Thursday 25 May 2017

Agnes Toohey

Talented dress designer fenced for Ireland and went on to design Olympic team uniforms, says Eamon Delaney

Agnes Toohey, who has died aged 89 at her home in Costello Lodge in Galway, was a glamorous and talented dress designer and former sportswoman who fenced for Ireland and who combined the two disciplines of her life when she designed the official Olympic uniforms for successive Irish teams.

Agnes herself narrowly missed out on qualification for the 1960 Olympics in Rome and later served on the Executive Committee of the Irish Olympic Council (1985-96), where her support and business acumen were much admired and appreciated.

Born in Dublin in 1923, Agnes married the late Jack Toohey, a descendent of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants from Limerick (originally named Tooch) who became a major textiles and garment manufacturer in Dublin.

Jack set up the famous Doreen Holdings clothes company, and, with the design skills that she inherited from her seamstress mother, Agnes became the main designer for the company and provided it with innovative patterns that were affordable to the broader Irish public.

Doreen Holdings was a major success, with a factory in Marrowbone Lane, and outlets around the country and the UK. In tandem with their interest in arts and design, Jack and Agnes assembled a considerable art collection, much of which they donated and sold over the subsequent years. The collection included works by living artists and past masters such as Paul Henry, Jack Yeats and James Humbert Craig.

In the early Eighties, the Tooheys moved to the west of Ireland and acquired Costelloe Lodge, an ornate fishing lodge formerly owned by Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Line who retired there after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. There is a memorial to Ismay in the garden, which it is planned to move to Cobh as a Titanic-related exhibit.

At the confluence of the Casla river and the sea coast at Rossaveal, Costelloe Lodge, with its extensive river grounds, has been described as 'one of the foremost salmon fishing locations in the British Isles'. Ismay himself is said to have taken 300 salmon in a single season in the late-1920s. In September 1922, the lodge was partially burned by republicans, as a Civil War reprisal, and Ismay was later compensated.

The original house included stables and an old servant's quarters block in a quadrangle to the rear, as well as a landscaped garden. In this the Tooheys created a modern sculpture garden, including large works by John Coll, Joseph Sloan, Yann Goulet and my late father Edward Delaney.

Jack died in 2002 and, in his honour, Agnes donated many of these art works to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. One of these, by my father, was erected in 2009 on the museum's grounds at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Jack's memory and with the assistance of the German Embassy's Goethe Institute.

Agnes was a glamorous and single-minded woman who insisted on living in Costelloe Lodge until the end. There were no children. The lodge was put on the market in 2004, but most observers were convinced that Agnes, or Jack, would never actually sell the striking lodge and its grounds.

Her passing has been mourned not only by her close friends and family, but by art museums, auction houses and former colleagues at the Irish Olympic Council. After a small and private funeral, she was buried next to her late husband Jack in Mount Jerome.

Sunday Independent

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