Boats in Howth harbour. Photo: Getty Images© Getty Images

“It’s still very much a working fishing port. One of the best things is that you can walk out your door to the harbour in a few minutes and buy the most beautiful fresh fish every day. It’s the best fish I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Howth is also very handy for the airport which has been useful. The back garden is private and west facing so I can sit and read out there in the summer. There’s a 1970s extension, which I think has a character all of its own.

“I’m told I have my own particular style of decor here and in my Paris apartment. My friends say they both they look the same inside. I just like to furnish and surround myself with the things I have picked up on my travels.”

The outdoor seating area

Lisney Sotheby’s seeks €595,000 for the 1,100 sq ft house. It has a living room with built-in bookshelves, a fireplace and original shutters. There’s a separate dining room with access to a garden courtyard. The kitchen/breakfast room has custom-built units. Of the three bedrooms upstairs, the master has served for many years as Marlowe’s study. “It makes no sense to keep two homes now so I’m selling. But I’ll be back in Dublin regularly.”

So... time to put the feet up at last?

“Well, there’s an attempt at a novel in the drawer which I might just dust off. And I am planning to travel to Ukraine soon.” Guess not so.

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