Described as "a great dandy of his generation", Desmond Guinness, noted for his piercing blue eyes, lived the gilded life of a fun-loving aristocrat. He was closely related to many of the blue-bloods of Ireland and England, as well as a wide circle who were either Guinness by birth or through marriage.
But as co-founder of the Irish Georgian Society with his first wife Mariga, he also did more than any other person to save some of Ireland's great historic buildings - from stately Castletown House in Co Kildare to crumbling Georgian town houses - from the developer's wrecking ball.
He hosted almost everybody worth knowing, from Jacqueline Kennedy to his close friend Mick Jagger; from film director John Huston to Ulick O'Connor, at his own home, Leixlip Castle, near Dublin. Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon were his guests and Lord Louis Mountbatten called at 3am one morning looking for a bed for the night. His stepfather, the notorious British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, was another favoured guest.
Desmond also promoted concerts by The Boomtown Rats, Thin Lizzy and The Police. But despite his friendship with Jagger, he missed out on the real coup of having the Rolling Stones play Leixlip after the band opted to play Slane Castle instead.
Ireland in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a playground, where wayward rockers like Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, Hollywood stars and British aristocrats could escape from the gaze of the press. They enjoyed the lavish hospitality that still thrived among those lucky enough to live in stately homes funded by Guinness trust-fund millions.
"In the winter of 1958, Mariga and Desmond said they did not go to bed until 4am from the beginning of December until the end of January," wrote Carola Peck in the book Mariga And her Friends. "They were out every night - ball followed ball. Parties at Leixlip went on until all hours. When Desmond got tired, he wound up the antique Gothic organ which played God Save the King. This told everybody to go home."
He was "unique in so many ways", his son Patrick told me in an email shortly after his father died at lunchtime last Thursday, at the age of 88.
Desmond Guinness was born on September 8, 1931, and grew up between his father's estates in England and Ireland. As the second son of Bryan Guinness, the 2nd Lord Moyne, and Diana Mitford, one of the celebrated Hitler-admiring 'Mitford sisters' who later married Oswald Mosley, he was probably always destined to lead a colourful life.
He was educated at Eton, Gordonstoun and Oxford, where he studied languages. "The 22-year-old undergraduate was famed for the style of the parties he threw and for his sartorial idiosyncrasies...he would appear at some of the more informal parties clad in leopard-skin trousers and a fancifully embroidered sweater," said Frederic Mullally, in his book on the Guinness family, The Silver Salver.
At Oxford, he met a young German princess, Marie-Gabrielle von Urach, Countess of Wurttenberg, known as Mariga, who had first visited Ireland in 1953 and was enchanted by how friendly the country was at the time. They were married in Christ Church Cathedral in 1954 and moved permanently to Ireland the following year, Desmond looking after his father's extensive farming interests.
They rented Carton House near Maynooth from Lord Brocket and became involved in hunting with the Kildares, throwing lavish parties in the ancestral home of the Dukes of Leinster and generally enjoying a raffish aristocratic and artistic lifestyle. But together they also found a mission in life that would help preserve much of Ireland's neglected Anglo-Irish past.
"They were appalled at the neglect of Ireland's beautiful 18th century buildings, and founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958 in an attempt to save them, inspired by Maurice Craig's book on Dublin," their son Patrick said.
The same year, Desmond bought the 12th century Leixlip Castle, by then reduced to a shell. When Desmond was away on business, his spirited wife moved in with "400 books, a cat and a rifle". To lend some 'tone' to their new home, Lord Moyne gave them an Arab stallion and a friend, Elizabeth Kelly, gave them two beds and her butler.
Guests slept on mattresses as Desmond and his wife scoured 'big house' sales and slowly began restoring the castle to its former grandeur.
"As the 1960s advanced, Guinness and European cousins were less often seen than Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Anne Crookshank, the Knight of Glin and friends rather more Irish than English," a friend said.
With 'The Georgians', they saved houses in Henrietta Street and Mountjoy Square, buying one to prevent it falling into the hands of a developer. The Tailors' Hall, Riverstown House and Doneraile Court in Cork, the Damer House in Roscrea, Roundwood in Laois, Longfield in Tipperary, and many others, were saved from dereliction or demolition. But despite vigorous campaigns, they failed to save Hume Street and an entire side of Fitzwilliam Street destroyed by the ESB.
In 1967, Desmond Guinness published his first book, Portrait of Dublin, and went on extensive tours in the United States, raising money for the Irish Georgian Society and lecturing on Irish castles and ornate plasterwork ceilings, on which he had become an expert. With the help of a loan from his father, he acquired Castletown, one of the great Palladian mansions in Ireland.
In 1973, Desmond met and was smitten by Penelope Cuthbertson, the daughter of an English socialite, described as "an attractive blonde 10 years younger" than his first wife. Between 1966 and 1968 'Penny' - known as "one of the most lusted-after girls in swinging London" - posed for a series of what have been described as "luscious nudes" by the painter Lucian Freud, the most famous of which, Naked Girl, was bought by the actor Steve Martin, before Freud's paintings began to sell for millions of pounds.
For quite some time, Desmond, his wife and his lover all shared Leixlip Castle with Desmond and Mariga's two children, Patrick and Marina. The trio attended meetings of the Irish Georgian Society together, Mariga telling a reporter: "My husband and I really get on quite well, in a disagreeable kind of way."
After Mariga reluctantly moved out, the couple divorced, and Mariga, who was grandmother to the model and designer Jasmine Guinness, died of a heart attack in May, 1989 at the age of 56. She was buried at Connolly's Folly on the Castletown Estate.
"Desmond is a complex individual," his concert-promoting rival Henry Mount Charles wrote in his own memoirs. "Now in his 50s, he still retains his good looks, and those infamous blue eyes, that sparkle like ice and mask a deep sense of mischievousness. He oozes charm." He added that, like his relative Garech Browne, Desmond liked "to hold court" and have fun in the process.
As he grew older, Desmond Guinness became less of a fixture on the social scene and devoted himself to writing and lecture tours.
He retired as President of the Irish Georgian Society in 1990. He published Georgian Dublin in 1979 and many other books, including Dublin - a Grand Tour and Great Irish Houses and Castles, both with photographer Jacqueline O'Brien.
He suffered from Alzheimer's disease for some time before his death last Thursday, August 20.
He is remembered for what friends call his "sustained commitment" to the preservation of what was a neglected aspect of Irish heritage and there is little doubt that without his influence and connections, many fine buildings now regarded as national treasures would not have survived.
Desmond Guinness is survived by his wife Penelope, his son Patrick and daughter Marina, and their children.