A new book considers the suspicions that were raised after the death of Lord Talbot de Malahide, writes Charles Lysaght
WAS Milo, the last Lord Talbot de Malahide to live in Malahide Castle, a Soviet spy? It is an unsolved question posed by his kinsman, Stephen Talbot, the author of an 800-page history of the Talbot family launched in the Carnegie Library in Malahide, Co Dublin, last week.
At Cambridge in the Thirties, Milo Malahide had been a favourite pupil of Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, both of whom were among those recruited by Soviet intelligence to form a deadly spy ring within the British Foreign Office. Tutored by the openly homosexual Burgess, Talbot himself passed into the diplomatic service where he was involved in sensitive security work during the war and afterwards. He became UK ambassador in Laos in the Sixties but took early retirement shortly after his lifelong friend Blunt was unmasked as a spy.
A shy, misogynistic bachelor rumoured to be homosexual, Lord Talbot divided his time thereafter between Malahide and his estate in Tasmania. He filled the gardens in Malahide with plants gathered on his travels.
He was in negotiations with the Government to hand Malahide Castle over to the State as a Taoiseach's residence when he died unexpectedly, aged 60, while on a cruise with a friend in the Greek islands in 1973.
Suspicions were aroused because there was no post-mortem and a maid saw his only sister burning all his papers after his death. This book sets out circumstances from which it might be inferred that he was murdered either by Soviet or British intelligence. But the friend who was with him on the cruise seems not to have been interviewed. What is certain is that Milo Talbot's death brought to an end the long association of the family with Malahide chronicled painstakingly in this book.
His sister Rose (known as Rosie), who was also unmarried, was forced to sell the house and its historic contents to pay death duties. She moved to live on the family estate in Tasmania but paid frequent visits back to Ireland until a few years before her death in 2009.
Thanks to Matt McNulty of Dublin Tourism, the castle was acquired by Fingal County Council and now houses the portraits from the National Gallery and other works connected with the family. Malahide Castle is undergoing a €10.5m redevelopment and is due to reopen to the public later this month.
The title and the Tasmanian estates have passed to distant cousins long settled in England but still proud of the historic connection of the family with the Malahide area.
'Into the Lion's Den: A Biographical History of the Talbots of Malahide' is by SE Talbot