Irish Georgian Society

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The vision of the Irish Georgian Society is to conserve, protect and foster a keen interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. These aims are achieved through its scholarly and conservation education programmes, through its support of conservation projects and planning issues, and vitally, through its members and their activities.

Remembering Desmond Guinness (1931-2020): Desmond Guinness and the London Chapter


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Desmond Guinness and friends at a 18th-century fancy dress party at Chandos House, London in 1977

Catapulted into the IGS’s London Chapter in 1974 by becoming a member of its Committee without yet being a member of the society, I met Desmond Guinness and soon recognised his kindness and warmth. The IGS London was in its infancy, but had started organising events, of which little information survives, for its 190 UK members. We benefitted from Desmond using his enthusiasm and charm on contacts, and taking part when possible. He certainly attended the first ‘dressing-up’ event that the Chapter, under Nick Thompson, organised — the 1977 Georgian party at the Royal Society of Medicine’s Chandos House, Queen Anne Street, designed by Robert Adam around 1770.

In 1980, Desmond and Penny moved to the Cotswolds in England, and in 1982 organised a weekend tour including a visit to Daylesford House, then owned by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. This was the start of a very significant time for us, although records of events and other activities are rather sketchy. Never a committee member himself, Desmond inspired our members and opened doors that were otherwise closed. He also encouraged his wide circle of glamorous friends to support events and join in the fun by working his magic to charm potential and already charmed hosts and members. Desmond and Penny moved to London near the Kings Road, a key location being near to both the Chelsea Arts Club, of which he was a member, and the Irish Club in Eaton Square where the London lectures were held. Parties in the Arts Club welcomed new members, and Nick Thompson recalls him as ‘an ornament to the Chapter, as well as an inspiration… in its Golden Age’. Friends were inveigled into opening their doors to the Chapter — one Persian-Irish couple owned a house in Mallord Street, its previous owners had been Augustus John and then Gracie Fields. Thanks to Desmond, a wonderfully exotic evening was spent lolling on ottomans and eating Persian delicacies, accompanied by the music of The Chieftains. David Mlinaric, a very close friend, was another who caved-in to visitations.

Desmond persuaded his father, Lord Moyne, to allow the Chapter to visit Biddesden in Hampshire, [an unforgettable tour by torch-light] and to be received by his aunt ‘Debo’, the Duchess of Devonshire, at Chatsworth. His friendship with John Paul Getty Jr resulted in playing the Georgian Group twice at cricket according to the 1744 rules on his private cricket ground at Wormsley [near High Wycombe], Desmond provided replica 18th century bats and organised the IGS team — sadly beaten soundly — while members enjoyed a stunning picnic lunch! We also visited Getty’s private house in Cheyne Walk where Rossetti had once lived. The extraordinarily wealthy Edward James was another great friend and he often lived at Leixlip in the years before his death in 1984. We visited both of James’s houses — West Dean itself [where Desmond gave a brilliant talk about his friend], and Monkton, a house on the estate designed for his mother in 1902 by Lutyens and that James had surreal-ised in the 1930s.

Chapter lectures during those years attracted large numbers of London members and other devotees. Desmond said modestly that he had only one lecture, with several titles. He spoke brilliantly on Castletown and the work of the Society, and once about the White House, having managed to commandeer the US Embassy as the venue, complete with drinks!

The London Chapter gave a number of fund-raising parties, often in costume. Desmond always loved such events. Fascinated by Carlos de Bestegui’s famous Bal Oriental of 1951 at the Palazzo Labia in Venice, he gave a lecture about it to the Chapter, with members of his family [including grand-daughter Jasmine] dressed in the harlequin costumes worn by the acrobats who’d entertained Bestequi’s guests. He supported the Ruby Ball of 1998 for the IGS’s 40th anniversary, and the Emerald and Gold Ball for its 50th in 2008. Many of Desmond’s wealthy and famous friends attended in 2008 through their loyalty to him and, by association, the work of the Society.

The Chapter has always adhered to Desmond’s serious agenda: to educate, and to support conservation projects in Ireland. Castletown, Ledwithstown, and Headfort are three of many beneficiaries. His work and example will continue to inspire London as it supports the Society’s work by providing its Conservation Grants Scheme with €330,000 since 2014 to help fund about 70 projects.

John R Redmill, Patron, IGS London. This was originally featured in the Irish Georgian Society Review (2020).

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Remembering Desmond Guinness (1931-2020): 'At the Castle Coalface'


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Desmond with JP Donleavy at the Castletown IGS annual cricket match, c. 1980s (Photo: Christopher Moore)

Frank Sinatra (who I never met) was always known as Mr Blue Eyes, but my first introduction to Mr Irish Blue Eyes was in 1973 when I was looking for a job and heard that Desmond Guinness was seeking a secretary. So I found myself invited over to Leixlip Castle to meet him one evening and without much ado he asked when could I start. I explained that I was just about to go on a trip to Kenya with my mother and brother so I wouldn’t be available immediately. When I started about a month later, Desmond handed me the final draft of the manuscript for “Lost Demesnes” by the Knight of Glin and Edward Malins to re-type (on an electric typewriter) as he was about to go off on a lecture tour in America and he thought this might keep me busy for the duration — how right he was!

