It is understandable that obituaries in recent days of Paddy Rossmore should have concentrated on one moment in his life: a short engagement to Marianne Faithfull. Understandable, but regrettable because Paddy was a man who rather shunned publicity and, away from any limelight, engaged in many other noble enterprises. And it is for these that he deserves to be remembered, rather than a brief brush with celebrity. But to explain: while staying with his old friend Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin at Glin Castle, County Limerick Paddy met both Marianne Faithfull and her on/off boyfriend Mick Jagger. Within weeks she had left Jagger and become engaged to Paddy but within months the relationship, which seems to have given greater pleasure to tabloid readers than anyone else, had come to end. In the years I knew him, Paddy only ever referred in passing to the liaison.
I first met Paddy Rossmore 15 or so years ago with his dear friends Sally Phipps and Virginina Brownlow, Molly Keane’s two daughters. Paddy was, as always, rather diffident but I was familiar with the many photographs he had taken during the 1960s of Ireland’s architectural heritage, and soon proposed that some of these ought to be gathered together and published as a book. Paddy’s career as a photographer had been entirely accidental, begun almost on a whim in 1962. In order to acquire the basic necessary skills, he went to work for a fashion photographer, although he didn’t intend to enter that particular field: ‘being shy I was never good at photographing people, where you need the ability – which I have always lacked – of being able to do two different things at the same time, keeping people relaxed with talk while attending to camera settings.’ Nevertheless, Paddy’s abilities were quickly noticed by Desmond FitzGerald, who invited him to come on a trip to the west of Ireland and take pictures there of old buildings. ‘Architecture wasn’t at all my subject,’ he explained to me. ‘I just photographed what I was told.’ Other expeditions with Desmond soon followed, often in the company of Mariga Guinness. Paddy later remembered how on many occasions, ‘we would go up these drives and then, if the house wasn’t right, we’d turn around and drive away and the Knight would shriek, “Failure house, failure”!’ Because Desmond FitzGerald and Mariga Guinness decided the itinerary, ‘usually we were searching for buildings displaying the influence of Palladio, an activity which on a few occasions seemed to me to be a little obsessive when so many beautiful rivers (I’m a fisherman) and views of mountain scenery were bypassed. I got rather tired of going around all these houses – so they called me “Crossmore”’ Nevertheless, the experience of visiting historic properties, and having to capture them on film, provided Paddy with invaluable training. In addition, when it came to old buildings, he had two advantages: a naturally sensitive eye, and familiarity with the subject since childhood By the mid-1960s, his abilities as a photographer of buildings had become well-known and he was invited to record them for organisations such as the Irish Georgian Society, as well as for various architectural historians, and for publications like Country Life. But after less than a decade, he stopped taking pictures and in 1980 passed his substantial collection of prints and negatives into the care of the Irish Architectural Archive, which is where I had come to know and admire them. I must confess that the proposed book took longer to produce than really ought to have been the case, as various other projects distracted me from the task. However, I was determined that a new generation should have the opportunity to appreciate Paddy’s pioneering work in the area of Irish architectural photography and finally in October 2019 Paddy Rossmore: Photographs appeared and his work could once more be appreciated
Born in February 1931, William Warner Westenra, always known as Paddy, was the son of the sixth Baron Rossmore whose Dutch forbears moved to Ireland in the early 1660s and settled in Dublin. The family eventually came to own a substantial estate in County Monaghan where, in 1827 the second Lord Rossmore commissioned from architect William Vitruvius Morrison a large neo-Tudor house called Rossmore Castle: in 1858 the building was further extended in the Scottish baronial style by William Henry Lynn. It is said that a competition between the Rossmores and the Shirleys of Lough Fea elsewhere in County Monaghan over which family owned the larger drawing room meant the one in Rossmore Castle was enlarged five times. Famously the building ended up with three substantial towers and 117 windows in 53 different shapes and sizes. However, by the time Paddy was a child, Rossmore Castle was already suffering from rampant dry rot (mushroom spores were found sprouting on the ceiling of the aforementioned drawing room). In 1946 the family moved to Camla Vale, a smaller house on the estate, and the remaining contents of Rossmore Castle were offered for sale: the building was eventually demolished in 1974. Following the sale of Camla Vale, Paddy settled into a former gamekeeper’s lodge on what remained of the estate, until it was burnt out by the IRA in 1981. It was typical of Paddy that he never complained of this misfortune, nor sought to draw attention to his many charitable acts, not the least of which was the establishment in 1973 of the Coolmine Therapeutic Community at Blanchardstown on the outskirts of Dublin. The project incorporated an entirely new non-medical therapeutic approach for people who were drug dependent and has since helped many thousands of addicts. Paddy was self-effacing (for example, he resolutely declined to give any press interviews when his book of photographs was published) and deeply unmaterialistic. Last year he donated Sliabh Beagh, the main remaining portion of the Rossmore family landholding of 2,300 acres that straddles Counties Monaghan and Tyrone, to the charity An Taisce so that it might be preserved for posterity as a public amenity. In addition, many of the family portraits and other items he inherited have long been on loan to Castletown, County Kildare, Paddy – until he moved a couple of years ago into sheltered housing – living in a modest flat in London where I would visit him for tea. An exceptionally and thoroughly decent man, he deserves to be remembered as such, and his quiet selfless work across many fields celebrated. It was a privilege to have known him.
William Warner Westenra, 7th Baron Rossmore of Monaghan, February 14th 1931-May 4th 2021