In the late 19th century, and following the flotation of their brewing business on the London Stock Exchange, the Guinness family became enormously wealthy, allowing them to build, or enlarge, private residences for themselves around the outskirts of Dublin. One of these was Farmleigh, acquired by Edward Guinness (later first Earl of Iveagh) which incorporates an earlier building but was given much of its present appearance in the early 1880s by the ubiquitous James Franklin Fuller (although the ballroom and conservatory were both added later and designed by other architects). Farmleigh very much reflects the neo-Georgian luxe taste of the period and contrasts sharply with another house formerly owned by the family, Glenmaroon. This was bought at the start of the last century by one of Lord Iveagh’s sons, Ernest Guinness, who, although there was already a large building on the site, effectively doubled this in size by commissioning another, the two linked by a bridge across the public road that divided them. Glenmaroon, very much in the Home Counties arts and crafts manner (supposedly to please Ernest Guinness’s English-born wife), contrasts strikingly with the former parental home not far away and reflects changes in decorative taste between one generation and the next.
I shall be discussing both of these properties, and several others, in an online talk given for the Royal Oak Foundation next Tuesday, November 9th. Entitled A Stylish Brew: Great Irish Houses of the Guinness Family, more information about this event can be found at Fall 2021 Online Lectures & Tours – Great Irish Houses of the Guinness Family – The Royal Oak Foundation (royal-oak.org)
After last Monday’s piece on the newer portion of Glenmaroon, County Dublin, it is worth drawing attention to one other feature of the house. Some seven years after acquiring and extending the property, in 1911 Ernest Guinness further added to it by building one of the first private swimming pools in Ireland. Designed, like the adjoining house, by Laurence Aloysius McDonnell (together with his partner in the firm, ALexander Reid), the addition which had a smoking room above, cost £5,000. The pool still survives with its original tiled interior, the curved end of windows above the deep end evocative of a bridge on one of the ocean-going yachts on which Guinness so loved to sail.
Glenmaroon, to the immediate west of Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was discussed here a couple of months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/05/27/glenmaroon). Or at least, part of Glenmaroon was discussed since this is a property in two parts, separated by a public road, and linked by a bridge across the latter. Around 1903 Ernest Guinness bought the original house, built some forty years before by retailer Gilbert Burns. The building’s new owner was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. Born in 1876, Ernest Guinness attended Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, leaving university with a degree in engineering. While his two brothers participated in the Boer War, he was sent to Dublin where he trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at Guinness’s in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. His professional life was spent at the brewery in St James’s Gate where he always wore around his waist an enormous bunch of keys to the company’s safes. According to his great-nephew, the Hon Desmond Guinness, Ernest ‘was the only one of the family in his generation who really knew the brewery well. He understood and cared about every valve and every pipe, much more so than any of his brothers.’ Ernest Guinness loved machinery. One of the first men of his generation to acquire a motor car, he was later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence and came to own four aeroplanes, the only person in Ireland to do so. When the autogyro, a precursor of the helicopter, was manufactured in 1923, he bought one and kept it in his garage. In his fifties he bought a three-engine biplane flying boat to carry family and friends between England and the west of Ireland. There was widespread press coverage of the first occasion on which he made the trip, in September 1928, since it was broken by an overnight stay in Kingston (now Dún Laoghaire) Harbour. Two years earlier at the Vickers’ Supermarine Aviation Works Ernest had supervised the construction of a three-engined monoplane with a wing span of 92 feet. Described as ‘an air yacht’ in addition to the cockpits, this had accommodation for six passengers including a saloon and several cabins equipped with electric lighting and a ventilation system. He was also a passionate sailor, owning a number of superlative vessels, the best known being the Fântome II on which he travelled around the world with his family in 1923-24. Even with boats, his interest was most often of a mechanical bent. On one occasion he ordered a yacht from the firm of Camper and Nicholsons but then requested that the vessel be cut in half to insert a 12-foot section in the middle with a diesel engine. When it was pointed out that this procedure would be more expensive than the simple purchase of an intact new boat, he retorted, ‘Never mind the money. That is how I want it done.’
In 1903 Ernest Guinness married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell, 4th Bt. 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 couple had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910) who would later be known collectively as the Golden Guinness Girls. The had a large house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (now occupied by the Irish Embassy) and also a house outside the capital, Holmbury in Surrey (chosen for its proximity to an airfield) in which a system of concealed loudspeakers piped music into every room. But owing to his involvement with the family brewery, Ernest was perceived as being domiciled in Ireland, which explains his purchase of Glenmaroon, from where he daily walked to his office in the Guinness brewery. Initially he lived in the house built for Gilbert Burns, but following his marriage he decided to build a new residence, on the other side of the road. The architect chosen for this task was Dubliner Laurence Aloysius McDonnell. Born around 1858, McDonnell trained with John Joseph O’Callaghan, a devotee of the Gothic revival, before spending time in the offices of Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller and then setting up his own practice in 1886. One of his earliest and most advantageous commissions came from Lady Aberdeen, wife of the former (and future) Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. She and her committee chose McDonnell to design an ‘Irish Industrial Village’ for the Chicago World Fair in 1892. Among his other better-known works are Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway and the Iveagh Play Centre building on Dublin’s Bull Alley Street, the second of these in partnership with Alexander Reid. Glenmaroon was earlier than either of these buildings and seems to have been built in the style of an English Home Counties mansion to please Mrs Guinness, homesick for her own country.
