Robert O’Byrne is a writer specialising in the fine and decorative arts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, among them Luggala Days: The Story of a Guinness House (Cico Books) and The Last Knight: A Tribute to Desmond FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin (Lilliput Press). He writes a monthly column for Apollo magazine (http://www.apollo-magazine.com) and also contributes to each issue of the quarterly Irish Arts Review (http://www.irishartsreview.com). All opinions expressed herein on Ireland, her landscape, architecture and artefacts are his own.

97 comments on “About

  1. […] Days: The Story of a Guinness House by Robert O’Byrne (1 […]

  2. And thank you for dropping by my blog too! I haven’t yet made it to Southern Ireland (or beyond Belfast in Northern Ireland). A future trip indeed but I like your pictures all the more because they make me think of the types of pictures John Harris would have taken in the 40s and 50s when he was visiting many a decaying pile. That for me is very interesting – the real Calke Abbeys. Keep up the good work.

  3. David says:

    And a thank you for dopping by my blog as well. I gather you emailed Alec about it too, which amused him – as I’m not sure he knew what a blog was before I started mine last month.
    Newbridge is such a gem of preservation – basically built by two generations and subsequently lived in a family that never felt the need – or had the cash – to change or renew anything.

    • Yes, I heard back from Alec who at least has mastered email even if blogs are still beyond his ken. Newbridge has been fortunate in many ways, not least by having a member of the family today so passionately interested in its history and welfare.

  4. Dina Dwyer says:

    Hello, I have 2 of your books : Luggala Days and Romantic irish Homes. I am married to an irish man and we are based in San Francisco, California. We will be in Ireland on Sept 22-Oct 2 and if you are available, we would love to meet you. I am also preparing to write an article on Irish Homes for an Asian magazine and I know you are a tremendous resource for all things Irish. I hope to hear back from you.

    • Thanks for your message and kind commments, which are much appreciated.
      I’m not sure yet what are my plans for the dates you propose: let’s liaise nearer the time and see what might be possible.
      Meanwhile, good luck with your article on Irish houses – always a topic close to my heart!

    • Dina Dwyer says:

      Hi Robert, it’s me again. Dina from San Francisco, California. Checking in in to find out if you have some time on Sept 23 or 24 to meet and discuss “Irish” design. Thank you very much.

      • Dina Dwyer says:

        Hi Robert

        Dina from San Francisco checking in on your schedule and hoping we could meet when we are in Dublin on either Sept 23 or 24. Thank you.

      • Dear Dina,
        Thanks for yours. Unfortunately that week I am committed to be in London, so will not be able to meet you; please accept my apologies. While you are in Dublin, do please visit the Irish Georgian Society’s new headquarters in the City Assembly House on South William Street; it is in the process of restoration but open to the public and I am sure you will enjoy the opportunity to see it. Again my apologies for not being able to meet you later this month but I hope you have a wonderful trip to Ireland.

  5. Dina Dwyer says:

    Thank you for your quick reply. Is there an email address I can write to you at (around July) to check your availability in September ? Thank you

  6. Thanks, but for the moment please just message me via here (I read all comments); nothing personal but I try to limit amount of mail I get through email as it sometimes threatens to overwhelm…
    Look forward to hearing from you later in the summer.

  7. Just read Luggala days… my heart throbs… I stayed there 21 months (1974-76)… art patron Garech de Brun…

  8. John Phelan says:

    I find your title to this blog a little disingenuous. To suggest or promote the idea that Irish people are in some manner bereft of culture or unappreciative of beautiful things especially our architectural heritage (what is left) is offensive. I hope sir that I am in error and await your response.

    • Thank you for your comment. I assume you are referring to my subtitle rather than the title itself. The fact that after mentioning our architectural heritage you feel obliged to place in brackets ‘what is left’ is, I believe, sufficient answer. And thank you again for your interest.

      • John Phelan says:

        My reaction was indeed erroneous, for which I earnestly apologise. I read your Blog and found it so wonderful and then saw the subtitle and it just seemed yet again another kick at Irishness. I acknowledge all the work and effort you and the IGS do and Ireland would be a poorer place without those efforts. Thank you

  9. John Phelan says:

    An Acknowledgement of my apology would be appreciated! I did not intend to cause any offence.

