Tuesday 24 October 2017

Saatchi torn by demolition of home

Lord Saatchi says he had no idea his late wife's Mullingar home was being ripped down by council, writes Claire Mc Cormack

BULLDOZED: Lord Maurice Saatchi wasn’t told the home of his late wife was being demolishedby Westmeath County Council
BULLDOZED: Lord Maurice Saatchi wasn’t told the home of his late wife was being demolishedby Westmeath County Council
Lord Maurice Saatchi and his wife, Lady Josephine Hart
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Theirs was a love affair of extraordinary intensity and tenderness and since death parted them, peer of the realm Lord Maurice Saatchi has quietly visited Mullingar and stood outside the childhood home of his late wife, the novelist Josephine Hart.

It has been part pilgrimage, part remembrance for the former Conservative party chairman and joint founder with his brother Charles of the iconic advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi.

Still heartbroken over the loss of his beloved Josephine, he says he felt physically drawn to the house where his wife spent her formative years, a modest, unoccupied boarded-up bungalow on Friar's Mill Road.

He would stand there silently, for about half an hour, remembering the great love they'd shared for 27 years before she was lost to cancer in June, 2011.

To him, it was much more than just a house; it's the place that made her who she became.

But now, it's gone.

Last week, the home of the world-famous novelist was demolished by Westmeath County Council - chiefly because it was not a protected structure.

Lord Saatchi was not informed.

"What a pity that the Council didn't notify me in advance or have the simple courtesy to ask my opinion or advise me that the premises was to be demolished," he told the Sunday Independent.

"I have come over to Mullingar several times recently just to stand outside and peer through the windows. The physical presence of that building was a magnet to me even though I know it brought so much sadness to Josephine. That is now gone," he said.

Last week the Westmeath Topic newspaper reported that the roof area of the house had been removed before last weekend. Then the entire building was "torn down with earth-moving equipment" last Tuesday.

"'Parkville', as the house was named - with its distinctive nameplate on the front wall, and two large letter 'Ps' on the metal front gate - has been unused for some years, but was, we understand, a habitable dwelling," said the front page report.

For Lord Saatchi and fans of Ms Hart's novels what makes the destruction of the building even more devastating is that it was central to her final book The Truth About Love (2009) which she dedicated to her family.

The novel is largely based on the family tragedy that occurred at the house in the 1950s, when Josephine Hart's brother lost his life after being fatally injured in an explosion, while he was experimenting with chemicals in the back garden.

It is understood that when she describes how "a young girl puts her own life on hold until her family can find their way back from blinding pain", she was describing her own traumatic experience as a teenager.

Despite her deeply personal connection to the house and efforts by local literary experts over the years, it has never been preserved.

Maria Burke, founder of the Heart of Ireland Festival which celebrated the Josephine Hart's writing last year - told the Sunday Independent she was "totally shocked" that the house was torn down.

"I was absolutely shocked as I assumed - given the cultural significance of the property to the town and our nation - that there was a preservation order on it.

"It would have been nice to have the opportunity to discuss options that would have honoured Josephine's memory while also honouring her wishes. She herself felt the house had seen too much tragedy," said Ms Burke.

"What happened to her and her family in Mullingar shaped her whole life thereafter. She never said she was from Ireland, she always said she was from Mullingar," she said.

The Heart of Ireland has already requested that Josephine Hart's achievements be properly formally recognised and are now "more determined than ever" to ensure this happens.

A special gesture her ever grieving husband - considered by locals as "a very gentle man"- would certainly support.

"Mullingar always held a deeply special place for Josephine.

"Perhaps the council may consider it appropriate to acknowledge her existence in some way," said Lord Saatchi.

Sunday Independent

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