Duke flies in to give Lismore art gallery his seal of approval
HE is a friend of Britain's future king and ranks as one of the greatest landowners in Europe. His aristocratic family traces its history back over 500 years with connections to some of the most famous figures in British and Irish history.
But the Duke of Devonshire is also an avid art collector and last week regaled sell-out Irish audiences with details of the Cavendish family's fabled collection, which has been garnered over almost six centuries.
The duke was guest of honour at a special Lismore Castle Arts function in the west Waterford town.
Fittingly, some of the furnishings in the room where he spoke were designed for the Houses of Parliament in Westminster but ended up in the family's Irish castle instead.
The Cavendish family owns the imposing Lismore Castle over the River Blackwater, complete with fishing rights, with the duke's ancestor having purchased it and 40,000 acres in Cork and Waterford from Sir Walter Raleigh.
The castle now boasts one of Ireland's finest collections of art, furniture and craftwork.
"I was brought up in Chatsworth, which is in the middle of England and I was lucky enough, ever since I was two or three years old, to spend quite a lot of time here in Lismore," he told the Sunday Independent.
"We came here for our Easter holidays almost every year and got to know Lismore really well, which was absolutely lovely. This is a very special place."
The 12th duke, Peregrine Andrew Cavendish, 69, assumed the title on the death of his father in 2004.
His father, a second son to the 10th duke, inherited the title when his older brother, who married President John F Kennedy's sister, was killed in 1944 during World War Two.
The present duke is one of Prince Charles's closest friends and the prince travelled to Lismore Castle with Camilla Parker Bowles in 2004 to attend a private family party in the duke's honour.
"We developed a gallery here in Lismore Castle and do everything we can to promote Irish artists and the arts themselves," he added.
The Cavendish art collection is now one of the greatest held in private hands in either Britain or Ireland.
"The Boyle (Earl of Cork) branch of my family married the Cavendish branch in 1745. Before my family inherited Lismore in 1753 there was already an extensive art collection in Chatsworth," he said.
"The most important part of that collection was a collection of old master drawings (Raphael, Rembrandt and others). These were acquired by the second Duke of Devonshire in the early 18th Century."
The Cavendish-Boyle marriage then brought Lismore and its Irish art collection into the family. The development of the Lismore estates over the past decade has since been taken in hand by the duke's heir, the Earl of Burlington, William Cavendish, 44.
He decided to expand the castle's arts and heritage resources and supervised a lavish refurbishment of the castle's derelict west wing into the Lismore Arts complex in 2005. This took place hand-in-hand with Lismore's hugely successful drive to establish itself as a 'heritage town'.