Queen Maeve


“From the time I was almost five until I was almost eighteen, we lived in a small house in a part of Dublin called Ranelagh. On our street, all of the houses were of red brick and had small back gardens, part cement and part grass, separated from one another by low stone walls over which, when we first moved in, I was unable to peer, although in later years I seem to remember looking over them quite easily, so I suppose they were about five feet high. All of the gardens had a common end wall, which was, of course, very long, since it stretched the whole length of our street. Our street was called an avenue, because it was blind at one end, the farthest end from us.” (The Morning after the Big Fire, 1953)

Last Thursday’s property pages in the Irish Times carried a rather overwrought piece about a house for sale in Ranelagh, a suburb of Dublin to the immediate south of the Grand Canal. The origins of the name Ranelagh are rather curious. It derives from the Irish “Gabhal Raghnaill”, an area of what became County Wicklow centered around Ballinacor. Until the early 17th century, this region was under the control of an especially truculent branch of the O’Byrne family; Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne who was mentioned here a few weeks ago (The Cosby Show, March 11th) and who the altogether more unassertive Irish Aesthete likes to claim as an ancestor, was known in the 16th century as Lord of Ranelagh.
However, following the defeat of the O’Byrnes and the seizure of their lands, that title went to an interloper. In 1628 Sir Roger Jones, whose English-born father had been both Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was ennobled as Viscount Ranelagh. In turn his son Richard was created Earl of Ranelagh in 1677. The latter’s London residence, immediately adjacent to Chelsea Hospital, was called Ranelagh House and some time after his death without a male heir the property was bought by a syndicate who converted the site into a fashionable spot called Ranelagh Gardens (the same ground now hosts the annual Chelsea Flower Show).
So when in 1766 a Dublin entrepreneur called William Hollister decided to open a similar open-air place of entertainment on the outskirts of his native city, he chose to emulate London by naming it Ranelagh Gardens. Thus a name which had crossed the Irish Sea returned to its own country. Well-travelled readers will know there is also an area in Paris close to the Bois de Boulogne called Ranelagh. It too is named after the Earl of Ranelagh (the French were then more anglophile than later became the case) and was the site of the Château de la Muette where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette spent their first years of married life. It was from here that the Montgolfier brothers made their debut ascent in a hot air balloon in November 1783. Coincidentally the first Irishman to take off in a balloon, Richard Crosbie, did so from Dublin’s Ranelagh Gardens just fourteen months later in January 1785.


“Beyond the wall Mrs Bagot and Mrs Finn shared, a row of identical walls stretched off into the distance. All the gardens were attached, like all the houses. A grove of trees, forty diminishing walls away, completed the view to the sky. It was a narrow side street, a dead end, in the suburbs of Dublin. There were shops around the corner, on the main road, but none on the street itself. Schoolteachers, shopkeepers and minor civil servants lived on the street, and a policeman had recently moved into one of the houses with his family.” (The Twelfth Wedding Anniversary, 1966)

Dublin’s Ranelagh Gardens, like their London equivalent, eventually fell from public favour and the site came to be occupied by a convent of Carmelite nuns. They turned part of the grounds into a large kitchen garden that allowed them to be almost self-sufficient since they also kept poultry and even cattle. After the nuns departed in 1975 some of the site was retained as a public park and named Ranelagh Gardens, so retaining the link with the 18th century. Meanwhile the surrounding area had been gradually developed for housing as the city expanded and the prosperous classes moved out to what they judged the more salubrious suburbs. Ranelagh had the advantage of being outside and yet close to the commercial centre, allowing easy access especially after the advent of trams from 1872 onwards: many of Ranelagh’s red-brick terraces date from the decades immediately following the arrival of public transport.
In the 18th century there were a few fine houses in the area surrounded by large gardens but inevitably these were lost as demand for development land rose. Despite the best efforts of the Irish Times writer, the resultant streets cannot claim much aesthetic merit. The houses are formulaic in style, all with the same narrow entrance halls opening onto two reception rooms before a short flight of steps descends to the kitchen with a door to the garden. A flight of stairs leads up to a couple of bedrooms, passing a bathroom en route. Built for the petite bourgeoisie, the Mr Pooters of Dublin, their design consciously avoided originality lest it frighten prospective buyers. Conformity was critical to their success.


