Strain, Alexander (c.1877–1943), Dublin builder and property developer, was born in Markethill, Co. Armagh, eldest son of Robert Douglas Strain, builder, and his wife Margaret (née McFadden). Alexander moved to Dublin in 1893 and initially worked for a timber dealer in Rathmines. At an early age he spotted the building potential of lands on the northern outskirts of Dublin and in 1896 borrowed enough capital to acquire about ten acres of land in the area then known as Daneswell and Cross Guns. His father probably provided guidance and finances during the early years of this venture. From 1904 Alexander began to erect houses on Iona Road, Drumcondra. From the outset he was determined to build spacious and high-quality dwellings, contrasting with the jerry-built structures which then existed in the Drumcondra–Glasnevin area. He was not, however, given a free hand to lay out entire streets in one grand scheme, since other builders had already acquired neighbouring plots and there were limitations imposed by planners at Dublin corporation.
Between 1904 and 1914 Strain built and sold houses in a very piecemeal fashion on Iona Road, Iona Drive, Lindsay Road, Lindsay Crescent, and elsewhere. He resided in many of the houses that he built, and this meant that his family moved at least sixteen times in the Drumcondra–Glasnevin area. The impetus for building was lost during the 1914–18 war; some of the properties that he owned on Lower Sackville St. appear to have been damaged during the 1916 rising. But by the mid-1920s he began building and selling dwellings on Hollybank Road, Cliftonville Road, and the Cremore estate, named after his father's townland in Co. Armagh. In 1930 he finally settled into a house he built on Cremore Park; he also built a number of houses for members of his own family in the area.
Strain was one of a close-knit group of master builders, including his father and son-in-law, who erected hundreds of high-quality houses in Dublin in the period 1904–30. Many similar red-brick houses were built by competitors such as Thomas Conolly (who also built on Iona Road, and claimed that the walls on his houses were half an inch thicker). Strain gained a strong reputation in Dublin because he offered custom-made houses with special features, maintained these high standards after the first world war when cash and materials were in shorter supply, and was known for honest business practices. At a glance the elevations of the dwellings he built on Iona and Lindsay Roads look fairly uniform and not dissimilar to those in other parts of Dublin such as Vernon Grove, Rathgar. But each of his houses differed slightly according to the needs of the client. Glazed bricks (which cost an extra halfpenny each) were used on some façades, and there were slight differences in the shapes of the granite sills and lintels and in the design of the iron railings and stained-glass panels on the doors. He also successfully adapted the layout of his houses in the light of social and economic changes in the 1920s; less space was needed for servants and more for motor cars. One of his customers on Cremore Park ordered an extra-long garage to accommodate a Daimler car, and large families ordered converted attic rooms and extras such as fireplaces in bathrooms and large kitchen ranges. The middle-class buyers of these homes paid in ready cash (between £425 and £500) or took out cheap loans offered by Dublin corporation.
The term ‘Strain-built’ was successfully used in marketing campaigns to denote quality and was later often inappropriately used by estate agents to describe any high-quality dwelling in Drumcondra–Glasnevin. In fact only about half of the houses on Iona Road and Lindsay Road can be confidently attributed to him. Good examples of Strain houses are numbers 34, 66, 68, and 76 Iona Road and 24 Cremore Park. He had numerous property investments elsewhere in Dublin (e.g. Tyrconnell Road and Jamestown Road, Inchicore, which were developed in the 1930s) but it seems unlikely that he played an active part in the building process, as the quality of the houses are inferior to those in Glasnevin. At his death most of his wealth was tied up in property on Wicklow St., Cremore Road, and Cremore Park, and he owned shares in the Leinster Brick Co. and Phoenix Oil and Transport Co. His relations with the Dublin corporation were generally cordial and he was a strong advocate of modern town planning. In 1932 he became chairman of the newly formed Dublin and District Housebuilders’ Association.
He played an active part in the presbyterian church in Dublin and was chairman of the board of governors of Drumcondra Hospital, a governor of the Adelaide Hospital, and supporter of the Marrowbone Lane fund. He married (a.1901) Kathleen (maiden name unknown), from Dublin city; they had four daughters, Madge, Belinda, Caroline, and May. He died suddenly at home in Dublin, 18 September 1943.