Skip to main content

The Embassy’s History

Find out about the Embassy's history, including where we are currently located at Villa Spada and some of our former Ambassadors.

History of Villa Spada

Embassy of Ireland, Italy

The Villa Spada

The Irish Embassy to Italy is located at the Villa Spada in the beautiful surroundings of Rome’s Gianicolo (Janiculum) hill.

The Villa Spada has both a long lay and religious historical connection.

The building dates from 1639, when it was originally constructed as a summer home for the Nobili family. The Nobili family produced several noted churchmen including Roberto Nobili, who was made a Cardinal at the age of 12 by his grand-uncle Julius III in 1553. The Nobili Family owned the property for about a hundred years and then another Italian family, the Spada Family, owned it for a further 200 years of its history.

In 1849 for 10 days Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian patriot and soldier, placed the Villa Spada at the centre of Italian history when his forces fought to defend the revolutionary Roman Republic against French forces, who were fighting to restore the Temporal power of the Pope over Rome.

As the Mother House in the period 1888-1895 and the place where the foundress, Mother Mary Ignatius OSF, died on 6 May 1894, the Villa Spada1 has a particular interest for members of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

The Villa suffered extensive damages in the fighting, although the main structure remained intact. It was sold several times over the subsequent years, and leased to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, whose founder died in the Villa in 1894.

The Villa Spada was purchased from its then owner Dr. Alberto Uzielli of Florence, by the Irish state in 1946. For 65 years it housed the Irish Embassy to the Holy See before its change to house the Irish Embassy to Italy in 2012.


The Villa Spada houses the Chancery of the Embassy and is also the official residence of the Ambassador. It was purchased by the Irish government in 1946.  It stands on the Gianicolo Hill, near the church of San Pietro in Montorio, where the Ulster Earls, Hugh  O’Neills and Hugh O’Donnell, who fled Ireland in 1607 in what has become know as the “flight of the Earls, are buried. 

Located ten minutes by car from St. Peter’s Square, the Villa Spada is situated on the Gianicolo hilltop just west of Rome’s historic centre. The immediate area around the Villa is home to a number of significant architectural and historic sites. 140 metres from the Villa Spada is the monumental baroque fountain, the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola built by Pope Paul VI in the 17th century to commemorate the refurbishment of Emporer Trajan’s first century aqueduct. 325 metres away is the Church of San Pietro in Montorio, run by Spanish Franciscans and attached to the nearby Spanish Academy and Embassy of Spain. Here is where the Ulster Earls O’Neill and O’Donnell, who arrived in Rome in 1608 to seek help are buried. Beside the Church is Bramante’s Tempietto (1502), said to be the first Renaissance building in Rome. Nearby, also, bordering the Villa Spada grounds, is the Mausoleo Ossario Garibaldino. This mausoleum was built in 1946 and commemorates Goffredo Mameli, the author of the Italian national anthem, along with those that died in battles in Rome with French in 1849, the Risorgimento of 1868 and 1870, and the Second World War in 1943.

Irish Ambassadors to Italy

  • Michael MacWhite: 1938 to 1950.
  • Denis Devlin, Minister: 1950 to 1959.
  • Dermot Waldron: September 1959 to January 1960.
  • Thomas V Commins: February 1960 to May 1962.
  • Joseph F Sheilds: July 1962 to November 1966.
  • Denis McDonald: November 1966 to March 1975.
  • Sean Kennan: March 1975 to December 1978.
  • Robert McDonagh: December 1978 to August 1983.
  • Eamon Kennedy: August 1983 to December 1986.
  • Christopher P (Robin) Fogarty: February 1987 to December 1991.
  • Patrick O'Connor: January 1992 to August 1995.
  • Joseph Small: October 1995 to March 2002.
  • Frank Cogan: March 2002 to August 2006.
  • Seán Ó Huiginn: August 2006 to September 2009.
  • Pat Hennessy: October 2009 to August 2013.
  • Bobby McDonagh: August 2013 to July 2017.
  • Colm Ó Floinn: October 2017 to November 2021.
  • Patricia O'Brien: December 2021 to date.