“Thinking about all that walking had given him a sense of energy and well-being. He felt in good health and good humor, and contented to be coming home after his day’s work, and he was smiling as he stepped into the hall. There were red glass panels in the side frames of the front door, and he was always aware of the glass and always closed the door carefully. At the same instant that he was hanging his raincoat on the rack, he looked down the hall and saw the kitchen door close quicly and quietly, but not quickly enough to prevent him from seeing that Rose was down there.” (Family Walls, 1973)

Maeve Brennan was born in Dublin in 1917 and at the age of five she and her family moved to Cherryfield Avenue, Ranelagh, a street immediately identifiable in the many short stories she would later write. Her parents were both republicans and at the time of her birth Robert Brennan had been in jail for leading the 1916 Rising in Wexford. In post-independence Ireland he became part of the new establishment and in 1934 was sent to the Washington as the Irish Free State’s first minister to the United States. Ten years later he returned to Dublin but his daughter Maeve remained, moving to New York where initially she worked for Harper’s Bazaar; it’s worth pointing out that at the time this was unquestionably the most influential women’s magazine in the world and had another Irishwoman as editor, the Dublin-born Carmel Snow.
In 1949 Maeve Brennan was offered a staff job at The New Yorker where she remained for the rest of her writing career. Although she mostly produced social pieces under the title of The Long-Winded Lady, from 1950 onwards The New Yorker also carried her short stories, the best of which are set in Ranelagh. These tales, mostly featuring the same handful of characters although written decades apart, are as redolent of the world she had known in her youth as are James Joyce’s stories in Dubliners. In particular she possesses a remarkable ability to evoke sense of place; read her Irish stories (many of them collected together and published as The Springs of Affection in 1999) and you are immediately transported to Ranelagh.
Maeve Brennan’s Ranelagh is not today’s self-consciously chichi “village” but an altogether more modest suburb of Dublin whose residents, as she makes plain, possess few ambitions other than to ensure their immediate neighbours remain unaware of the tempests brewing behind those glass-paned frontdoors. This is, of course, scarcely new territory but what sets her work apart is its ability to turn the mundane into the exceptional. Thanks to her adroit yet simple use of language, the regular red-brick terraces are filled with drama even while nothing remarkable takes place. Nobody is killed, or engages in adultery, or behaves violently or even shouts, but still those streets pulsate with passion.


“They were Mr and Mrs Derdon, and they had been married to each other for twenty-seven years. He was the senior by five years. They slept in the back bedroom upstairs, and their window looked over their little walled garden, not much different from the other gardens in the terrace, and beyond that over a strip, grey and corrugated, of garage roofs.” (The Poor Men and Women, 1952)

Maeve Brennan’s later years were not happy. The pall of melancholy that hangs over her stories spilled over into her life. In 1954 she married The New Yorker‘s managing editor St. Clair McKelway, an alcoholic womaniser with three divorces behind him. A few years later she became his fourth ex-wife. By the 1970s she had developed her own drink problem and by then also suffered from declining mental health which required hospitalisation on a number of occasions. Having lived in a series of rented apartments and hotel rooms over the previous decades, she now became homeless and took to sleeping in the women’s lavatory at The New Yorker‘s office. Destitute and unwell, eventually she was admitted to a nursing home and died in Brooklyn in November 1993 at the age of seventy-six.
A few years after her death, Maeve Brennan’s stories were republished, leading to her discovery by a new readership; she has since been the subject of a biography and a play. While neither of these especially caught my fancy, I can recommend her Dublin short stories without reserve. No writer better conveys the spirit of the city in the aftermath of independence and in particular the character of Dublin’s then-burgeoning suburbs. Thanks to Maeve Brennan attributes hitherto hidden become apparent and the seemingly ordinary streets of Ranelagh appear beautiful. This is the transformative power of great prose.


“Still, he could not believe that even a human being as ineffectual as she had been could vanish from life without leaving any trace of herself at all. Any trace would be a sign that might guide him to the grief he wanted to suffer for her. But there was no sign.” (The Drowned Man, 1963)

