Monday 21 October 2019

Arthur Montgomery - a guiding light for Doneraile

Arthur Montgomery
Arthur Montgomery

Bill Browne

When the Office of Public Works (OPW) began making plans for the rejuvenation of Doneraile Court and Park, there was one man they turned to for advice on the direction they should take.

There is perhaps no-one alive more qualified to offer them help than Arthur Montgomery, who for almost 20-years was the curator at Doneraile Court under the auspices of the Irish Georgian Society. Born in England, Arthur moved to Mallow in 1955 and instantly fell under the spell of Doneraile Park and its stately pile. 

"My mother was great friends with Lady Doneraile and I just adored the house. I used to cycle from Mallow down to the Park to look for the deer and then go for a cup of tea and a chat with Lady Doneraile. This was also my chance to look around the house and the wonderful items within it," said Arthur. 

He explained that after Doneraile Park was sold to the Land Commission in 1969, the house came within a hairs breadth of walled up and forgotten. 

"They handed it over to the Forestry Commission, who kept  the 400-acre Park that we have today, while the remaining 200-acres outside the Park was set aside for commercial use. It was a good split that made sense," said Arthur.

While he said the House still acted as a magnet for visitors, slates began falling from the roof raising fears of an accident. The idea was subsequently mooted that the roof be removed, the doors and windows cemented up and the House passed onto the Monuments Commission, effectively consigning it to history. 

"We were really lucky this did not happen, because there are very few houses like this left that have 400-acres of land surrounding it. The house really is the jewel in the crown of the Park and while this was one of many close shaves it has had over the years, thankfully it is still there today," said Arthur. 

In 1976 the Irish Georgian Society came on board and funded a team who for the following 16-years worked to preserve the House. They opened it to the public by appointment and even manage to open a modest tea room in the building. 

Arthur, who took up the position of caretaker in 1979, said that were it not for the involvement of the Irish Georgian Society the House would, most likely' not survived.

"Absolutely, it would not have been saved. It is as simple as that," he said. 

When he left to work at Clonmeen House in Banteer in 1999, Arthur was not replaced and the House was essentially locked up again and the Park foreman charged with keeping it secure. 

Given his long association with Doneraile Park, and in particular his deep emotional attachment to the House, Arthur was the obvious choice as an advisor to the OPW and he was only took happy to be asked to take on the role. 

"There was an exciting strategic plan proposed by Duchas for Doneraile Park a number of years ago but that was called off, probably due to finances. We have been waiting and waiting for something else to happen since, so what is happening now and will happen in the future is tremendously exciting," said Arthur. 

"I am delighted and deeply honoured to be able to play a role in that. Doneraile Park and Court have a magic of their own that is hard to explain. I think it is just wonderful that so many locals have become involved in the project. There is no doubt but these are exciting times for Doneraile Park and indeed the whole area," he added.