INTERVIEW:Selina Guinness grew up with the name, but not the fortunes associated with the brewing dynasty. Yet she turned down a huge cash offer for fields at her home, Tibradden House. KATHY SHERIDANmeets a guardian of the land
RUSH HOUR IS in full spate. As streams of cars and SUVs lurch along the damp, suburban roads and roundabouts of south county Dublin, the directions to Tibradden House seem implausibly rural. Yet, a couple of minutes later, we are climbing Mutton Lane, past the gate lodge and up an avenue into the same misty, mountainy landscape that Thomas Hosea Guinness would have surveyed when he married into Mary Davis’s money more than 150 years ago.
Great swathes of majestic trees, planted by Thomas to please his bride, still crown the stream that runs down the hill and through the fields of St Thomas, a sister farm of Tibradden sold in the 1970s to Major McDowell, a former chairman of The Irish Times, to pay the rates.
The Belfield water tower and RTÉ television mast are clearly visible. Just seven miles from Dublin city centre and a few minutes from the M50, sheep safely graze in Tibradden’s tranquil, jewel-green fields. To property developers, it must have twinkled like a fabulous, unopened Christmas present. In 2004, Selina Guinness, Thomas Hosea’s great-great-granddaughter, was already noting the daily zigzag of their helicopters across the Kilmashogue valley, surveying the land.
Two years later, she records in her soon-to-be-released book, Bernard McNamara’s emissaries were offering so much money for 20 acres, that “we could renovate and extend the lodge, handsomely renovate the main house, restore the gardens and still have enough money left over to be financially secure for the rest of our lives. We would be rich.”
Though not remotely precious, it is with reluctance that she names the offer at “over a quarter of a million an acre”, totalling well over €5m for 20 acres. The extent of the riches laid temptingly before her are as authentic a thread of Tibradden’s history as the grouse-shooting, semi-feudal, rebel-chasing habits of her ancestors. The interwoven tragedy of the Kirwan family, long-time stewards and occupiers of the gate lodge, would bring its own financial pressures, not to mention the voracious, money-pit of Tibradden with its leaking roof, flaking walls, exploding boilers, episodic electricity and unheated expanses.
There were no Guinness millions to call on. The original brewer’s eldest son, the Rev Hosea spawned a line of respectable, upper-middle-class solicitors and clergymen, from which she springs. The nearest Guinness relative is about a fifth cousin, she says, adding that she met Marina and Patrick Guinness for the first time recently, at his book launch.
She is clear about who and what she is: a PAYE worker lecturing at the Institute of Art, Design Technology, the daughter of a solicitor, reared in The Coppins in Foxrock, sent to national school in Deansgrange, who played on the greens with her friends and went to Tibradden for Sunday lunch – a house for which she makes no great claims. “It’s not Castletown House . . . more of a rectory,” she says, albeit one with marble pillars in the hall, splendid plasterwork and dusty portraits.