Temps Perdu

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In November 1927 Aileen Sibell Mary Guinness married the Hon Brinsley Sheridan Bushe Plunket and as a wedding present was given by her father Luttrellstown Castle, County Dublin. Situated on the outskirts of the capital, the house stood in the centre of a much-admired park: Hermann, Prince von Pückler-Muskau visited Luttrellstown while in Ireland in 1828 and wrote, ‘The entrance to the demesne is indeed the most delightful of its kind that can be imagined. Scenery, by nature most beautiful, is improved by art to the highest degree of its capability, and, without destroying its free and wild character, a variety and richness of vegetation is produced which enchants the eye…’ By this date Luttrellstown had passed out of the hands of its original owners, the Luttrells the first of whom Sir Geoffrey de Luterel had been granted the estate by King John around 1210. The original castle was built here some two centuries later and descended from one generation to the next until the late 17th century when it passed out of the ownership of Simon Luttrell, a Roman Catholic supporter of James II who, having supported the King, then emigrated to France and was killed while commanding an Irish regiment at the Battle of Lindon in 1693. His younger brother Colonel Henry Luttrell appeared likewise to support the Jacobite cause but during the Siege of Limerick was discovered to be intriguing with the Williamite forces. The new regime permitted him to keep the family estates but his treachery was not forgotten and in 1717 he was shot dead in Dublin while being carried in his sedan chair from a coffee house: despite a reward of £1,000 being offered, his assassin was never discovered. (During the 1798 Rising, his grave was broken open and the skull smashed). Thereafter the Luttrells failed to enjoy public esteem, although Henry’s younger son Simon Luttrell eventually became first Earl of Carhampton. His son Henry, second earl, was a notorious rake who, as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Ireland made so many enemies that a plot to assassinate him was discovered in 1797. In May 1811 the Dublin Post erroneously reported his death and Lord Carhampton demanded a retraction: this was published until the headline ‘Public Disappointment.’ By then, universally reviled, the Luttrells had left the country, selling the Luttrellstown estate in 1800.

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Luttrellstown’s next owner was Luke White of whom Lady Hardwicke, wife of the Viceroy, wrote in 1803, ‘He was the servant of an auctioneer of books (some say he first cried newspapers about the streets). As he rose in his finances, he sold a few pamphlets on his own account…His talent for figures soon made him his master’s clerk, and he afterwards was taken into a lottery office, where his calculations soon procured him a partnership. Good luck attended him in every speculation, and he knew how to profit by it, but with the fairest fame. He continued his trade in books on the great scale, and was equally successful in all the train of money transactions…’ So successful indeed that he could afford to lend the government £1 million during the 1798 Rebellion and then two years later buy Luttrellstown, ‘to the great offence of all the aristocrats in Ireland,’ according to Lady Hardwicke. In an effort to dispel memories of the previous owners, White renamed the estate Woodlands but his great-grandson on inheriting the place in 1888 reverted to the original Luttrellstown. By this date the family had joined the ranks of the aristocracy, Luke White’s son having been created first Lord Annaly in 1863. Famously Queen Victoria twice visited Luttrellstown, passing through in 1844 while en route to the Duke of Leinster at Carton, County Kildare and then drinking tea by a waterfall in the grounds in 1900. In commemoration, the third Lord Annaly erected in the grounds an obelisk made from Wicklow granite. Following his death in 1922 the next generation decided to live in England and so the Luttrellstown estate was offered for sale.

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Always known by his middle name, Arthur Ernest Guinness was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. While his elder and younger brothers Rupert and Walter entered politics, Ernest, who took a degree in engineering at Cambridge, trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at the family business in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. Ten years earlier he had married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell; her mother was the granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, making Cloe a direct descendant of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille. The Guinnesses had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910), in adulthood collectively known as the Golden Guinness Girls. Their Irish names reflect the fact that they spent the greater part of their time in Ireland, even though Ernest had a house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (today the Irish Embassy) as well as an estate house at Holmbury, Surrey. But the family’s main residence was Glenmaroon on the edge of Dublin’s Phoenix Park; from here Ernest would walk to his office at Guinness’ every day. Around the time of his death in 1949, Ernest’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket described Glenmaroon as ‘A fascinating but hideous house. Fascinating, because each time we go there, there is some new electrical device or mechanical gadget that makes an organ play, panels in the wall open or something unusual happens.’ Glenmaroon’s features including one of the fist indoor swimming pools in Ireland but also – a reflection of Ernest’s mechanical interests – a coal scuttle with a small button which, when pushed, caused an automatic pipe organ to rise up and begin playing Cherry Ripe, a popular song of the period. A competitive yachtsman, Ernest was among the first young men of his generation to acquire a motor car, and later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence. He came to own four aeroplanes, and would often fly one of these to his estate at Ashford Castle, County Galway. Under these circumstances and after such an upbringing, it is easy to see why, when his eldest daughter married in 1927, he felt obliged to present her with Luttrellstown Castle.

