Saturday 3 December 2016

A continental aristocrat and man of broad cultural tastes

James J Gibbons looks back on the life of the late twentieth Baron Dunsany who was laid to rest last Friday

Published 29/05/2011 | 05:00

Lord Dunsany, a member of one of the most prestigious aristocratic families has died. Edward Carlos Plunkett, the twentieth Baron Dunsany, was laid to rest at a private funeral in Dunsany Castle on Friday. He had been in ill-health in recent years.

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He was part of an international smart set and a member of one of the oldest families still inhabiting their castle in the direct line of succession.

The Plunketts were Anglo-Norman invaders who settled in Beaulieu in Co Louth and later established branches in Killeen and Dunsany in Co Meath. The Plunketts of Dunsany were ennobled in 1439 and counted themselves the most English of the Palesmen.

Art Consultant and former director of the Hunt Museum, Ciaran MacGonigal, who was an ami de maison, said that "Lord Dunsany was a shy but very determined man. He and his wife ran a most marvellous table which was always beautifully decorated. The guests usually included their own international circle of friends from Brazil, Italy and France".

Lord Dunsany was unlike both British and Irish Lords. Lawyer and author Charles Lysaght said: "He was more of a continental aristocrat and a man of broad culture. He was an aesthete."

He was a very well known artist during the Seventies and Eighties and painted portraits of prominent politicians Charles Haughey and John Bruton -- both of whom were friends of his.

Born in Dublin in 1939, Edward Plunkett didn't speak English until he was about the age of seven. His mother had brought him to Brazil while his father was away in the army. The eventual marriage break-up of his parents had an impact on him.

He did not see eye to eye with his father, Randal Plunkett, the nineteenth Baron Dunsany who was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian Calvary and was decorated for his service in the North-West Frontier in 1930.

His mother, Vera de Sa Sottomaior had been married previously to Ivar Bryce. When she divorced Lord Dunsany's father she subsequently married Sir Walter Pretyman by whom she had two children, two boys, who became Lord Dunsany's half brothers.

His father also remarried the wealthy Welsh heiress Sheila Philipps of Picton Castle by whom he had a daughter, Beatrice, a half sister of Lord Dunsany's. Sheila had also been married previously and was grandmother of Emily Napper of Loughcrew House in Meath.

After his parents split, Lord Dunsany was raised by his grandfather, the eighteenth Baron Dunsany who was a well known dramatist and novelist. He grew up between Shoreham in Kent and Dunsany Castle. His grandfather -- also called Edward -- lived in a world of fantasy and imagination.

The Dunsanys retain a fine collection of heirlooms, including an enamelled silver mug presented by Queen Elizabeth I and the watch and cross of descendent St Oliver Plunkett, and some beautiful works of art, notably paintings and porcelain, though for security reasons some are no longer held at the castle.

Lord Dunsany was educated at Eton and the Slade School of Fine Art. He also attended the Ecole des Beaux -Arts in Paris.

He had a studio in Rome for most of the Seventies and later moved to New York. While he was there he met the beautiful Marie Alice de Marsillac an internationally respected architect. She fell in love with the then Hon Edward Plunkett. They married had two children Randal and Oliver. He co-founded de Marsillac Plunkett, Designers and Architects, New York, in the early Eighties. Originally from Brazil, Lady Dunsany is a descendent of the explorer Vasco Da Gama and Alves Cabral, the founder of Brazil.

From 1994 Lord Dunsany's atelier was at Dunsany Castle. His last big exhibition was in Rome, in the ground floors of the famous Victor Emmanuel monument at the Spanish Steps. He succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1999. His father had been known to have a few dress rehearsals for his own funeral. He liked to dress up for some guests and even lie in his coffin.

While Lord Dunsany owned prime land in Co Meath he was metropolitan minded. He was not just an Irish bucolic landlord. Land was in the blood, though.

Lord Dunsany's beloved grandfather loved to hunt and wrote: "On Wednesday when the Meath did not hunt I used sometimes go out with the Ward... but I soon found that one enjoyed hunting more by taking the Wednesday off."

However, the current Lady Dunsany lost her temper a few years ago when she saw dozens of hunters on horseback galloping through the land without permission. She grabbed a very large antique gun and went out and gave out to them.

Perhaps it was the same gun used by Lord Dunsany's grandfather who was known to raise his rifle and shoot wasps hovering over the champagne bottles at lunch.

A memorial service will take place in Dunsany this Friday.

Sunday Independent

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