There were no computers in those days and the finished copy had to be perfect. He went to the United States once or twice a year and was in constant demand to undertake lecture tours there, in England and elsewhere, promoting the Irish Georgian Society which he had co-founded with his wife Mariga in 1958. These were fundraising tours and were very important as such. One never knew what would happen next when working for Desmond. There were endless visitors from all over the place including a lot of tour groups, mostly Americans, who always exclaimed on how green the grass was in Ireland! During the summer we might host three lunches or dinners a week in the Castle. Desmond was incredibly polite and friendly to everybody and always made them feel at home in Leixlip even if he did gently glide from one group to another leaving each engrossed in their conversation!

He was generous too and once sent me off on a holiday when asked by a French couple (Bernard & Nicole de Claviere) who were renting an apartment at Castletown and had asked Desmond if he knew anyone who might like to accompany Nicole in their car back to France, he said “Audrey needs a holiday, I’m sure she’d love to go” — so I did. Some 47 years later I was still going to Leixlip up to the time of his death in August to do a variety of administrative duties! Over that long period of time I found it very easy to work with Desmond and he was very supportive of any initiatives I might propose: The Delany and Dixon tablemats were a prime example and are still being eagerly bought. He enthusiastically threw himself into projects and often got involved at the initial stage — I remember him overnighting in Co. Tipperary as he led a group of young volunteers to work on the Shanahan Mausoleum. In latter years I felt a great sadness going to the Castle as Desmond’s memory was fading as he slipped away from all of us. Desmond Guinness gave his life to conservation and the current level of appreciation of Georgian architecture in Ireland is due entirely to his pioneering spirit.

Audrey Emerson worked from 1973 at Lexlip Castle with Desmond Guinness and the Irish Georgian Society. This was originally featured in the Irish Georgian Society Review (2020).

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IGS submission RE: proposed development at the site of former Blarney Park Hotel, St Anns Road Monacnapa, Blarney, Co. Cork


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The IGS has objected to a further development that would have a significant adverse effect on character and setting of Blarney Castle & Gardens and of Blarney town, an important historic planned industrial settlement. Lying just to the north of the castle and next to the town, the planning application proposes the development of an 80-bedroom hotel with 74 parking spaces, a supermarket with 88 parking spaces, a café/coffee shop, an office building, a commercial building, and 70 residential units, all ranging in height from between two and four storeys.

Blarney has been a major centre for tourists for the last 200 years and could be regarded as being of international significance. Given its prominence, it serves as an important shop window for the region and so it is essential that any new developments are carefully planned and designed. In its submission, the IGS stated its view that the planning application would undermine the special interest of Blarney and so run contrary to the provisions of both the Cork County Development Plan 2014, and the Blarney Macroom Municipal District Local Area Plan, 2017.

Read the full submission here.

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Financial Assistance for Architectural Heritage in 2021


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Working on restoring Maudlin's Pyramids, Naas, Co. Kildare (2020)

Details of the Built Heritage Investment Scheme 2021 and the Historic Structures Fund 2021 have been announced. A total of €6m is being made available with €3m allocated to the Built Heritage Investment Scheme, and €3m allocated to the Historic Structures Fund.

Both schemes represent a significant boost to the preservation of Ireland’s unique built heritage and will support owners of protected structures in every local authority area across the country. The Built Heritage Investment Scheme and Historic Structures Fund will assist hundreds of small-scale, labour-intensive projects as well as large-scale projects to conserve, repair and safeguard our historic built environment. The projects will give significant support to jobs in conservation, construction and traditional skills, providing a boost to local economies during these particularly challenging times. It is expected that the schemes will create over 30,000 days of employment.

The Historic Structures Fund 2021 includes two new pilot schemes. The vernacular scheme will support the conservation and repair of the traditional buildings that are a significant part of our intangible cultural heritage. Historic shopfronts have always been eligible to apply for funding under either scheme but, to incentivise such applications in 2021, each local authority will be allowed to shortlist an additional project where that project concerns the conservation and repair of a historic shopfront, its glazing or signage.

The deadline for applications for both schemes is 29 January 2021.

For more information on these schemes see:

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IGS submission to Cork City Council on the demolition of the greater part of the Revenue Building, Cork


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The Irish Georgian Society has appealed a decision by Cork City Council to grant permission for the demolition of the greater part of the Revenue Building, Cork, a protected structure, and the construction in its place of a 34-storey hotel and office tower. This proposal does not comply with the provisions of the city development plan and the relevant local area plan, runs contrary to good conservation practice, and would set a very worrying precedent for the future protection of our built heritage.

Read the full IGS submission here.

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IGS planning submission: Monalty House, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan


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Monalty House is situated in a drumlin landscape next to the N2 roadway and to the south of Monalty Lough, a proposed Natural Heritage Area. It was built c. 1770 by the Bath estate, is set overlooking a parkland and is approached by a tree lined avenue. A road widening proposal by Monaghan County Council threatens to significantly encroach on the demesne and parklands of this protected structure which is described by Kevin Mulligan as being “studiously proportioned” with an “attractive central limestone doorcase with engaged Tuscan columns” and a Doric frieze surmounted by a webbed fanlight (Buildings of Ireland – South Ulster, Yale, 2013).

In a submission to the Council, the IGS has contended that as a protected structure, Monalty House, its curtilage and attendant grounds should be protected from inappropriate development and noted that the Monaghan County Development Plan aims “to resist any development which is likely to impact on the building’s special interest and/ or any views of such buildings and their setting” (BHP 6).

The full text of the submission is available here.

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