Final farewell at Lissadell House
Published 05/12/2003 | 00:11
In the coming days, more than 400 years of history will quietly come to end with the final departure from Lissadell of Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth and his wife, Lady Jane. In this, their last Irish newspaper interview before leaving, Sir Josslyn and Lady Jane frankly reveal their thoughts and feelings to The Sligo Champion's HARRY KEANEY, and disclose some of their very basic reaso
In the coming days, more than 400 years of history will quietly come to end with the final departure from Lissadell of Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth and his wife, Lady Jane. In this, their last Irish newspaper interview before leaving, Sir Josslyn and Lady Jane frankly reveal their thoughts and feelings to The Sligo Champion's HARRY KEANEY, and disclose some of their very basic reasons for deciding to sell.
WHEN Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth and his wife, Lady Jane, take their final trip down the winding lane from Lissadell House within the coming days, their departure will generate less of a commotion than what probably surrounded the arrival in 1597 of the man with whom it all began. He was a strutting young English soldier named Paul Gore, a commander of a troop of horse in the service of Queen Elizabeth 1, who was charged with escorting Rory O'Donnell and Sir Donough O'Connor, the last of the Irish chieftains, to submit to the English crown.
Now, 406 years later, the last of Lissadell's Gore-Booths are preparing to leave, submitting not to military conquest but to social and economic changes that have slowly turned most such estate houses from once bustling hives of activity into stark anachronisms on the modern Irish landscape.
And so, while Anglo-Irish aristocracy may, for some, conjure up images of opulence, grandeur and warmth, almost universally built on a foundation of local subservience, Lissadell is today a lonely, stone cold monument to a by-gone era, a draughty edifice empty of its supporting servants and adorning contents, with the flame now extinguished in all its 40 fireplaces.
During an interview with Sir Josslyn and Lady Jane on Friday morning last, as the bitter November rain beat onto what Yeats described in 1927 as Lissadell's "great windows to the south," it was easy to understand why the last of the Gore-Booths have decided to leave.
Although Sir Josslyn acknowledged he and his wife had "very mixed feelings" about leaving, one could sense their relief on being released from what he described as "a burden and a privilege" to inherit.
"I always feel strongly that one should look forward rather than back, and that is what we are doing," said Sir Josslyn.
But, in a sitting room upstairs, with a wintry chill permeating as the last of the auctioned items were being taken away, it was Lady Jane who pinpointed the everyday, practical drawbacks of living in an imperious mansion that, if truth be told, was perhaps always more business headquarters than intimate family home.
"We have got to make a comfortable home someplace else," she said.
Said Sir Josslyn: "One could spend as much on a house like this a year as you choose to spend, hundreds or hundreds of thousands. I gradually realised one would need to be ten times richer than I am and to have many hundred times my energy."
He added: "When the government explained the reasons for not buying the place, and quoted a figure I and others regarded as ridiculously high, it did put its finger on a major difficulty."
Sir Josslyn said that in his view, a "sinking fund" of between ?5m and ?10m was needed to fund the running losses on the house on an indefinite basis. A certain amount of money should be spent on the house in the short term but he felt the place would never be profitable, therefore the interest from an endowment fund would be necessary to meet the costs.
He also pointed out that one of the secondary reasons for the decision to sell was that both himself and Lady Jane felt that neither of their daughters, Mary, 18, and Caroline, 16, should be "burdened with the responsibility of this place" because it had been a burden to them as well as a privilege.
And he added: "One thing, perhaps, I didn't think sufficiently hard about when we decided to live here on a permanent basis two years ago was that for the first time in 400 years, there were no other members of my family still living in Ireland beyond a handful of very distant cousins."
It was a scenario that, as Lady Jane explained, was hard on their children, as they had no young cousins in Ireland.
But with the family now about to move to County Durham in the North East of England near where Sir Josslyn grew up, they leave with a potpourri of recollections – swimming at Lissadell, sailing at Mullaghmore, visiting to Inishmurray – all against a background of some of the best summer weather in recent Irish memory.
And, of course, for Sir Josslyn, now in his early fifties, there's the satisfaction of leaving with a windfall, ?3.75m for the house and estate, and more than ?2m for the house's contents.
He revealed that, as the historic auction took place, three thoughts flickered through his mind. The first, he admitted, was that he had looked after his family's interests quite well.
"The other thing that occurred to me was that when we last had a burglary, the thieves took the wrong items," he quipped.
And while he was also pleased that the new owners, barristers Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, had bought much in the house, particularly a number of the bigger items, one could only assume he felt vindicated, at least in a strict business sense, for not having accepted their offer of ?750,000 for the contents.
Sir Josslyn is, at heart, a businessman. He started life as an economist working in a bank and then attended Insead, a prestigious French business school. Subsequently, he became a management consultant and, eventually, a headhunter.
His title is hereditary, having first been conferred in 1760. After Sir Josslyn, the title will go to David Gore-Booth, a retired diplomat in his early sixties who served as British ambassador in New Delhi.
But as the last of Gore-Booths now prepare to leave Lissadell, Sir Josslyn revealed that he had retained one or two parcels of property which were part of the estate.
"One of them might make a suitable site for a house," he said.
And just as Lissadell House was a statement of its time, so indeed too is its purchase by the wealthy Irish barrister couple whom Sir Josslyn and Lady Jane have wished well.
"We hope they will be happy," they said.