  10. Tim says:

    Dear Robert, May I call you that? A pal of mine has forwarded me a link to your website and I am most gratified that we seem to share a passion for heritage. I’ve added your site to my List. I wrote recently about Killua Castle and have been in touch with Allen Sangines-Krause, whose company owns it. We have become friends (with a small “F”) and he has issued an open invitation for me to lunch with them at Killua. Alas, I have had no such luck with the Lord Ballyedmond, as yet (whom I wrote to)!

    Best regards,


  11. John Phelan says:

    Hi Robert
    I have spoken to Eric and he will forward on the disks to you. I also have the original 5×4 trans (Fuji Provia 100) if you need them.


  12. dfallon says:

    Thanks for the link to ‘Come Here To Me’, very much enjoying your website. Our links section is due an overhaul so I’ll do the same!

  13. John Phelan says:

    Hi Robert, Don’t forget to pick up that package from Eric. Take special note of the Entrance Hall shot on the CD. Any questions Eric will give you my Phone Number. I’m sorry for using your blog to contact you!

    • Just to let you know that I received that package from Eric yesterday. I am about to go away for a couple of weeks, so may not get a chance to look at the pictures properly before I do so. I’ll be in touch on my return (and will take good care of the pictures in the meantime).
      Many thanks and best wishes for sharing these with me; it is much appreciated.

  14. Many thanks. We have a board meeting tomorrow, so I have asked Eric to give me the package then.

  15. Fascinating post – thank you ! I reside in the Barony of Shanid – so much history in your post and lovely pictures . :)

    • Thank you for your kind observations; how lucky you are to live in that part of the world. Please return again soon to the Irish Aesthete and encourage your friends to do likewise. My thanks again and best wishes.

  16. John Phelan says:

    Hi Robert, did you get the chance to go through any of the images?

    • Thanks for yours. Sorry, I am still out of the country and will not be back in Iteland before next week. I will look at your images then with due care. My thanks again for letting me have them to see.

    • Dear John,
      I have gone through all your images and enjoyed looking at them very much. Thank you for letting me see them; in particular the views of the house in the snow were most unusual and arresting. For the moment, I have returned everything to the safe-keeping of Eric, as I am due to move residences in the coming weeks and don’t want anything to happen to your pictures. He has them in his care.

      • Oh, and John, I also meant to say how much I liked some of the details, especially the mask at the centre of one of the chimneypieces – it really is terrific. Many thanks again.

      • jtjphelan says:

        Robert thank you for your kind comments. Did you see the shot of the entrance hall on the CD?. I don’t know what is happening with the book on Russborough, But you are more than welcome to use any of the images you like for that or any other project.

        Kind Regards John

      • Thank you John. Yes, I did see entrance hall shot also, which was excellent, The book on Russborough: I wish that we had known of your pictures six months ago before we commissioned someone to photograph the place but…Still, I do think the pics of the house in the snow are most striking plus, as I said, some of your details. I will bring them to the attention of the relevant parties and let you know if any likelihood of being deployed. Thank you again.

  17. John Phelan says:

    That’s OK Robert, I know you have a working relationship with other photographers and I’m sure this project will be of the high standard of your previous books, But any Images you want, you are welcome to, FOC of course. I have a close emotional bond with Russborough, it is a place I love so much and anything that can help it’s future, in any way, is what interests me.

  18. Janie Scala says:

    Dear Robert,
    I love the latest piece on Ducketts Grove. You are so right – it was built to be a ruin! I very much enjoy the pieces you write on my local area (Borris, Huntingdon, Ducketts Grove) but am hoping that soon you will deliver a gem, so far unknownst to the rest of us. It must be out there somewhere! There is a most extraordinary ruin nearby to where I live (5 miles from both Borris and Bagenalstown) with a freestone double arch (I believe that’s the term) in the oddest place. I saw one mentioned once before, but sadly didn’t make a note and have now forgotten. Next time you are in the area, I should love to show it to you, and renew our friendship, having not seen you since the old days of S&P and Nell Stewart-Liberty

  19. Hi,

    I wonder if you would consider doing a post on the recent collapse of that splendid lodge near Pilltown in Co Kilkenny?

    Keep up the good work.


  20. GO'Reilly says:

    Outstanding site.Tour de force for those of us who despise the lazy stereotypes of our country and bewail the unyielding concrete and glass cage. Joy and pleasure to read, even without an Antrim pag. You do the nation a huge service. Thank you Sir!