A Man of Some Importance


So here is Castletown, County Kildare, famed as Ireland’s first, largest and grandest Palladian house. Astonishingly in the mid-1960s it was threatened with destruction and only saved through the ceaseless endeavours of the Irish Georgian Society. Among those most closely associated with securing Castletown’s future, both then and now, was Professor Kevin B Nowlan who died earlier this week at the age of 91.
Small of stature, stout of heart Kevin was an indefatigable campaigner on behalf of Ireland’s architectural heritage, member of countless boards and committees – on a number of which I have also sat – and always both passionate and articulate in the cause of conservation. Aside from being intelligent and well-informed and determined, one of his chief merits was a complete lack of self-interest: nobody could ever accuse Kevin of deriving personal benefit from his involvement in any enterprise.
The other great quality he possessed was tirelessness; for over half a century Kevin never grew bored or despondent, even when a campaign met with setback. Interviewed by the Irish Times on the occasion of his 90th birthday, he remarked, ‘As long as you’re in good health and keep your mind active you can’t ask for much more.’ Kevin certainly did remain active. Until just a couple of weeks ago, one was most liable to see him either going to or coming from a meeting. His funeral takes place this morning but I suspect he is not at rest: no doubt right now he is chairing a new group established to ensure a proposal for the reconfiguration of the Pearly Gates will be defeated.


Building on a Prelate’s Ambition


In 1751 an impoverished but well-connected Anglican clergyman came to Ireland and within a year had been consecrated as Bishop of Killala. Over the next decade he advanced through two further sees before being appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1765. Richard Robinson (1709-94) was the sixth son of a Yorkshire landowner and as such it was inevitable that after graduating from Christ Church, Oxford he should have considered the Church as a lucrative career. Few of his clerical contemporaries, however, acquired so much or spent so lavishly.
He arrived in Dublin as chaplain to the then-Lord Lieutenant, Lionel Sackville, Duke of Dorset, whose support helped secure that first episcopacy. But it is clear that Robinson was always destined to make a mark. After his death it was said that during his time there Armagh had been converted ‘from an unsightly crowd of mud cabins into a handsome city of stone dwellings.’ Among the buildings for which he was responsible are the public library, the Royal School, the barracks, a county gaol, the public infirmary and, most famously, in 1793 the Armagh Observatory for which he created an endowment. Long before that date, finding the Archbishop’s residence unsatisfactory, he had a new one built for him on a 300 acre demesne, together with stables, farmyard and a chapel. No wonder Methodism’s founder John Wesley accused him of being more interested in building that in the care of souls.


Robinson behaved like a continental prince-bishop. In his memoirs the playwright Richard Cumberland, whose father was Bishop of Clonfert, recalled accompanying the Archbishop to Armagh Cathedral one Sunday: ‘He went in his chariot with six horses, attended by three footmen behind… On our approach the great western door was thrown open, and my friend (in person one of the finest men that could be seen) entered, like another Archbishop Laud, in high prelatical state, preceded by his officers and ministers of the church conducting him in files to the robing-chamber and back again to the throne.’
Robinson’s lofty aspirations – the reliably-waspish Horace Walpole judged him ‘a proud but superficial man’ – led him to seek secular as well as religious preferment and in 1777 he was created Baron Rokeby in the Irish peerage. Some years later he acquired an estate in Marlay, County Louth and here built a house which was given the name Rokeby Hall (http://www.rokeby.ie). By so doing he evoked the Robinson family’s Yorkshire seat which his older brother Sir Thomas, an amateur architect but professional spendthrift, had been obliged to sell in 1769. So the new Rokeby in Ireland was intended not just to serve as a country retreat but also to replace a lost estate and provide an alternative dynastic base: although the Archbishop never married, there were several potential heirs among his siblings’ offspring.




As his architect for the house, Robinson chose Thomas Cooley who had already been responsible for many of the new buildings in Armagh, including the Archbishop’s Palace. Unfortunately Cooley died in 1784 and so his plans were handed over to the youthful Francis Johnston. Born in Armagh, Johnston’s abilities had been noticed by Robinson who sent him as an apprentice to Cooley in 1778. Nevertheless, although the younger architect oversaw Rokeby’s construction surviving plans show just how much its layout is as originally devised by Cooley.
Rokeby’s limestone exterior looks somewhat severe, the facade relieved only by the slightly advanced three centre bays with first-floor Ionic pilasters beneath a pediment. To the immediate right and reticently recessed is a long extension which might appear to be a later addition but is in fact contemporaneous with the main house and originally contained many of the necessary services such as a large kitchen. The main house is often described as being two-storey over basement. However there is a splendid attic storey tucked behind the parapet and centred on a striking circular room lit by glazed dome; as a result of an acoustic trick when you stand directly beneath this your sense of hearing is affected.



