The Pollocks + Mountainstown House Meath

Unbright Light

Mountainstownhouse Navan © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s a doll’s house on steroids. Toy peacocks guard it. So pretty. John O’Connell, RIAI accredited Conservation Practice Grade I architect and founder of John J O’Connell Architects established 1978, calls Mountainstown House, “A baroque box due to the use of the giant order. And this recalls not only Castle Durrow, County Laois, but refers back to the work of hero Michelangelo who used this device for the first time at The Capitol, Rome. The presence of the dormer windows is rare, as they were not used or decayed. It is also an essay in ‘duality resolved’, though there may have been remodelling when the house was fluently extended in the early 19th century.” John observes, “The design and the adornment of urns to the entrance door is very confident. The date is 1740, and I would say, not by Richard Castle.” Around the windows the house makes a solid frame.

Back in the days when Mountainstown was in the hands of Johnny and Diana Pollock, over supper in the kitchen Diana had said, “It wasn’t easy auctioning many of the contents of the house. But you can always buy back furniture and paintings in the future. Once you sell land it’s – well it’s gone. We kept the pieces with the closest links to the house.” Lot 1122: ‘A pair of composition urns, the vase shaped bodies with gadrooned socles and spreading fluted bases, on square plinths, £5 to £10.’ Lot 237: ‘An equestrian portrait of Mr Dixon, Master of the Meath Hounds, on his chestnut hunter with eight couples of hounds at heel, by Thomas Bretland, £20,000 to £30,000.’

Together the couple sunk the funds raised from Christie’s 1988 auction into restoring the house.They also let out Mountainstown as a film location. “The film September was set here,” she had recalled. “The house was filled with stars – among them Jacqueline Bisset, Virginia McKenna, Edward Fox and Michael York.” A generation and great recession later, one quarter of a millennium of Pollock ownership is coming to an end. Mountainstown was passed down to Arthur Pollock, Johnny and Diana’s elder son, in 2004. Arthur moved in with his wife Atalanta and their three children. They continued the restoration work, installing a new kitchen to the former billiard room wing and painting the staircase hall fawn. But now Mountainstown is for sale through Savills for almost £3 million.

Atty explains, “It was a huge decision and not one that came easily. But we don’t want the children to struggle to keep it, y’know. We want it to be enjoyed to the full by a new family. Somebody who would use all this amazing pasture – and permanent pasture, 120 acres of it. Someone who has an interest in horses. Maybe someone who likes hunting. I mean there are copious stables, a lovely yard.” She knows the history well: “Samuel Gibbons who built the house, after he died an impression was taken of his face and it was embossed onto the ceiling in the hall.” As for the wild boar image which appears throughout the interior, Atty comments, “The story is and it may – it may well be true, that the King of France was being charged by a wild boar that they were hunting and Lieutenant Pollock killed it with an arrow. So he was given a crest – the family crest. And the house has so much personality cause you see all over the house this motif of a wild boar recurring.”

Atalanta Pollock reminisces, “We’ve had really memorable parties here. We filled the house with people and friends. We’ve had lots of people to stay the night which makes for much better parties as we all know. And it’s been a fun place to live in, yeah. It’s been a lot of work but it’s been a lot of fun as well.” Hopefully Mountainstown will remain a private house whoever buys it. Surely Ireland has reached country house hotel saturation? That said, one country house hotel has never looked better. After languishing on the property market for several years, Castlebellingham finally sold for £1.25 million, a quarter of its 2008 asking price. The Corscadden family have since spent over £3 million on a convincing restoration.

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Origin Gallery Dublin + Noelle Campbell-Sharp

Change of Art

Noelle Campbell Sharp Eating a Godiva Chocolate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Several of her famous original social set including a former Taoiseach are dead but Noelle Campbell-Sharp is well and truly alive and kicking ass. The Charlie Haughey era is history but Noelle is the very present face of a successful Dublin art gallery and Kerry artists’ retreat. Today, that face is framed by green glasses and fiery red hair with a yellow flame curl. Just over 70 now, she still looks like Vivienne Westwood’s hotter sister. Noelle is getting ready for the next private view in her relocated Origin Gallery: “The key is attracting some of the brightest artists in the world.” Like its forerunner the gallery is in a Georgian townhouse. That’s where the similarity ends. The new gallery is… drummer boy roll for understatement… calmer. Wedgwood blue ceiling, navy carpets, white walls.