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Aileen Guinness was related to her husband: his grandmother Anne Guinness had been a sister of her grandfather, the first Earl of Iveagh. (Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, heir to the third Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who would marry the next Guinness sister Maureen in 1930 was thus not only related to his wife but also a cousin of his brother-in-law Brinsley Plunket since the latter’s mother had been a sister of the first Marquess). The groom was always known as Brinny and his older brother Terence Conyngham Plunket, sixth Lord Plunket, as Teddy. The latter was a talented artist – his portrait of Brinny can be seen above – who chronicled his social life through amusing cartoons. In 1922 Teddy had married Dorothé Mabel Lewis, illegitimate daughter of another Irish peer, the 7th Marquess of Londonderry; her mother had been American actress Fannie Ward who appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s racy 1915 silent film The Cheat. Dorothé first married Captain Jack Barnato (a nephew of the mining Randlord Barney Barnato) but he had died of pneumonia within months of the wedding. She and Teddy Plunket were intimate friends of the Duke of York (later George VI) and his wife Elizabeth; the latter was godmother to the couple’s second son Robin in 1925 while the Duke was godfather to their third child Shaun six years later. Both Teddy and Dorothé would be killed in a plane crash in California in February 1938. As a younger son, Brinny had no estate and little money but his wife’s father was able to provide both. Racehorses and cars were Brinny Plunket’s chief interests and as a result, during the early years of her first marriage Aileen came to own a number of thoroughbreds, including Millennium which she regularly led into the winner’s enclosure. One contemporary later recalled bumping into Brinny, who drove a Delage sports car painted in his racing colours of black and gold, and being persuaded to come to dinner at Luttrellstown that night. Once seated at table, ‘my neighbour turned to me, “I understand you are not interested in horses. Then what are you interested in?” – a difficult question to answer in a company whose sole interest was horses.’

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IMG_0868 IMG_0863In the early years of their marriage, Aileen and Brinny Plunket hosted many house parties at Luttrellstown, occasions meticulously chronicled in her photograph albums. Sundry entertainments were laid on for them: a report in the Daily Express in December 1932 noted ‘The Luttrellstown party should be particularly gay. One of the features will be a servants’ ball, to which more than 250 butlers, cooks and housemaids have been bidden.’ Teddy and Dorothé were regulars, as was Aileen’s cousin Arthur Guinness, Viscount Elveden (heir to the second Earl of Iveagh), universally known as ‘Lump’: he would be killed in action in 1945 at the age of thirty-two. His sister Honor, who in 1933 would marry Henry ‘Chips’ Channon visited, as did another of Brinny’s brothers Kiwa. Among non-family members who came to stay was the Hon Hamish St Clair-Erskine (briefly Nancy Mitford’s fiance), racing driver Sir Tim Birkin and Major Edward Metcalfe, always called ‘Fruity’, Equerry to the Duke of Windsor (and best man at his wedding to Wallis Simpson in 1937.) One of Aileen’s closest friens was the former lingerie model and chorus girl Sylvia Hawkes, then married to her first husband Anthony Ashley-Cooper, heir to the Earl of Shaftesbury. However, during the early 1930s she began an affair with Douglas Fairbanks Sr, who came to stay at Luttrellstown in November 1933: a report in the Dublin Evening Mail of the actor’s visit to a performance at the Abbey Theatre commented that although widely recognised, ‘there was no attempt to even approach the actor, and he smilingly moved through the crowd to his car, accompanied by his host and hostess…’ The following year he was cited as co-respondent in the Ashley-Coopers’ divorce. (Fairbanks went on to marry Sylvia. Following his death, she married in succession Lord Stanley of Alderley, Clark Gable and the Georgian Prince Dimitri Jorjadze). The Plunkets’ own marriage subsequently began to unravel. After having had three daughters, Neelia (which is Aileen spelt backwards), Doon and Marcia (who died at the age of three) Aileen began to seek alternative amusement to that provided by her husband. Her lovers in the pre-war years included impoverished Austrian playboy Baron Hubert von Pantz, who also had an affair with Coco Chanel (he would later marry Terry McConnell, a rich widow whose former father-in-law had founded Avon cosmetics, and create the ski resort Club Mittersill in New Hampshire). The couple finally divorced in 1940 and Brinny who had joined the RAF was killed in aerial combat over Sudan in November 1941. By this date Aileen had long settled in the United States where she remained until after the Second World War ended. Then she returned to Luttrellstown which in the early 1950s was extensively redecorated by Felix Harbord. But that story must wait for another occasion.