  21. Brendan McConville says:

    Dear John,
    Greetings from New Jersey! I check on your site almost daily to see if you have posted a new gem and am usually rewarded with something informative and pithy.
    My father’s family is from very near to Castlewellan in Co. Down and I wondered if you have ever visited the 19th century castle that is the centerpiece of the forest park situated there, formerly the home of the Annesly family. I have never actually visited the house myself but would love to hear your insights.
    Thank you so much for your wonderful website – it often serves as balm for this misplaced native son!
    Brendan McConville

    • Thank you for making contact.
      Like you I have never visited the old house at Castlewellan; as you know, it was sold by the family many years ago and is now used as a Christian ministry centre. From the photographs one can see on the website (http://www.castlewellancastle.org) the interiors retain little of interest. But should I find myself in the vicinity at some time, I will certainly drop by.
      Thank you again for getting in touch and please continue to visit the site, your interest is much appreciated.

  22. REMF says:

    Robert,Can you please change my recent entry on ESB building to REMF
    Didn’t mean to place full name on that comment.
    Dont want to tread on toes!

  23. Edmund Joyce says:

    Dear Robert,

    Your post on Borris House is excellent and is most informative. It’s just such an amazing house. Thank you for your mention of my recent publication, I am very grateful.

    Kindest regards,

    Edmund Joyce.

    • Thanks for your comment. I greatly enjoyed reading your book recently and altho’ I know Borris well, it was fascinating to find out all that you had discovered during the course of your research. I hope that you will follow up with more, either about Borris or other houses in the area.

  24. Catherine Walsh says:

    Bravo Robert,
    My life is complete now that the Irish Aesthete exists.
    Catherine Walsh

  25. Charles Garnett says:

    What an extraordinary site – so full of details, photos, etc., could study it again & again – thank you

  26. Hi Robert,
    I just found your blog and am definitely going to be checking out your books in the very near future. As is fairly obvious from my own blog, I am an aspiring scholar interested in art, architecture, and history. I am part Irish but grew up with very little sense of Irish heritage because the Irish side of my family had already been in America for several generations when I was born. I have always to learn more about Irish art, culture, and my heritage. (I would also love to visit Ireland, but that may have to wait a few years.) I would really enjoy talking more about the subject and your work.

  27. Margaret says:

    Hello Robert,

    Wonderfully untainted images, with rich history, thank you! My grandmothers, both from Ireland, “Quinn” and “O’Donnell” were there in the late 1890s, early 1900s before they came to the US. When I see the plaster, it speaks to me; there is something to our DNA, and what we like.

    Merriest of Holidays,

    in Virginia

    • Dear Margaret in Virginia, Thank you for getting in touch and for your comments, which are most kind. I am, as always, delighted to know that my work here is being appreciated, so please spread the word and encourage your friends also to discover The Irish Aesthete. And, of course, likewise holiday greetings to you too.

  28. Dear Robert

    It was great to meet you at Thomas Heneage Art Books and thank you for taking the time to sign two copies of your brilliant new biography on the late Knight of Glin. Wishing you continuing success.


  29. Thomas de Volpi says:

    This is probably not the place to ask this but I am looking for the name of the Irish house-I think of the 18th century-in Palladian style-that appears to consist of 3 floors but is actually 5 or 6 floors. It is perhaps a villa as opposed to a large country house and perhaps suburban as opposed to a real country house. I realize that this is not much to go on

  30. Billie says:

    Fantastic blog Robert, especially your post about wisdom and books. Major book lover myself, ex-library assistant and now blogging about life in Ireland on http://ireland-ms.com and blogging one picture of Dublin for 365 days: http://dublin1picture365days.wordpress.com

    Since I am a big, big lover of Ireland, living here +11 years now, I want to spend my days reading blogs like yours. I’ll be a definite follower so!

    • Thank you for getting in touch and for your kind compliments. I have already had a look at your new Dublin site and it looks most interesting; will be following it in the months ahead and wish you every success with this and your other endeavours.

  31. John Rodgers says:

    I’ve been regularly checking in on your excellent site since the link first appeared on Matthew’s ‘The Country Seat’. I have enjoyed reading your books. I never understood why the Irish let these beautiful buildings decay.

    Any chance of more reporting on well-restored buildings? For instance, I’d love to see how Castle Freke in Cork fared. Ireland owes a lot to those mad, selfless folks who try to restore their nation’s heritage.

