Monday 10 December 2018

Final farewell to a gilded age as Garech Browne's ashes scattered in dark waters

Garech Brownes in the grounds of his stately home in Co Wicklow. Photo: David Conachy
Garech Brownes in the grounds of his stately home in Co Wicklow. Photo: David Conachy
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

His leave-taking had little of the spontaneous entertainment that sometimes went on for days at Luggala, but then Garech Browne is gone, even if his spirit lives on in the brooding Wicklow fastness he once called home.

When his nephews Dorian and Julian walked into the bog-brown waters of Lough Tay at noon last Friday and scattered his ashes on the dark lake, they were saying goodbye to their uncle within sight of the grave of their playboy father Tara, who was laid to rest there in 1966, at the age of 21.

With the house and estate for sale for between €25m-€28m, they were also bidding farewell to a gilded age which began at Luggala when Ernest Guinness made a present of the estate to his daughter Oonagh on her marriage to Dominick, Lord Oranmore & Browne.

Last Friday that age ended, with the scattering of Garech's ashes, a polite round of applause that echoed through the glen and the plaintive air of Paddy Moloney's uilleann pipe lament.

"It probably had a level of formality Garech would not have liked," said one of the more bohemian guests, remembering days when musicians, poets, writers and members of the ascendency flowed together through the gleaming white "gingerbread mansion" on a high tide of champagne and Guinness.

With the house in lockdown, guests assembled in a marquee by the lake shore for the final act of Garech Browne's long goodbye. The Guinness heir and lover of Irish music and tradition died over lunch in London last March aged 79, and following a funeral service there, his ashes were finally brought back for last Friday's scattering.

LAST GOODBYE: Actress Kate O’Toole at the scattering of the ashes of Garech Browne at Luggala
LAST GOODBYE: Actress Kate O’Toole at the scattering of the ashes of Garech Browne at Luggala

High on a hill overlooking Luggala and Lough Tay, bus tours stopped on the winding road to Roundwood to take photographs, unaware of the event below. But it resonated with one Canadian who had come to the beauty spot for the same purpose - to scatter the ashes of his son.

Most of the guests at the ceremony parked just off the road in a spot now used by the makers of the television series Vikings, which is being shot at Luggala. They were ferried by bus down the winding road to the estate for the ceremony which began with an address by President Michael D Higgins.

He read the first page of his script and sat down. Then, as Paddy Moloney began to play, President Higgins realised there was another page and he returned to the podium, saying the work of an artist "is to be disruptive" and delivered the rest of his address.

Tony Boylan, who has run the estate for many years, was in charge of the event and the former Irish ambassador Richard Ryan introduced the speakers. These included the Lord 'Grey' Gowrie, a former British arts minister, poet Thomas Kinsella, the film director John Boorman and writer Paul Howard; they all spoke before the 200 guests sat down to lunch.

Filmmaker Neil Jordan was among those who attended the lakeside ceremony for Garech Browne
Filmmaker Neil Jordan was among those who attended the lakeside ceremony for Garech Browne

Guests included Patrick Guinness and his daughter Jasmine, the psychiatrist Ivor Browne, a director of Garech Browne's company, Claddagh Records, dressed in a wonderful Hawaiian-style shirt for the occasion, the singer Bob Geldof, actress Kate O'Toole, the film directors Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan, businessman Harry Crosbie, harpist Triona Marshall, Anthony Palliser, who has painted many of the guests during his various sojourns in Luggala, Eimear Haughey, Paul McGuinness and many more.

It was a glorious day in the valley, the colours of green trees, grey rock, black water, purple heather and the bleached sand by the lake shore changing with the mood of the clouds and wind.

Many of those making the journey from the house back along the twisting road must have mused that this would probably be their last memory of Luggala.

Whoever buys this stately pile, built by the La Touche bankers in 1790 and rebuilt exactly as it was after a fire in 1956, are unlikely to invest it with the diversion and merriment that Garech Browne and his mother before him brought to the place.

Sunday Independent

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