Irish lecture and banquet at Castletown

Another roller coaster week as I pull together the strands of my ‘servants’ book research which will interest the annual Irish historic houses conference at National University of Ireland in Maynooth. On Tuesday, en route to the London Library, I slip into Christies to see the sale of some of the finest furniture and paintings in the collection of the late Simon Sainsbury, a great connoisseur.

There were so many things of unbelievable quality and beauty, that must have looked so well in the lovely early Georgian house in Sussex were he lived (which I once glimpsed from the road), from the simply amazing Chinoiserie Kenure cabinet by Chippendale to paintings by Stanley Spencer. I particularly liked a very fine conversation piece family group by Arthur Devis, with a Palladian interior, a finely dressed family, with a view of a canal and a temple through the window, a tea service out, and a servant glimpsed through the door carrying the tea up the stairs, all in excellent detail.

At the end of the week to Ireland, everything delayed but managed to get lots of work done! Arrive very late to stay with old friends, who still have food and wine ready, (go to sleep reading the oddly enjoyable Towers of Trebizond). Off early to deliver lecture, which seems to go down reasonably well; lots of fun people there, including Dr Terence Dooley who runs the course and conference, Christopher Ridgway, the archivist from Castle Howard, Jeremy Williams the architect, Anne Hamilton from lovely Hamwood, one of the most charming smaller Georgian country houses, in nearby Co Meath, James Manningham-Buller from Co Down, as well as a number of enthusiastic young Irish Georgians, all recovering from celebrating 50 years.

It’s a great gathering and I learn a lot from other people there; the chapel at Maynooth is by Pugin, is also truly wonderful. The evening banquet is at Castletown, one of the greatest 18th century country houses of Ireland, saved from destruction by one of my great heroes, Desmond Guinness and the Irish Georgians, now celebrating their 50 years anniversary, the house is now in the care of the state; so very handsome, champagne in the saloon and the meal in the main hall. It’s a treat to be back in Ireland.

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