Origin Gallery Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

As for the original original Origin… ah, Noelle’s steamy love affair with Napoleon. Above the gallery, her library was a full blown homage to the homme. His heraldic birds and bees were sewn into the carpet and painted on the shutters while eagles balanced on the bookcase columns spreading their wings ever wider in a clockwise rhythm round the room. A double barrelled stripy fabric billowed from the ceiling like the sails of the French general’s ship. Among the miscellanea on display was an original drawing of the imperial arms of France. “What any French museum would give to get their hands on all this!” envied Karl Lagerfeld when he set eyes on the loot. A jib door in the trompe l’oeil wall led through to a bathroom decorated with the naughtiest mural in Dublin. It was enough to make sailors blush, although seemingly not the Napoleonic soldiers in action.

“I’ve fallen out with Napoleon. When I was a child I discovered tea chests in an attic brimming with his letters, jewels and toy soldiers. They sparked off my obsession. Actually I still sleep in an attic! I like to surround myself with antiquarian books. I can’t pass them by. WB Yeats, folklore, Empire period… maybe I am still just a bit in love…” Noelle is soldiering on with her autobiography. Five chapters completed so far. Counting Karl, Yves Saint Laurent and David Bailey among entries in her little black book; Robert Maxwell definitely not, he owed her £10 million before he toppled over portside; and with rock band manager, press baroness, socialite, arts patron and gallerist on her résumé, presumably there’s enough material for a few more chapters.

Noelle’s dashing. Tomorrow she’s off to Cill Rialaig, the deserted rural village she transformed into an artists’ retreat with the help of urbane architect Alfred Cochrane. “It’s on the last road in Ireland. New York is caviar compared to getting to Kerry!” That doesn’t stop artists coming from far and wide – Argentina, Italy, Russia and so on. “There’s a selection process,” Noelle reassures, “but really it’s down to whoever spins the best yarn.”

Origin Gallery Dublin Noelle Campbell Sharp © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Sweeneys + Castle Grove Ramelton

Weathering Well 

Castle Grove Ramelton © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Maidin mhaith. Tiree, Stornoway, Lerwick, Wick Automatic, Aberdeen, Leuchars, Boulmer, Bridlington, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic, Greenwich Light Vessel Automatic, St Catherine’s Point Automatic, Jersey, Channel Light Vessel Automatic, Scilly Automatic, Milford Haven, Aberporth, Valley, Liverpool Crosby, Valentia, Ronaldsway, Malin Head, Machrihanish Automatic. For the uninitiated that’s the pure poetry of Radio 4’s shipping forecast, a rhapsodic melodic episodic late night cruise circumnavigating the coastlines of the British Isles. Gotcha. The penultimate location, Malin Head, is the exposed most northerly point of Ireland teetering on the tip of the Innishowen Peninsula in view of the Aurora Borealis. The ultimate location in this neck of the island is Castle Grove. Unlike windswept Malin Head, next stop Iceland, this timid estate lies huddled off the Wild Atlantic Way in the sheltered mid southwest wiggle of Lough Swilly, the waterspace separating the peninsula from the mainland.

Castle Grove Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A mile long drive sweeps through 350 acres of bucolic parkland as composed as a Derek Hill landscape; a wave of anticipation rises, then behold, a house kinda four square, an abiding place of great and unsearchable things. Like two faced Clandeboye, the principal elevations stand proud at right angles to one another. Face to avenue, face to sea. Castle Grove isn’t like Edward Lovett Pearce’s poppet of Palladian perfection Bellamont Forest, Ireland’s Mereworth (currently on the market for less than £1 million, 1,000 acres included, the price of a two bed flat in Battersea), designed to be seen from every angle including a drone. Nope, it’s country house front, farmhouse back. The four bay façade with central Tuscan porch qualifies Castle Grove as an older rural cousin of Belvedere House, Drumbo, a “middling sized house” splash in Charlie Brett’s Buildings of North Down. Precious cornerstones, sure foundations.

