Saturday 25 October 2014

Beauty and bounty at Renaissance prince Tony Ryan's court

He was the ultimate self-made man, thebaggage-handler who became a billionaire.Tony Ryan’s life had it all — the cultivatedbeauties (the late Lady Miranda Guinnessthe most glamorous of them all), exquisitehomes in New York, Monte Carlo and Ibiza,a jet-set lifestyle. Out of the ashes of hisill-fated aviation company GPA, he foundedRyanair, and its success allowed him todedicate his life to the pursuit of beauty.With the auction next week of the contentsof his Georgian mansion Lyons Demesne,Emily Hourican looks back on the life andtimes of the legendary Tony Ryan

Lyons Demesne was Tony Ryan's monument to himself; the physical expression of his unlikely transformation from train-driver's son to Renaissance tycoon, and a restoration project so perfect that it came near folly.

For a long time after his death in October 2007, the house remained eerily unaltered. Although empty, the glass still shone, the wood was polished, everything was kept in the impeccable condition he insisted on, not just for those times it was on view to potential buyers, but every day.

And every day the newspaper was delivered, as always, and arranged on the table where he had liked to find it. Now, however, the seal that was laid at the time of Ryan's death is to be broken, as some of the contents go for auction at Christie's on Thursday.

Only 400 of about 2,000 lots will go under the hammer, just a small part of the remarkable collection he built up, but a symbolic suggestion of change nonetheless.

The auction is expected to raise more than €2m, with the most important lot to go under the hammer, a portrait of Arthur Hill, 2nd Marquess of Downshire, by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, guiding at €224,000 to €337,000.

Hill was a nobleman and politician, who became embroiled in a three-way relationship involving Sarah Dore and pioneering barrister William Garrow in the late 1700s. He was, by contemporary accounts, a shrewd operator, with a wily mind and jealous temper; a man not unlike Ryan himself.

Of those who turned up for the private viewing, including the Hon Desmond Guinness, his daughter Marina and son Patrick, Countess of Dunraven and the Pakenhams, many were there in the spirit of bearing witness, just as much as to ogle and acquire.

They were grabbing the opportunity to see, maybe for the last time, this perfect vision of a man who prided himself on the completeness of his knowledge, understanding and taste, and who had, in Lady Miranda Guinness, an excellent tutor. They were also, perhaps, taking a final look at that rarest of things -- an Irish architectural gem for once shored up by the kind of serious money these houses need.

Lyons Demesne is where the story of Ryan's life all makes sense, where the different strands seem to come together.

It is a monument to the image he built of himself, first as the young man who said goodbye to his plans for university to become the family bread-winner when his father died; who then went to work in Aer Lingus as a baggage-handler before setting up a company that quite eclipsed Aer Lingus for a time in terms of glamour and dynamism; who flew around the world on a weekly basis and spent all his spare time reading, learning and collecting.

This was the reward he owed himself for the years of hard work becoming that toughest of all things -- the self-made man.

The fact that the house, after five years unoccupied and 20-odd as an agricultural college, needed to be physically wrestled into shape would have appealed to the macho side of Ryan's nature; the side that led him to punch Sean MacBride, son of Maud Gonne, co-founder of Amnesty International and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, during a Sunday Tribune board meeting in the Eighties.

He had been aiming for Vincent Browne during a bitter row over the future of the paper, but connected with MacBride.

Some cultivated the same mannerisms and types of behaviour, professing an interest in culture, art and the restoration of old houses, desperate to reproduce another version of the man who inspired and sometimes bullied them, even to the point of trying to emulate his complicated love life.

Because Ryan's effect on women was just as pronounced.

Neither tall nor especially handsome, his rather thrusting self-confidence and desire to possess "the best" made him instantly attractive to a certain kind of woman, while his more feminine side -- the side that gloried in the fine lines and balance of a piece of sculpture, for example; that understood different weights of silk and the importance of an angle -- made him an interesting companion, where there were shared interests.

Sunday Indo Living

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