Saturday 3 December 2016

The tale of a jilted bride and the city centre mansion

Miss Havisham of Great Expectations is said to have been inspired by the former heiress of Dublin's Loreto Hall, writes Liam Collins

Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30

Elizabth Countess of Fingall
Elizabth Countess of Fingall
Miss Augusta Magan's mansion at No 77 St Stephen’s Green. Photo: Damien Eagers

'I remember an auction in Dublin in an old house in St Stephen's Green next door to the Iveagh's (the Guinness family) - a house which had a strange history," remembered Elizabeth, Countess of Fingall, of Killeen Castle in her memoirs.

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"An old Miss Magan had just died, who many years earlier had been a Dublin beauty. The story was that she had been engaged to a young man with whom she was very much in love. On the day of the wedding, he failed to appear. The house was shut up for many years and the lady lived as a recluse. When she was dying she asked to be buried in her bridal dress. After the funeral they opened the Stephen's Green house, and, it was said, found the wedding breakfast still spread for the guests who had not come 30 years earlier."

The mysterious lady of this story was Miss Augusta Elizabeth Magan, one of the richest women in Ireland when she came into her inheritance in 1880. She was, to use the modern term, a shopaholic and hoarder who filled the rooms of her mansions with a fantastic mixture of treasures and rubbish, until the rooms and hallways became so full, she could not get into them.

She then moved to another of her seven residences.

The one referred to by Lady Fingall is No 77 St Stephen's Green, "one the great Georgian houses in Dublin", now known as Loreto Hall, which went on sale this week for €5.75m.

Originally built in 1765 for William Crosbie, the Earl of Glandore, it had "an elegant drawing room" and a fine chimney piece, which was later removed and now graces one of the rooms of Clarence House, the London home of the Prince of Wales.

The marriage of William Henry Magan, rather grandly known as 'The Magnificent' of Clonearl, near Daingean, Co Offaly to the heiress Elizabeth Georgina Loftus of Killyon Manor, Co Meath cemented one of the great Irish family fortunes. Not only did they have their own two mansions, but together they owned 20,000 acres in Westmeath, Offaly and Shankill, Co Dublin, as well as their St Stephen's Green mansion.

Elizabeth Georgina Loftus Magan, described as "diminutive and dynamic", extended the fortune, buying another mansion, Grangemore. She had two children, but by the time she died in 1881, her nefarious son, William Henry Magan MP had already died of drink and debauchery, so the family fortune passed to the once beautiful Augusta Elizabeth Magan, who was 21 years old at the time.

The author Charles Dickens was in Dublin in 1858 and possibly heard the story of the 19-year-old Miss Magan's betrayal at the altar and how she had shut herself off from society in shame. There has been conjecture over the years that he based the character of Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, which was published in 1861, on her.

Crushed by the huge task of running her estates and the failed love affair, Miss Magan shut herself off from the outside world, finding solace buying things she didn't need and accumulating jewellery, antiques and even stylish clothes, which were left in their boxes and never opened as her hoarding mania took hold.

She died October 26, 1905 in Marlborough Road, Donnybrook, Dublin, where she rented rooms from her 'general manager', Charles Loftus Doyle.

After six weeks of searching through Killyon Manor, a will, made in 1881, was unearthed.

Most of her relatives would have wished it was never found, because the last will and testament of Miss Magan would lead to legal proceedings that lasted for the next decade and consumed much of her massive inheritance in the process. It stipulated that a number of beneficiaries should get £500 each. There was no provision made in the document for 'heirs' and the residue was bequeathed to build three hospitals in Dublin.

Auctioneer Mr James Adams, who was retained to carry out an examination of the Miss Magan's effects at Killyon Manor, told the Probate Court: "Every passageway and every room to which access could be gained was packed with parcels and packages of all description. Piled on top of furniture, underneath furniture and on the floor were packages and deed boxes. The litter on the main stairs and vestibule was also knee-deep.

"Other apartments in the mansion were in the same conditions. Amongst this rubbish was found money, jewellery and valuables of all description. Bank notes were found in waste paper baskets, gold sovereign coins were thrown on the floors and in tea cups and in kitchen utensils."

It took weeks to get through this detritus. They found cheques uncashed for 30 years, large chests filled with silver plates and valuable furniture and antiques, all buried under this mountain of rubbish.

No 77 St Stephen's Green was, he said, "if anything, to be in worse condition" and the valuers had trouble getting into the house it was so tightly packed with items she had accumulated, some highly valuable, others baubles and rubbish.

Among the items sold at the auction of Miss Magan's effects at Bennett's auctioneers at Upper Ormond Quay was a 12-foot-high antique organ, ancient marble statues, oil paintings, gilt mirrors, Japanese screens and carpets. A magnificent Louis XV silver tureen, made in Paris by Pierre Balzac in 1763 and inscribed with the coats of arms of the Magan family, was resold a few years ago at Christies New York for $553,600.

Proceedings against the executors of the will caused an international sensation, with Miss Magan's propensity for hoarding making news around the world.

At stake was an estate valued at £160,000. After days of evidence, Mr Justice Johnson established that the will was valid. The executors of the estate put a notice in the newspapers asking for creditors of Miss Magan to come forwards. They did - in droves. Employees claimed not to have been paid for years, creditors clamoured for fees for acts carried out on behalf of the estate, even her manager claimed unpaid salary and rent.

Between the claims on the estate and the huge fees involved in fending off further legal proceedings, the value of Miss Magan's estate was whittled down to about £53,000 and even then, the legal difficulties were compounded when relatives took possession of her properties.

Eventually, there wasn't enough money to build one hospital, let alone three, and the residue of the will was divided between Sir Patrick Dun's, The Adelaide, The Meath and The Royal Victoria Eye and Ear hospitals in Dublin.

Poor Miss Magan appeared to live a gilded life, but instead seems to have eked out a sad existence, only finding solace in buying things she didn't need.

Her fortune gone, she didn't even have the satisfaction of having her final wishes granted and is now just another forgotten figure from history.

Sunday Independent

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