Spirit of the house
BOOKS: Luggala, the Guinness’s fairytale house on the shores of Lough Tay, has drawn the great and the good under its spell for generations, creating memories that only add to its allure, writes ROBERT O’BYRNE
INSIDE A LARGE mahogany bureau they lie stacked: vast leather-bound volumes of photographs, the cover of each carrying their former owner’s initials in tooled gold. Open one at random and enter another realm. Here, from November 1933, is a page of pictures showing actor Douglas Fairbanks larking about on the shores of the lake. His wife Mary Pickford isn’t with him, he is in the company of Lord Ashley, heir to the Earl of Shaftesbury, and his wife Sylvia. A former lingerie model, she is in the throes of an affair with Fairbanks and will later marry him. Later still, she becomes the wife of Clark Gable.
Another volume, another page of photographs. Dated June 1937, this one shows bohemian actress and poet Iris Tree, daughter of Edwardian actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, standing in front of the house. With Iris is her then-husband, Austrian Baron Friedrich von Ledebur-Wicheln, as well as her former spouse, American photographer and society portraitist Curtis Moffat. Also seen in the picture is amateur painter Richard “Dirty Dick” Wyndham, otherwise known as ‘Whips’ because, literary critic Cyril Connolly subsequently told his daughter Joan Wyndham, he had been “one of Europe’s great flagellists”. His long-deceased uncle George Wyndham (rumoured to have died in a Paris brothel) was former Chief Secretary for Ireland and the man responsible for introducing legislation in 1903 that led to the dissolution of the old Irish estates.
A third album, pulled at random from those in the pile. Now it is Christmas 1958 and here is Cyril Connolly himself, with his former wife Barbara Skelton, one-time mistress of King Farouk of Egypt and the most infamous femme fatale of her generation. When Connolly and Skelton divorced in 1956, publisher George Weidenfeld was cited as co-respondent; when Weidenfeld and Skelton in turn divorced in 1961, it was Connolly’s turn to be cited.
Here too is Brendan Behan, looking as though he has enjoyed dinner rather too well (a certain amount of it visible on the front of his clothing) and now asleep in an armchair, although later he will dash about the house looking for drink, fall down a flight of stairs and acquire a nasty gash on his head before being tenderly placed in a Rolls-Royce with his wife and driven back to Dublin.
One last album, a further decade and a new generation. There are pages of photographs covering a 21st birthday party held in March 1966 and featuring lots of familiar faces including those of the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, the latter’s then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, John Paul Getty and his future wife Talitha Pol, along with other members of the fashionable London scene: designer Bill Willis, antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs, photographer Christopher Booker and decorator David Mlinaric. Here they are lounging about in the drawing room or energetically dancing in a marquee to the sounds of American band The Lovin’ Spoonful, whose hits that year include Daydream and Summer in the City. And so it goes on, quantities of photograph albums chronicling lunches and dinners and weekend house parties.