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25 comments on “Temps Perdu

  1. Kieran Heffernan says:

    Superb account of Luttrelstown Castle. I remember an early copy of ” World of Interiors ” which featured an article on Aileen Guiness as she packed up to leave Luttrelstown forever. A roll top desk with a provenance for Luttrelstown Castle comes up for auction next Wednesday at Mealy’s Auction House, Castlecomer .

  2. Edward says:

    What a cast of characters! Fascinating piece. I look forward to the next instalment.

  3. What a fascinating post on a fascinating place! just love the photos!

  4. Kevin-Andrew says:

    A wonderful and engaging history.

  5. Judy King says:

    Intriguing article and photos – thanks!

  6. David Poole says:

    Reblogged this on Perfect Heritage.

  7. Decades ago an image of the dining room at Luttrellstown in a book titled ID&D66, grabbed my attention with its tantalisingly brief description of Felix Harbord’s work for Aileen Plunkett, and a while later there was a chapter devoted to the house in Desmond Guinness and Wm Ryan’s book on Irish Houses. So then this post with its rich details fills in the gaps, as it were, in a very satisfying way—those scrapbook pages were a genuine treat, the icing on the cake really. Looking forward to the next instalment!

    • Thank you for getting in touch. I was unaware of ID&D66 (but have now undertaken some research) and it sounds most interesting. The Guinness/Ryan book is, naturally, a library staple.
      Fascinating as all these pictures are, the shame is that in the 1930s scarcely any photographs were taken of interiors: I imagine because amateur cameras were unable to capture much in the weaker light. So almost all the images are taken outdoors, and one longs to have a better sense of Luttrellstown’s layout pre-Harbord. Further research in Aileen Plunket’s scrapbooks is required…

  8. christopher yeager says:

    Marvelous article, well researched and written with snap & wit,as if you were there on a house party last week. I have never seen Fruity looking so fit, the Fruity we (mostly) see had been through his stressful years with the Duke, here he is seen at his peak of vigor. May I suggest that Fruity be the subject of a lengthy and well illustrated piece by you in 2015?
    With sincere best wishes, Christopher Yeager Los Angeles, CA

  9. Redecoration by Felix Harbord sounds fascinating. Do we know of any input from Valerian Rybar?

  10. Liz says:

    Please, please tell me that you have authored books! I really want more.

    • Thank you for getting in touch, and with such enthusiasm too. Yes, I have written a number of books. I suggest you might enjoy Luggala Days: The Story of a Guinness House which was published a couple of years ago, and which has many more such stories…

      • Liz says:

        Thank you I shall do that.

      • Liz says:

        Hello again. Because I have not been blogging I forgot who you were or where I had communicated with you. I purchased the book! What a delight. A couple of facts. I grew up in New England. Mummy, during the war lived in London and worked for the OWI (Office of War Information – a US organization). She traveled throughout Great Britain and fell in love. When my brother Duncan was young – perhaps in his twenties (he is in his sixties today), she sent him to Ireland (being in communication with breeders) to bring home an Irish Wolfhound. I have not been to Ireland but hope someday to go. My kids lived in Kinsail (spelling?) for close to a year as my daughter’s husband works for Eli Lilly and it was a necessary move. They all loved it. Thanks again so much for the recommendation of Luggala Days – a truly lovely place and book.

      • Liz says:

        Although she traveled thru out Great Britain, I honestly do not know if she made it to Ireland at that time having been independent for a number of years. Actually, I believe it won independence the year she was born.

  11. Shon says:

    Really interesting article- do you have any more of the quote from Neelia Plunkett? I would be interested to know why she found Glenmaroon hideous.

    • Thank you for getting in touch. The comments from Neelia, as I recall, came from the memoirs of the writer Stephane Groueff ‘My Odyssey’; Groueff had been engaged to her when he and she were both young. He described Glenmaroon as ‘a veritable castle of Oz, outfitted with electronic gadgets and musical gimmicks.’ It is a fascinating book, not least for the insights into the character of Aileen Plunkett.

  12. Kevin Egan says:

    I admire your blog very much and think that you are providing a terrific resource for this and future generations. The topics discussed do not fit in with ‘mainstream’ Irish history and as such are even more fascinating. Thank you. I have a small query, what is the present location of the scrapbooks of Aileen Guinness?

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