Sunday 16 December 2018

World and his wife drop in to visit the great house

LIAM COLLINS DEER scattered into the hills as the helicopter descended, turned over the lake and landed in the parkland in front of Luggala.

Even Lady Iona Mount Charles was impressed as U2 manager Paul McGuinness and Sarah Owens emerged into the Wicklow dusk and walked towards the tent, where they were greeted by Brenda Jordan (wife of film director Neil Jordan) and Lord Henry Mount Charles.

"It was the only way we could manage Punchestown and take in this," said a laughing Sarah Owens, former girlfriend of the actor John Hurt, as the helicopter roared off over the burning heather on the Wicklow hills.

Outside it was breathtaking, the huge crag of a mountain in the distance, the sounds of animals, the great trees, the lights shining from the windows in the house and the plaintive notes of a piper echoing around.

Inside the tents erected on the lawn, the last remaining guests sipped champagne from Kilkenny cut-glass goblets and wandered among the treasures, furniture and paintings - memories of a lifetime - which will be sold next Tuesday.

Frances Colonna and her husband Prospero Di Stigliano, 'The Prince', were admiring some maps and she was desperately trying to find a trace of Clonmannon, which they are selling prior to moving to live in Monte Carlo.

"But I will be keeping a place in the stable yard," she said, smiling. "What was good enough for the horses is now good enough for me."

Film director John Boorman moved around, greeting friends and looking at the lots. Bruce Arnold wore a fetching dinner jacket. Amanda Douglas, the interior designer who is currently working on the house, wandered through the rooms, as did businessman Maurice Cassidy and the young actor, David Coakley.

Up at the house, described by his mother Lady Oonagh Guinness as a "the most decorative honey pot in Ireland", the Honorable Garech Browne settled in for an evening of music with the piper Francis McPeake and members of the famous Belfast singing family.

"I am not selling anything I don't want to - but there are a couple of things I will miss," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. Garech, dressed in a tweed suit with his long grey hair brushed back in a ponytail, said some of the items were surplus to requirements and, of course, would help to pay for the renovations to the house, which are on-going.

Although he declined to be drawn on the items he will miss, they probably include an 'Anglo-Indian Padouk and Hardwood Cabinet on Stand', which came to him through the Jameson family and is regarded by the Victoria and Albert Museum as one of the most important pieces of its kind in the world.

Phonsie Mealy, of the auctioneering firm conducting Tuesday's sale, handed me a drawer to feel the weight. It has an estimate of ?60,000-?100,000, but already these are proving very low as staff in a backroom take written bids. The cabinet was owned by Major General Sir Eyre Coote.

According to author Lavinia Greacen, Coote and another Irishman, Thomas Lally, fought a prolonged battle against each other and when it was over, the two men sat down and had a drink together and became friends for the rest of their lives.

Garech Browne was enthralled by the story as he took us on a tour of the house to see the renovations.

In the doorway, he introduced us to "my nephew Dorian, Tara's son", who hopped on a plane immediately he got the invitation. Dorian's father, Garech's brother, was killed in a car crash as a young man and his friend John Lennon commemorated him in a song on the Sgt Pepper'salbum.

As he regarded the house, Garech Browne said, "It is the only thing that is keeping me sane, although I am not saying I am sane.

"Some people think it is lonely, but of course you are not lonely, every f***er in the world comes to visit."

Another important item in the sale is the Francis Johnston Speaker Clock, which was made for the Irish House of Parliament. there is some hope that the Bank of Ireland might buy it and bring it back to its office in College Green.

Various people hope that many of the items will stay in Ireland - but when people arrive at Luggala on Tuesday with cheque books in their pockets, who knows what will happen.

It was dark as we drove away, up the winding avenue towards Roundwood, and the merriment was only beginning. The songs of the McPeakes would keep the party going long into the night. We should have stayed, but we heeded Francis McPeake's warning: "I once came for a night and ended up staying for eight."

Luggala and its hospitable owner have that kind of effect on people.

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