Samuel Lewis in his famous 1837 "topographical Dictionary of Ireland" lists among the 'handsome seats and pleasant villas' of Clontarf that of R.Simpson at Bellgrove. The last family to reside in Belgrove (the Second 'l' was dropped over the years) House and estate, and the family always associated with it were the Dolans.
One can only speculate as to the origin of the name Belgrove. It could be an Anglo-French combination meaning beautiful (belle) wood (grove). Belgrove many also be a French family or placename. Or it could be adopted from the well known Belgrave Square in London. Indeed the Welling area of London has a Bellgrave Square and a Belle Grove Close and there is a Belgrove Street in London W.C.I. The house is now called St. John's House.
The Dolan family originated in Welshestown near Clogherhead, in County Louth. It is not clear when the Dolans acquired the Belgrove estate in Clontarf. But their Clontarf interests date back as far as 1859 when a John Dolan rented Woodpark estate on Vernon Avenue. the family then lived in north County Dublin. The last Dolan 'landlord' in Belgrove, and the one affectionately recalled by older Clontarfites was Dominic Dolan, He lived in Donnycarney before moving to Clontarf. In Thom's directories of the 1870's he is listed as a 'haymerchant' with a business in Townsend Street and later in Bolton Street. He became involved in the wholesale pharmaceutical business and later in the importation of oil. When the giant Ango-American Esso oil company began operations in Ireland they bought his interests and he became their first Irish manager. He may have been the first Dolan to live in Belgrove House with its regular farm-yard which had become quite dilapidated at the turn of the present century. He built the block of eight large red brick houses on Castle Avenue, which stand between Kincora Road and Seafield Road, a speculative venture which left him in permanent financial trouble. He lived in the Seafield Road end house - St. Dominic's - while Belgrove was being renovated and extended. Dominic was a man who liked to live up to the 'big house' image, and is fondly remembered by locals being chauffeured around in his horse drawn trap by his driver John Moffit. In his "old Clontarf" Canon Knowles recalls Dominic Dolan: "On the opposite side of the road was the big house of Mr. Dolan with its fine yard gates and very high wall and main entrance. I remember Mr. Dolan going to Dublin in a truly splendid round trap drawn by a big glossy horse ... I think Mr. Dolan favoured what we children called a 'half-tall hat' and had bushy side-whiskers.
Dominic Dolan died in he early 1930's and his spinster daughter Mary Jane lived in the house for a number of years after his death. Another daughter (Dominic had a large family) was an Irish Sister of Charity, Sister Joseph Dolores.
She was for many years Reverend Mother in the well know Merrion School for the Blind and also spent a considerable time on the missions. As a aged nun she paid a nostalgic return visit to Belgrove House in the early 1970's and fondly pointed out her bedroom in the old building, while accurately recounted childhood memories of her homestead. The house itself faced south and there was a driveway from the cottage at the west end of the present girl's school. The "trademans" entrance was where the present yellow gates are on Seafield Road. Just west of these gates stood a complex of mews, stables and out-houses. They served for a while as a social club for domestic girl's , C.B.S.I., Girl guides and for a short lived Catholic Sea Scout troop. Two fairly large rectangular fields covered the area on which the boy's school complex now stands. Looking from Belgrove House the fields nearest Seafield Road was an orchard with a high wall encircling it. Later it became a hockey pitch used by the Holy Faith Convent. It was in a lovely sylvan setting being surrounded by trees, and camogie and cricket were also played there. The other field had clusters of trees and was used for grazing animals. South of today's girls' school a local tennis club was started in the mid 1950's. The club played tennis and ran dances in the east part of Belgrove House. The tennis lasted only a few seasons as the grass courts were ploughed up by a workman due to a misinterpretation of orders.
From 1940 until 1971 the house served as a school and as St. John's Parish Hall. Mr. Jim Nolan and local priest Fr. Menton organised a management committee to organise the affairs of the house. Fr. Menton changed St. John's Youth Club to the house from its old base in number one Castle Avenue. The management committee - a mixture of the old parish committee, the Youth Club and the existing Bingo committee - got their initial revenue in the form of a grant from St. John's parish, from small rents and from the Bingo committee. In 1972 the Eastern Health Board came and became the main tenants of the house. St. John's scouts used the house as their meeting place between 1971 and 1982. The Alcoholics Anonymous Organisation meet on the premises twice a week, since 1973. The Red Cross meet there every Tuesday, since 1977. other local groups who hire the premises regularly include Clontarf Ladies' Club, Clontarf Residents' Association, and old folks group, the Arch group and the Out and About Association. There are five rooms in the house available for hire. St. John's Youth club use three rooms - a games room, a snooker room and a table tennis room. The Eastern Health Board has two rooms exclusive to its use while it has daytime use of the five rooms. Two rooms have been named after former local clergy - The Fr. Menton Room (the Youth Club games room) and the Monsignor Martin Room (the Canteen).