Ernest Guinness’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket later 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.’ This is a reference to one of her grandfather’s odder installations: in one of the main reception rooms stood 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. As mentioned, in order to link the two buildings, he also organised to have a bridge built above the public road, so that members of the family could cross without having to step outdoors (the present bridge is a later replacement). Seemingly his three daughters watched the drama of the Easter Rising unfold while looking down to Dublin from this bridge. Stylistically, McDonnell’s building is quite different from the earlier house, the loosely neo-Tudor exterior being clad in ashlar limestone on the ground floor, and then brick and wood above. Passing under the porte cochère, internally the most striking room is the entrance hall, panelled in oak and plaster with an elaborate chimneypiece at either end and, facing the doorway, a double-storey oak flying staircase, lit by a vast window filled with art nouveau glass. The main reception rooms off this area are less striking and decorated in an Adam-revival style. Glenmaroon remained in the possession of the Guinness family until Ernest’s death in 1949, after which the entire property passed to the Irish state as part-payment of death duties. The entire complex was later acquired by a religious order, the Daughters of Charity and adapted as a centre for the care of people with intellectual disability. Four years ago, it was placed on the market and since then some essential conservation work has been undertaken on the building. Its long-term future remains to be seen.
The retail history of Ireland remains hugely under-investigated and, as a result, increasingly vulnerable to being lost forever, especially since the advent of multinational chains. Few of the shoppers searching for bargains in the Penneys outlet on Dublin’s Mary Street, for example, will be aware that the building was constructed to house what was then one of the city’s most prestigious department stores, Todd Burns. Dating from 1902-5 and built of red brick with terracotta details, the whole topped by a splendid copper dome, it was designed by local architect William Mansfield Mitchell to replace an earlier Todd Burns store on the same site which had been accidentally destroyed by fire. With an eventual frontage of 120 feet on Mary Street, Todd Burns originally opened for business in 1834, having been established by partners, William Todd and Gilbert Burns. Like many other successful entrepreneurs in Ireland during this period, the two men were of Scottish origin.
In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and until the outbreak of the Great Famine in 1845, Ireland offered wonderful commercial opportunities to enterprising young Scots. Many of them moved here to establish retail businesses, among the better-known names being John Arnott (whose own department store still operates across the road from the former Todd Burns) and Alexander Findlater. The latter, born in Glasgow, traded in whiskey and later porter and became so wealthy that he was able to invest in other ventures, such as the new store being established by William Todd and Gilbert Burns in 1834. Burns was likewise an immigrant from Scotland, having moved to Dublin some ten years earlier. There were long-standing links between his family and that of Alexander Findlater: in the previous century, his father John Findlater who worked as an Excise Officer in Greenock, Renfrewshire, had been a close friend and champion of Robbie Burns. The poet was the uncle of Gilbert Burns, hence one reason for Findlater’s investment in Todd Burns. It proved to be a wise move, since the new store thrived, so much so that within thirty years Gilbert Burns was able to buy himself a substantial plot of land to the immediate west of the Phoenix Park. There he built himself a splendid residence, originally called Liffeyside but later named Glenmaroon Lodge.
Gilbert Burn’s choice of location for his new home may have been influenced once more by Alexander Findlater who, although having no children of his own, assumed responsibility for a number of orphaned nephews and nieces. Needing somewhere to house them, he took a lease on a house in the vicinity of Glenmaroon Lodge. This lease was only relinquished in 1860, precisely around the time Gilbert Burns began to build the house that still stands here. His architect was Duncan Campbell Ferguson who, as is evident in his name, is likely also to have been originally from Scotland. Built at a cost of some £10,000, Glenmaroon Lodge was by far the most significant commission Ferguson received for a domestic residence and while his design is somewhat lumpen, it makes the most of the site which slopes all the way down to the banks of the river Liffey; formerlt a number of mills operated on this location. When the house was built, the land was laid out in terraces, and elaborately planted in an Italianate manner; views from the south-facing front, and out to the west where more ornamental gardens were arranged, must have been spectacular. Burns died in 1881 at the age of 67 but both his retail business and his house survived, and in due course the subsequent history of Glenmaroon Lodge, and its association with another successful family, the Guinnesses, will be told here.