While obviously not a small house, Rokeby is by no means palatial and the appeal of its interiors lies in their neo-classical refinement devoid of superfluous ornamentation. This is evident in the entrance hall where the space is simply but effectively divided by the intervention of two Doric columns. There is relatively little plasterwork decoration, except on the main staircase and the upper landing. The latter is one of the finest features of the house: a circular lobby off which open various bedrooms and dressing rooms, every second door topped by an oculus providing light for this space.
These rooms look to have retained their original chimneypieces, sadly not the case on the groundfloor. On his death Archbishop Robinson left Rokeby to a nephew, John Robinson, Archdeacon of Armagh (created a baronet in 1819) but he fled Ireland after his father-in-law, Captain James Spencer of Rathangan House, County Kildare, was killed by rebels during the 1798 Rising. Rokeby was then rented to a sequence of tenants; James Brewer’s The Beauties of Ireland published in 1826 noted that the house ‘is now, we believe, in the hands of a farmer, and the chief apartments are let furnished to casual inmates.’ Only some time after Archdeacon Robinson’s death in England in 1832 did his son Sir Richard return to Rokeby and presumably embark on a programme of refurbishment necessary after almost half a century of neglect. Hence the chimneypieces in the main rooms are of a later date as are some doors, evident in the different disposition of their panelling.

Rokeby 1


Descendants of the Robinsons remained in possession, although not necessarily in occupation of Rokeby until the middle of the last century, after which the house passed through a variety of hands often with unfortunate consequences. When the present owners bought the place in 1995, for example, the library had been stripped of its bookcases and divided in two with one half used as a kitchen.
Over the past eighteen years, a process of gradual restoration has taken place at Rokeby, driven by just the right balance of enthusiasm, commitment and ongoing research into the house’s history. At the moment, the owners are undertaking the restoration of Rokeby’s most notable 19th century addition: a substantial conservatory designed c.1870 by Richard Turner. This is due to be reinstated later in the spring. One feels confident that even if members of his family are no longer in residence, Archbishop Robinson would be delighted to see the country house he commissioned so well maintained and loved.


A mezzotint produced in 1764 by Richard Houston and based on a portrait of Richard Robinson painted by Joshua Reynolds the previous year and now in Christ Church, Oxford. Reynolds painted Robinson three times and a version of the last of these hung in Rokeby until the last century. Today it is in the collection of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham.

The Beauty of Birr


Anne, Countess of Rosse (1902-1992) was one of the best looking and most stylish women of her generation. Birr Castle, County Offaly is full of mementoes of her tenure as chatelelaine including this chalk portrait which hangs above a mahogany chest on the return of the main staircase. Proposing her as an 18th century beauty, the artist was Anne Rosse’s brother, Oliver Messel (1904-1978). Originally renowned as a stage designer, in later years he achieved fame for the houses he created in the Caribbean.

I am Gabriel


Beaulieu, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most distinguished early houses with a superlative double-height entrance hall. It has been owned by successive generations of the same family since the lands on which Beaulieu stands were granted to Sir Henry Tichbourne by Charles II in 1666. The building is believed to have assumed its present form at the start of the 18th century during the time of Sir Henry’s grandson, also called Henry, first (and last) Baron Ferrard of Beaulieu; the name of John Curle is usually cited as probable architect. Most recently Beaulieu has been under the care of the tenth generation of Sir Henry’s descendants, Gabriel de Freitas, who very sadly died this week.

Gabriel summer 2010

Here is a photograph of Gabriel (standing left) in 2010 when she kindly hosted the Irish Georgian Society’s summer party at Beaulieu. She was a wonderfully forceful character who in earlier decades had been a well-known racing driver and had built up an impressive collection of classic cars. I remember the first time we met, at lunch in Leixlip Castle, mentioning to her Fiona MacCarthy’s 2006 book The Last Curtsey, in which both Gabriel and Beaulieu appear. The response could best be described as trenchant: Gabriel was most displeased that the author had failed to consult or notify her in advance. (Incidentally, another debutante of 1958 discussed by MacCarthy in the same work was Rose Dugdale, who later joined the IRA and took part in the 1974 art robbery at Russborough, County Wickow).
Having returned to Ireland only a few years ago to assume responsibility for Beaulieu, it is cruelly unfair that Gabriel, who was so dynamic and vital, should have been denied the opportunity to do more for the place where her family has lived for almost 350 years. One hopes that with her customary speed she has gone to enjoy the company of her angelic namesake.


