Spirit of the house
Enticed into “Oonaghland”, visitors invariably found it hard to leave. Diarist Frances Partridge came to stay in the early 1950s and afterwards recorded: “What a magical atmosphere that house had, charmingly furnished and decorated to match its style: dim lights, soft music playing and Irish voices ministering seductively to our needs.”
Sixty years later, author and critic Francis Wyndham (younger brother of Richard “Dirty Dick” Wyndham) remembers Luggala as being “the most romantic place I’ve ever known”, and recalls “that sparkling little jewel of a house with the black lake before it”.
There was always an abundance of good food, good drink and good talk, the first two provided by Oonagh, the last by her guests whose presence she caught for posterity in her innumerable photograph albums.
Eventually she passed the baton of responsibility for Luggala to her son the Hon Garech Browne. Renowned for founding Claddagh Records, Garech has also continued to burnish Luggala’s reputation as a place of outstanding hospitality and a crucible of creativity. Like his mother, he knows how to cast a spell.
Garech, says U2’s Bono, “is different, a true bohemian. He dresses like a remnant of a more romantic time in our country . . . ” Marianne Faithfull, another habitué of the house, remarks of Garech, “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite so distinct. It comes out in every way: in his homes, his friends, his love of musicians.” Above all it comes out in his presence at Luggala, a place now seemingly impossible to imagine without him.
Thanks to his constant and ongoing ministrations, Luggala today looks as enchanting as it did when first built by Peter La Touche. But after more than two centuries the house is now a repository of memories, accumulated while acting as a magnet to its innumerable admirers and preserved in those photograph albums and visitors’ books. To pass through the gates of Luggala is to enter another world. “The minute you start going down,” says Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, “you do cross a line into a slight otherwhere. And when the house appears, there’s a sense of destination.”
That destination leaves a mark on everyone who has spent any time there. John Hurt, familiar with the house for almost 50 years, speaks for a great many people, present and past, when he commented “I’m not important to Luggala, but Luggala’s important to me”.
Luggala Days: The Story of a Guinness House by Robert O’Byrne is published by Cico Books (£35)