The Ir­ish party house of art and rock’n’roll

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous Freud in the flesh, one would need to ven­ture to the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, where, in Room 31, hangs a por­trait of Lady Caro­line Black­wood, Browne’s cousin. The pic­ture’s ar­rival has sent goose­bumps around Sotheby’s. “When you have col­leagues com­ing up to you be­cause they haven’t seen any­thing like it, then you know it’s spe­cial.”

Lug­gala, where Freud worked his magic, was a Guin­ness house from 1912, when it was let to Arthur Ernest Guin­ness, sec­ond son of Ed­ward Guin- ness, 1st Earl of Iveagh. His three daugh­ters, Aileen, Mau­reen, and Oon­agh, were known by some as the “Golden Guin­ness Girls”, who used Lug­gala as some­thing of a party house. In 1925, the poet Brian Howard was in­vited to stay. He de­scribed it as “the most beau­ti­ful place I’ve ever seen. A tiny lit­tle house on the edge of a great lake with huge feath­ery moun­tains tow­er­ing all around.”

The house it­self – mod­est, with seven bed­rooms, a hunt­ing lodge more than a stately home – is un­usual in ap­pear­ance. It was de­scribed in 1965 by the 29th Knight of Glin as an ex­am­ple of “that spe­cial brand of 18th­cen­tury goth­ick that re­joices in lit­tle bat­tle­ments, crock­ets… and ogee man­tel­pieces… the goth­ick of pas­try cooks and Rock­ing­ham china.” As Robert O’Byrne, au­thor of Lug­gala Days, notes, this style in Eng­land “came to be called Straw­berry Hill Gothic, af­ter Straw­berry Hill, the Twick­en­ham villa built by Ho­race Walpole”.

In 1937, the Guin­nesses bought Lug­gala out­right, and later Oon­agh in­her­ited it. Af­ter her fa­ther’s death in 1949 and two di­vorces Oon­agh was, for the first time, an in­de­pen­dent woman. She made Lug­gala the cen­tre of her world, draw­ing Ir­ish so­ci­ety fig­ures, writ­ers, artists and politi­cians into its fold. The 2nd Earl of Gowrie, a for­mer Sotheby’s chair­man, was one such guest, in Au­gust 1962. “I hid out there for about a fort­night with Oon­agh, Caro­line Black­wood [Oon­agh’s niece] and the painter Michael Wishart,” he says. “The drink­ing started about 10am, and went on un­til 11pm.”

Lord Gowrie was not alone in sign­ing Oon­agh’s packed vis­i­tors’ book. The politi­cian Woodrow Wy­att spent a week there in De­cem­ber 1957; the fol­low­ing Christ­mas, so too did the writer Cyril Con­nolly. The ac­tress An­jel­ica Hus­ton and her par­ents John and Ricki were fre­quent guests, as was Patrick Cock­burn, the veteran for­eign cor­re­spon­dent, whose par­ents were friends of Oon­agh’s.

He re­mem­bers Lug­gala well. “The house looked like a white Christ­mas cake at the end of the val­ley – there were tall trees be­fore you got to it, and then this lake with sil­very sand and brown wa­ter. You got the same wa­ter in the house, so the bath wa­ter was brown.” It was a place of ex­cess: “There were bot­tles of Malvern wa­ter in the bed­rooms. Given that Ire­land is not un­sup­plied with wa­ter, I thought that was an in­cred­i­ble ex­am­ple of lux­ury.”

And then there was Freud. He first stayed at Lug­gala in 1948 with his first wife, Kitty. When he mar­ried Lady Caro­line Black­wood in 1953, the pair be­came fre­quent guests, and it was in the Fifties that Freud met Browne. “They had this syn­ergy be­tween them, this bo­hemian out­look on life,” adds Sotheby’s Ed­di­son.

Freud’s fin­ished pic­ture of Browne hung at Lug­gala for Browne’s whole life; in 1970 he be­came a cus­to­dian of the prop­erty, con­tin­u­ing its legacy as a hub of cre­atives. It was used to film scenes in the films Brave­heart and Ex­cal­ibur, hosted par­ties with bands such as the Rolling Stones, and in 2006, Michael Jack­son rented it out. Bono, the lead singer of U2, de­scribed the home as an “in­spi­ra­tion”.

In the year since Browne’s death, there has been dis­cus­sion about what should be done with Lug­gala. The house and 5,000-acre es­tate are on the mar­ket with Sotheby’s In­ter­na­tional Realty for €28mil­lion (£24mil­lion), and it can be rented for €20,000 a week.

There have been calls in Ire­land for the state to buy the house to save it for her­itage, al­though min­is­ter of state Michael Ring said the coun­try “doesn’t have that kind of money”.

When Head of a Boy sells on Tues­day, it is not just the pic­ture that the buyer will take home, but a snip­pet of sto­ried fam­ily his­tory – a piece of Lug­gala, the great Guin­ness party house.

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