Above photograph courtesy of Barry Cronin, http://www.barrycronin.com

Nature Full of Poetry

‘In this sequester’d, wild, romantic dell
Where nature loves in solitude to dwell,
Who would expect ‘midst such a lonely park
The charms of fancy and the plans of art,
Whilst the neat mansion, formed with simple taste,
Amidst a wilderness for comfort plac’d,|
Adorns the scene and hospitably shews
The seat of pleasure and serene repose.’
So in 1807 wrote, Joseph Atkinson, an army officer-turned-playwright, of Luggala, County Wicklow. For more than 200 years, this secluded valley tucked deeo into the Wicklow Mountains has been the subject of many such encomia, generations of visitors captivated by what they have found there.
Yet until the onset of the Romantic era at the end of the 18th century Luggala, along with much of the surrounding region, lay unoccupied, untended and largely unknown. Only following its discovery around 1787 by Peter La Touche, a rich banker in search of seclusion, did Luggala come to public notice. Having remained free from the intervention of man for millennia the site, La Touche wisely realised, demanded nothing other than a dwelling with a character to match the setting. Designed by a now-unknown architect, this is Luggala Lodge, facing Lough Tay at the other end of the valley and terminating a vista that stretches from lake shore to steep ground immediately behind. As James Brewer remarked in 1825 the building ‘is well adapted to the recluse parts of Ireland, where nature reigns in wild and mysterious majesty.’

Three years before Brewer the Rev. George Newenham Wright, a cleric with literary aspirations, published A Guide to the County of Wicklow. Several pages of the book are devoted to Luggala, the author awe-struck that the first view of the site ‘is of a bold, awful and sublime character’ and the sheer mass of mountainside closing the prospect ‘exhibiting a continued mass of naked granite to the very summit, forming the most complete representation of all that is wild, dreary and desolate in nature, and defying all attempts at innovation that the aspiring genius of man has ever dared to undertake.’ Not long afterwards, Prince Herman von Pückler-Muskau, an impoverished German aristocrat travelling through Britain and Ireland in search of a wife wealthy enough to fund his inclination towards extravagance, visited County Wicklow and afterwards reported:, ‘I reached the summit of the mountain above the magnificent valley and lake of Luggelaw, the sun gilded all the country beneath me, though the tops of the hills were yet shrouded in mist. This valley belongs to a wealthy proprietor, who has converted it into a delightful park…It is indeed a lovely spot of earth, lonely and secluded; the wood full of game, the lake full of fish and nature full of poetry.’ When American film director John Huston wrote his memoir An Open Book in 1980 he recalled the first time he had visited Luggala twenty-nine years earlier. Arriving late at night and in the dark, he had seen little. ‘The next morning at dawn I went to the window and looked out upon a scene I have never forgotten. Through pines and yews in the garden I saw, across a running stream, a field of marigolds and beyond the field – surprisingly – a white sandy beach bordering a black lake…Above the lake was a mountain of black rock rising precipitously, and on its crest – like a shawl over a piano – a profusion of purple heather. I was to go back to Luggala many times, but I’ll never forget that first impression. I was Ireland’s own from that moment.’

Luggala Lodge, wrote the Knight of Glin in 1965, is an example of ‘that special brand of eighteenth-century gothick that rejoices in little battlements, crochets, trefoil and quatrefoil windows and ogee mantelpieces: in fact, the gothick of pastrycooks and Rockingham china.’ The building observed Michael Luke some twenty years ago, shines ‘like the discarded crown of a prima ballerina.’ Bulgarian-born author Stephane Groueff who stayed in the house during the 1950s remembered it ‘looking like an illustration from a nursery book of “The Queen of Hearts”.’ And actress Anjelica Huston recalls Luggala from her childhood: ‘It was like going into a fairy tale. Descending into the dell with the ferns and the overhanging trees, the flocks of deer and the pheasants, and then coming on the magical lake with its sand made up of chips of mica.’
Diarist Frances Partridge came to stay in the early 1950s and afterwards recorded, ‘What a magical atmosphere that house had, charmingly furnished and decorated to match its style, dim lights, soft music playing and Irish voices ministering seductively to our needs.’ Sixty years later, author and critic Francis Wyndham remembers Luggala as being ‘the most romantic place I’ve ever known,’ and recalls ‘that sparkling little jewel of a house with the black lake before it.’
And here is the present custodian of Luggala, the Hon. Garech Browne, wonderfully photographed by Neil Gavin in the house’s drawing room. Like each of his predecessors, Garech has ensured the special character of this spot be preserved. Luggala today remains as it was in the time of Joseph Atkinson, ‘the seat of pleasure and serene repose.’