    • Thank you for getting in touch, and for enjoying the site. Yes indeed, I will be delighted to feature more well-restored buildings (see tomorrow, Monday 27th January for such a case) but limited time to travel around the country means I can only get to certain places at any time. But sooner or later I do intend to visit Castle Freke, and many more houses besides…

  32. Alan says:

    Hi, I love the blog, I just started this new site called HeadStuff.org and was wondering if you’d like to be involved, we have art and history sections and I think you’d fit in nicely. You can email me at: emailheadstuff@gmail.com

  33. Grainne Briscoe says:

    Hi Robert.
    I have just restored an old cottage in the Wicklow mountains. I realise I am the custodian of a rare piece of vernacular furniture – a falling table. I have spoken to Claudia Kinmonth about it and she says there are very few, if any, left. We are interested in discovering any more and would appreciate any help or advice in how to go about this search.
    It is a table that flips up to the wall at night to allow for more floor space for sleeping. When Claudia Kinmonth wrote her book on Irish Vernacular Furniture in 1993 there were very few left even then, so I’m wondering if I have the last one in Ireland??
    I can send you photos if you are interested.
    Thank you, Grainne Briscoe

    • Thanks for getting in touch.
      I do know those tables (many years ago I was a board member of the Irish Country Furniture Association) and they certainly are very rare, so I hope you are taking good care of yours. Claudia Kinmonth’s book is a terrific resource.
      Do feel free to forward images if convenient, and thank you again.

  34. jtjphelan says:

    Dear Robert
    I have some shots of cottages in Donegal I want to send on to you but I’m afraid I don’t know how to do it through the Blog. I think you have my email address so if you could send me a quick message I’ll reply with photos attached.

    Kind Regards
    John Phelan

  35. Grainne Briscoe says:

    Hi Robert. Thank you for your prompt reply. I will attempt to send you photos via the following links. I hope this works!

    • Thank you for the photographs which I have seen (lest you wonder, I removed the link information in case you did not want others to view the images via the same means). Most interesting to see the falling bed in situ, you are fortunate to have one as – you know already – they are now very rare.
      My thanks again and best wishes.

  36. […] loved the self-deprecation in the tagline of author Robert O’Byrne‘s site The Irish Aesthete: “This is not an oxymoron.” Lose yourself (as we did!) […]

  37. Aoife Mac Eoin says:

    Dear Robert, Just want to compliment you for your account of Aldborough House, Dublin 1 again as I feel sure that it led to the piece in The Irish Times yesterday which will help to raise the perilous situation concerning this house. Aoife.

    • Dear Aoife,
      Thank you for your comment: anything one can do to help raise the predicament of Aldborough House is to be welcomed. However, I felt the Irish Times piece could have been a lot more punchy, and a lot more concerned: I think it telling that there has been no follow-through response on the paper’s letters page, or on other social media, both of which are good indications of whether/not the article made an impact. Further efforts must be made to shame Dublin City Council into acting to secure this important building…

  38. Marina Julia says:

    Dear Robert, did someone tell you that you look just like Joseph Plunkett? It was the first thing that came to mind when I saw your beautiful face. Thank you for continuing your marvelous work.

    • Thank you for your comment. Yes, the resemblance has been remarked upon before, but on occasion I have also been told that I look like Eamon de Valera! I clearly have a generic Irish face…
      And thank you for your kind remark about this site, much appreciated.

  39. Charles Fowler says:

    Hi Robert,

    I am the Great-great grand nephew of the High Sheriff of Meath, Robert Fowler, during Empress Sisi’s time. I would like to get in touch with you about the history of the Fowlers in Meath and further stories that you have discovered as I am digging into our family past and came across your excellent blog about Sisi. ..


  40. Joe Rock says:

    Dear Robert,
    Very interesting blog. You may like an account of Ballyscullen[sic] in the National Archives of Scotland which adds to your material:
    GD113/5/70a. Letters from George Scott of Malleny to Miss Jane Innes of Stow at 24 St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh.
    17 Oct 1799, Belfast: He writes of his enjoyment of an excursion through Antrim and Derry `well worth seeing’. He describes the Bishop of Derry’s house at Ballyscullen as `the most whimsical thing I have ever seen. It is built in the form of a circle, covered at the top by a dome. The staircase is large and square in the centre and well lighted from the top. The rooms are all out of proportion being the segment of a circle on the one side, straight at the other and and narrowing to the ends. They are most superbly fitten up and remarkable for the show of fine paintings and cut marble from Italy. Some of them [the walls?] are covered with satin embroidered in imitation of Indian paper, others with painted silk, and one with Chinses paper representing views and manufactors of that country. The Beds and furniture far surpasses anything of the sort I have seen. They are rich far beyond any idea I could have formed and put me in mind of some story in the Arabian Nights. Though house has been finished some several years the Bishop has not seen it yet. This fine house stands on a piece of very barren ground and not a tree or a shrub about it.’