Castle Grove Lough Swilly © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Subsumed within its solid footprint dwells an older house dating back to 1730 and 1695. A radical makeover brought Castle Grove bang up to date for the swinging 1820s. As the Groves went up in the world, onward marching in the direction of the neoclassical vanguard, so did the height of their windows and ceilings. The resultant idiosyncrasies only add to the house’s charm. Four of the windows on the south facing entrance front are higher outside than in, highlighted when the shutters are pulled and a dark gap appears above them. A shuttered cupboard in the Samuel Beckett Room was once a window on the original east elevation. The shutters are set at a cute acute angle on one side of the dressing room (now en suite) windows of the replacement 1820s east elevation, maintaining symmetry. As do the two blind windows An antique porch astutely fills the vacancy of the central axis on the entrance front. A conservatory, the 19th century equivalent of today’s cinema room, was added to the side. Castle Grove now looks like “a beautiful Regency house” says leading heritage architect John O’Connell. It is a country house repurposed, just, as an airy hotel and restaurant. The eponymous erstwhile owners the Groves are long gone. The hospitable able hosts the Sweeneys are here to stay. Breezily braving the elements alone with nature – and paying guests.

Castle Grove Gate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tráthnóna maith. The eclipse has come and gone; spring equinox is here. Snowdrops have disappeared, daffodils are in full bloom, primroses on their way. It’s time to talk to Mary Sweeney, châtelaine of Castle Grove since 1989. She and her husband Raymond bought the house and estate from Commander Peter Colin Drummond Campbell and his wife Lady Moyra Kathleen Hamilton, the Duke of Abercorn’s sister. Commander C inherited it on the death of Major James Grove. Incidentally (there are always lots of incidents in life) Lady M was one of Queen Elizabeth II’s five Maids of Honour at her Coronation. “The land steward and housekeeper kept Castle Grove in good shape. For the first year we lived in the house and opened it as a B and B. We wanted to develop it but not spoil it. The house, it was a real challenge. We wanted to keep the characteristics, the symmetries. We again looked and looked at it. In the end we pushed the entire house back into part of the rear courtyard. The stable wing was already lofted so we retained its front and added a corridor behind linking it to the main house. We didn’t want guests having to go out in the rain. The bedrooms in this wing are just as big as those in the main house. We reroofed the conservatory. We never demolished a wall in the original house. Instead we adapted windows as doors or indoor mirrors. I feel a great obligation to maintain Castle Grove.” This is not Grand Designs or Changing Rooms. This is heritage. This is history. This is Hibernia.

Castle Grove Ramelton Pets Bruce and Dusty © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“When we applied for a dining room addition the planning officers wanted it to be a conservatory. But that part of the house faces northeast and rarely gets direct sunlight! It took a year to resolve, to get our sympathetically designed extension approved. We didn’t want the corner sticking out in views from the driveway so it’s chamfered. We turned the original sideboard recess into double doors under a fanlight. A local carpenter built the doors to match the 1820s double doors between the two main reception rooms. The fanlight is based on the one between the entrance and staircase halls. The original dining room is now the Red Drawing Room and next door is the Yellow Drawing Room. The marble fireplace in the new dining room is a replica from my old home. I jokingly asked Portadown Fireplaces if they could remake it based on a photo and sure enough they did!” The house is filled with modern Irish paintings. Appropriately there are seascapes and mountainscapes aplenty. “Buying paintings from young artists exhibiting their work on the railings of St Stephen’s Green in Dublin in summer stemmed our interest. Artists like Maurice Wilks, Liam Jones, Brendan Timmons. Derek Hill gave us his oil painting Donegal Late Harvest. Derek brought many guests here. Really such a humble man and so friendly.” The house is filled with antiques. “We have some stories to tell about auctions! Newark Antiques Fair is good. So is the Mill at Ballinderry. The bed in the George B Shaw Room came from Seventh Heaven outside Chester. The beds are unbelievable there! That bed was made for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. When we bought the four poster in the Jonathan Swift Room we used saddle soap and toothbrushes to carefully clean it before using French polish. Beds and food – they’re so important!” As for the chandeliers, Sia would swing from them.