My new book, Luggala Days: The Story of a Guinness House, has now been published.

Knight and Day

At the end of last week Castletown, County Kildare hosted a day-long conference in memory of Desmond FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin who died a year ago. It was an occasion for many of us who knew Desmond to gather together and, between listening to scholarly papers, exchange anecdotes and reminiscences about this most memorable man.
Desmond, the Black Knight, the Knight of the Valley, 29th and last Knight of Glin, was born in 1937, only son of fractious, unhappy parents. As noted by Christopher Gibbs, one of his oldest friends, Desmond grew up ‘a handsome, lonely boy in a rather threadbare castle on the Shannon.’ This is Glin, an 18th century Adam-esque house later tricked out in gothic flummery. The Knight’s ancestors never had much money and in his teens the family place was offered for rental, threatened with dereliction and then saved thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Canadian step-father who paid for the roof and walls to be made secure.
After time spent at the University of British Columbia followed by Harvard, Desmond returned to Ireland, living in the early 1960s in the little house tucked to the rear of Leixlip Castle. His landlords were Desmond and Mariga Guinness, from whom he – an eager student – learnt a great deal about Irish art and architecture. This knowledge provided the foundations for his own extensive research into the same subjects, subsequently published in a series of books written with collaborators such as Anne Crookshank and James Peill. Mariga was one of the great influences on Desmond’s life, as she was for many other young men and women, myself included, who crossed her path.

Here is a photograph of Desmond from those early days at Leixlip, with Mariga to the left splendid in a tartan skirt and 18th century military coat. She always had what used to be called good carriage, as well as a splendid profile. Desmond is on the right of the picture, also in costume and looking not unlike a young Cecil Beaton. Next to him can be seen his then-girlfriend Talitha Pol, one of the great beauties of the period; she went on to marry John Paul Getty.
Desmond meanwhile, had moved to London and taken a job at the Victoria & Albert Museum in what was then called the Department of Woodwork. Here he was able to continue his research into Irish decorative arts while also becoming part of a rather smart set that included not just Christopher Gibbs but also the likes of David Mlinaric, Mark Palmer, Jane and Victoria Ormsby-Gore and Nicholas Gormanston. As Christopher commented, Desmond’s scholarly life tended to be hidden from his London friends who remembered him ‘as the wildest of dancers in a chinoiserie jacket.’

In 1966 Desmond married Loulou de la Falaise, then still in her teens but already displaying the flair that would soon make her Yves St Laurent’s muse. Here is the couple in Desmond’s flat on Pont Street which he decorated (with the help of David Mlinaric) with Irish pictures and furniture discovered in London’s antique shops. The distance between Desmond and his wife in this picture, and their respective expressions, indicate all was not well with the marriage and indeed it lasted barely 18 months but they always remained friends and kept in contact, and Loulou was to die just a month after Desmond.
Fortunately within a few years he had met and married Olda Willes and this union proved much happier, producing three beautiful daughters, Catherine, Nesta and Honor, the Sirens of the Shannon. Speaking at the end of last week’s proceedings, Olda observed that in many ways Desmond had been an 18th century man mysteriously transposed into the 20th, ‘as ready to fight a duel as to negotiate a settlement.’
In the mid-1970s Desmond, throughout his life plagued by extreme mood swings, suffered a complete collapse, left the V&A and settled to Ireland where he was soon appointed representative for Christie’s. It was an ideal job, encouraging him to travel throughout the country looking at houses and their contents, work that enhanced his own research. Soon he began producing the books that have done so much to improve Irish scholarship and encourage further investigation into areas hitherto rather neglected. Today so much work is written and published on Irish architecture and decorative arts, one can easily forget that when Desmond began his enquiries this was unexplored territory.
Desmond’s enthusiasm for these topics never waned. Visiting him in hospital about a month before his death, I mentioned a newly published book of essays on Irish houses. A week later I returned to discover he had since ordered, received and read the book. At supper the evening prior to the Castletown gathering, Penny Guinness recalled also visiting Desmond and hearing him say that throughout his life he had been very lucky. So were those of us fortunate to have known him.