    Joe Rock

    • Thank you for getting in touch and forwarding that most interesting account. Ref. ‘the Bishop has not seen it yet’, of course he never did see it in this state since by the time this letter was written he had already gone to Italy where he would die in 1803…

  41. Robert, I would be very interested in your thoughts on reconstruction of lost buildings. I have been doing some homework on it over the summer, which involved a trip to Dresden to see the Frauenkirche etc.

    • Thank you for getting in touch. Gosh, this is a big subject and one which divides opinion, as I am sure you know. While the reconstruction of buildings destroyed during, for example, the Second World War (and those in Dresden are a case in point) tends to be applauded, buildings lost through ill-conceived and so-called redevelopment are rarely allowed to be returned to their original appearance. In this regard, the redevelopment of the ESB site on Lower Fitzwilliam Street is the best current example: the terrace of Georgian houses demolished by this company in the 1960s was replaced by a monolithic block which is now deemed to have reached the end of its lifespan. The option of reconstructing what was once on the site generally evokes indignation which is why the proposed replacement is described as being ‘in the spirit’ of the original but not an actual reproduction of it. And yet, as I say, were this to be a city in Eastern Europe, or anywhere else (what, for instance, is to be done about the historic buildings destroyed in recent years in Syria whenever peace finally returns to that region?) it would be deemed a good thing.
      The subject for many further discussions…

  42. Hannah Flynn says:

    Hi Robert, just to say I really enjoyed your account of Roundwood and the photos look great. You did a great job of keeping the clutter out of view! I just have a quick question for you. In your book “The Irish Georgian Society – a Celebration” there is mention of a journal that Brian Molloy kept during his time at Roundwood. Would you have any idea who currently has this journal? I’ve spoken to some family members but they don’t know anything about it. I’d love to read more of it if possible. Lovely to meet you the other day and keep up the good work with your site. I’ve really enjoyed browsing through it. Hannah

  43. Mary Devin Starratt says:

    I would love to receive your blog.
    By any chance did you attend The School For The Fine And Decorative Arts in London (V&A) ?
    Looking forward to reading your writings

    • Thank you for getting in touch. You can receive my blog regularly (three times a week) just by clicking the ‘follow’ button: it is then automatically forwarded to you. I did not attend the School of Fine & Decorative Arts I’m afraid…

  44. Finola says:

    Hi Robert, Just to let you know (can’t remember if I did so already) that we have provided a link to your blog from Roaringwater Journal. Just did a big catch up read – superb articles as always. Finola

  45. Aeneas Ryan says:

    Mr O’B, Thanks very much for your recent kind words about aeneasryan. I’ve been noticing a spike of visitors, mostly referred from you, in the past few days.

    Might I ask you to consider listing my little blog on your sidebar?

    I think it’s a complement rather than a rival to your excellent site

    Thanks. Aeneas Ryan

  46. Dear Robert, thanks for the pieces that you have written. I was especially intrigued with the article entitled “No Room at the Inn”. My in-laws are currently going through the process of reviewing home film footage, one of which is of a man waterskiing while being pulled by another gentleman on horse back. There is a large crowd gathered around them and it appears to be in a canal. We can only assume it is Desmond. If there was any way that we could confirm this we would be most grateful. My in-laws have also been going through the process of uploading some of this footage up onto youtube. There is a considerable amount that was shot but it does give an interesting insight into the past.


    • Thank you for getting in touch. It is recorded that Desmond Leslie did waterski on the canal at Robertstown, County Kildare during one of the IGS events there. I would have to look through my material to see if a specific date was given. If you can send me the film footage that might be helpful…

  47. We would live to be able to send you a copy of the material however we only have it in 8mm format.

  48. littleaugury says:

    Robert, I am so happy to tell you I am including 2 women of Ireland in a book I am writing for Rizzoli, called How They Decorated. I have read about both on your site, and your comments in a Q and A on another site, I would like to get in touch about including some of this material in the book with citations, I can me contacted via my blog, and that blog email tish209@gmail.com Perhaps I can give you more specific information and reference the text if you can touch base. best, pgaye tapp

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