Thursday 5 December 2019

Charlie led me by arm on tour of mansion

Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

"YOU would want to be a soulless creature not to be affected by its style and elegance," declared Charlie Haughey as he eulogised about Abbeville.

It was November 1996 and we were standing in the dining room of the historic Kinsealy house after a detailed canvas-by-canvas tour of his splendid art collection.

The Squire of Abbeville looked every part the country gent as he luxuriated in telling the back story to his many artistic purchases.

A previous visit to Abbeville was a far less formal affair, a drop-in after the engagement of one of his sons and we were entertained in the basement, heading straight to the family kitchen with its big pine table, very much the soul of the Big House.

There were drinks from Charlie's old Irish pub, which had been designed by Sam Stephenson and had a reputation as a fun party spot.

Later, as Charlie led us on a walk around the 18th Century man-made lake, I glimpsed the big ornate rooms through giant windows, all decorated in an authentic historic palette of blues and green.


When I returned in 1996 for the launch of Mary Rose Doorley's book on the house, I saw the elegant Adams-style, neo-classical interiors.

Charlie lost no time in switching the conversation away from politics and on to his passion for art. He led me by the arm for a tour of his favourite paintings.

Through the hallway where two porcelain dogs stood to attention, he threw open the front door with its period fanlight and pointed out the 20ft sculpture he commissioned Joan Smith to carve from a fallen elm.

"If only these walls could talk," I thought. A dramatic Basil Blackshaw canvas stopped visitors in their tracks and a Nathaniel Hone and a Louis le Brocquy featured in his collection.

There were lots of family photographs dotted around the house -- snaps with grandchildren, photos with other politicians, such as Ronald Reagan.

Back then, the 'Marte Nostro' Haughey family crest -- "by our own efforts" -- was woven into a rug and that day back in 1996 you could almost hear the Donnycarney boy's heart beating proudly in his politician's chest.

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