Brewing heiress who helped establish TCD institute in father’s memory
Grania Guinness obituary: Born April 14th, 1920 – died January 15th, 2018
Grania Guinness became a Catholic in her 80s and wrote an account of the martyrdom of Fr Nicholas Postgate.
Grania Guinness, the Dowager Marchioness of Normanby, who has died aged 97 at her Yorkshire home, was the benefactrice of the Moyne Institute for Preventative Medicine in Trinity College Dublin over seven decades, funding its initial construction and subsequent renovations in memory of her murdered father.
She was the last of her generation of grandchildren of the first earl of Iveagh who brought the Guinnesses into the British aristocracy and made them one of the wealthiest families in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century.
Born in London in 1920, Grania Maeve Rosaura was the third child and only daughter of Walter Guinness and his wife Evelyn Erskine. She spent parts of her childhood at the family’s Irish home, Knockmaroon, beside the Phoenix Park at Chapelizod in Dublin, but grew up mainly on the family’s estate in Sussex and in London.
As a daughter of the politician-cum-adventurer Walter and the somewhat eccentric Evelyn, she received little formal schooling and liked to say she had never sat an exam. Her ambition was to be a ballerina and she put all her efforts into studying under a Russian balletmaster but was thwarted in her teens when she grew too tall.
The second World War years were a pivotal time for her, firstly with the death of her mother in 1940. She joined the British women’s auxiliary air force and was a section officer involved in the analysis of aerial reconnaissance photographs of German military and industrial sites.
In 1944, the traumatic event, which her son said in a eulogy at her funeral affected her for the rest of her life, occurred in Cairo where her father was assassinated by Zionists.
Walter, then Lord Moyne, was the British government’s wartime representative in the Middle East and he and his driver were shot dead by members of Lehi, better known in Britain as the Stern Gang, in protest at Britain’s efforts to curb Jewish immigration to Palestine. The killers were caught, tried and hanged: their remains were returned to Israel in 1975 where they received a state funeral and stamps were issued in their honour.
Grania offered to fund a building for the department of bacteriology in Trinity in memory of her father. The foundation stone for the Moyne Institute was laid at the Lincoln Place corner of College Park in 1950. The building was designed by Desmond FitzGerald, then the professor of architecture in UCD and architect of the original Dublin Airport terminal.
The day the building was unveiled in 1953, she was conferred with an honorary degree by the chancellor of the university, her uncle Rupert, the second earl of Iveagh.
Maintaining the longstanding Guinness association with Trinity, Grania went on to contribute funds to extend and renovate the Moyne Institute in every decade since, most recently in 2012. She was pro-chancellor of the university from 1985 to 1995.
In 1951 she married Oswald Phibbs, the Marquess of Normanby, a large landowner in Yorkshire and a philanthropist associated mainly with the blind. Wounded and captured at Dunkirk, Oswald devised a makeshift system for teaching braille to blinded prisoners of war before they were repatriated through neutral Sweden in 1943.
The couple lived at Mulgrave Castle, near Whitby in Yorkshire, which has been in the Phibbs family since 1718. Grania preferred country life to city living and developed a number of local ventures, including an award-winning museum about the 18th century explorer, Captain James Cook, in the house in Whitby where he had lodged as an apprentice seaman. In 2000, she received an OBE for her many charitable works and donations.
Brought up as an Anglican, she became a Catholic in her 80s and wrote an account of the martyrdom of Fr Nicholas Postgate, an elderly Yorkshire priest hanged during the 17th century ‘Popish Plot’ and who was among 85 English Catholic martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
Grania and Oswald, who predeceased her in 1994, had five daughters and two sons, including the current marquess, Constantine Phibbs, who all survive her along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.