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Thursday 14 November 2019

Thady -- a giant of a man in his small body

Myles McWeeney

He may have been a member of the Irish aristocracy, used to mixing with the great and the good, but Lord Thady Dunraven, who died last weekend, was held in high esteem by people of all stations in life and, particularly, delighted in the nickname bestowed on him by the locals in his home village of Adare, 'Lordy'.

He counted among his friends many leading actors such as the late Peter Ustinov and Jeremy Irons, but was equally comfortable with people from the horse racing and greyhound industries and the fishermen in Derrynane in Co Kerry, where he had a holiday home.

His lifelong friend Benjamin Jellett said at his funeral service in Adare's St Nicholas Church on Wednesday that "There was no upstairs, downstairs, there was only downstairs. He loved to get Bill Healy to take him out on his boat to pull up a lobster pot, or talking to trainer Tom O'Connor about the price of greyhounds.

"That was what it was all about to Thady -- the stripping back of the minutiae of everyday life and its complications, and boy did life throw some complications, at Thady, seeing life's simple purity and grinning at the discovery." He was referring to the fact Thady contracted polio aged 15 and was confined to a wheelchair for life.

He had a great love for Irish music too, and back in the 1970s he and his wife Lady Geraldine hosted a series of television recordings at Adare Manor featuring singer and harpist Mary O'Hara and presented by Donnacha O'Dulaing.

Thady Wyndham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the 7th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, is the last of his colourful line. Because he had no male issue the Earldom and all his other titles have become extinct.

His was part of one of those rare families of true Gaelic origin in the Irish peerage, a family founded by Thady Quin, who was born in 1645 and settled in Adare, Co Limerick. His grandson, Valentine Quin, laid the foundations of Adare Castle by the River Maigue between 1720 and 1730.

Edwin, the 3rd Earl of Dunraven, designed the magnificent gardens that surround Adare Manor, and he was also a prominent archaeologist and was one of the founders of the Irish Archaeological Society.

He was also a believer in spiritualism, and on the basis of observations made by his son during seances in London (conducted by the noted spiritualist Daniel Douglas Home, who was said to be able to levitate) wrote widely on the subject. He was, unusually for someone of his class, a zealous Catholic and, by all accounts, a highly popular landlord.

His son, the 4th Earl and Thady Quin's great-grandfather, was a fascinating character. He was a soldier, a war correspondent, a politician, a sailor and a big game hunter.

In 1872, he travelled to the then remote Colorado to hunt, guided by none other than one William H Cody, who became famous as Buffalo Bill, scout and showman.

In 1875, he bought 6,000 acres there and built a huge hunting lodge in Colorado's Estes Valley where he entertained the quality in a lavish manner. Today, people still search for a legendary cache of expensive Irish whiskey the earl is said to have buried there.

Born in 1940, Thady Quin was educated at Ludgrove School, a prep school in Berkshire which counts amongst its former pupils princes William and Harry, as well as former Conservative prime minister Alec Douglas-Home. From there he went on to the Institut le Rosey in Switzerland, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world with seven monarchs included in its alumni.

It was here that he contracted polio at the age of 15, and after completing his schooling he returned to Adare in a wheelchair.

Jimmy Byrne, acting chief executive of the Irish Wheelchair Association, has very fond memories of Lord Dunraven. "He was a very practical man who always admitted he came from a privileged background and could afford all the aids, both personal and mechanical, that made his life easier.

"He had the first power chair I ever saw, and delighted in showing off all its bells and whistles."

"He always felt that for people with disabilities social inclusion was hugely important. When he came back to Ireland from Switzerland he was puzzled as to where all the other people in wheelchairs were. When he made enquiries, he started to visit disabled people in their homes and discovered that they seldom got out because there were so many barriers.

"This was the start of his lifelong commitment to the Irish Wheelchair Association, of which he was a tireless advocate and president for over 20 years."

In 1987, Lord Dunraven sold Adare Manor and its contents for a reputed £2m to Irish-American businessman and former US Navy fighter pilot Tom Kane.

"My wife Judy and I are very sad at Thady's passing," Mr Kane said this week. "I was in Adare on Sunday and visited with Geraldine. I was in tears at the casket.

"He was an inspiration to me. When you realise how much he had to bear in life it put your own troubles into perspective. Thady Dunraven was a giant of a man in his own small body. We will miss him."

Thady Quin, 7th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, was born on October 27, 1939, died March 25, 2011. He is survived by his wife Lady Geraldine, daughter lady Ana Johnson and his sisters Melissa and Caroline.

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