Castle Grove Ramelton @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Saol maith. It’s time to talk to Mary’s daughter Irene who is managing reception (the former flower room). “The weather is unpredictable in Donegal or perhaps that should be predictable – it rains a fair bit! Donegal may be right off the Atlantic but we’re very inland here. The house has a warm, loving presence. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere. Whether this is us as a family, or the building, I’m not sure. The Groves were extremely good landlords, especially during the famine when they fed and educated local children in the long barn. Perhaps this generosity and goodwill has over the centuries seeped into the walls. There’s houses before you know the history, they’re chilling…”

Castle Grove Estate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Donegal © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Entrance Hall Cornice © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Yellow Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Yellow Drawing Room Cornice © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Chandelier © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Red Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Fireplace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Bed © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Castle Grove Stool © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Fenja, No. 69 Cadogan Gardens (not to be confused with No.11 Cadogan Gardens and not especially chilling) was a flouncy 1980s London hotel. Its 14 chintzy bedrooms were named after English artists and writers like JMW Turner, JS Sargent, Rossetti, Jane Austen. “Our main bedrooms are named after Irish writers including WB Yeats, James Joyce, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde. There are 15 in total, eight in the main house. The exception is the Daniel O’Connell Room. He actually stayed in the house. Daniel wrote back to the Groves after his visit, referring to his ‘answer to the Irish problem’. Mr Grove introduced him to the House of Lords. General Montgomery also stayed here. Mrs Grove invited him from Dublin to stay. We can accommodate 120 guests for a wedding in our Michelin recommended restaurant. Or 150 if the adjoining Red Drawing Room is used too. The bar was once a breakfast room and the TV room a library cum office. We still use the original kitchen. We grow organic vegetables, fruit and herbs in our four acre walled garden.” Here are some incidental stats. The George B Shaw Room measures 14 feet wide by 18 feet deep by 10 feet tall. The wall between the entrance hall and Yellow Drawing Room is 2.5 feet deep. The Yellow Drawing Room mantelpiece projects by a foot. The George B Shaw Room bed is seven feet wide (double queen size?). Then there’s the Yellow Drawing Room cornice. Why have one cornice when you can have five? Reeding, ribbons and garlands, egg and dart, Greek key, squiggle. Not so incidentally, Castle Grove is three miles from Ramelton, Ireland’s most beautiful Georgian town.

Castle Grove Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Irish economy has sailed through pretty choppy waters of late but at Castle Grove the outlook’s bright. Now for a Grove family tree, or perhaps that should be sapling. William Grove, High Sheriff of Donegal, built the 1730 house. His son Thomas was also High Sheriff but died heirless. William’s second son James married Rose Brook. William’s sister Dorothy Grove married John Wood of the 9th Light Dragoons in 1802. They lived in Castle Grove. Their son James Grove Wood was born a year after they married. He became High Sheriff and a barrister. James married Frances Montgomery of Convoy House which is 20 miles south of Castle Grove, close neighbours in gentry terms. The 1806 building accounts of Convoy House record estate leafage of 300 Alders, 200 Scotch Firs, 200 Beech, 300 Larch and 200 Ashes. Their daughter Dorothea Alice married Rev Charles Boyton of Derry in 1871. Dorothea Alice’s brother John Montgomery Charles was born in 1847. Yet another High Sheriff, he was land agent of Convoy House for three years starting in 1890. John married the daughter of Major General William Gabbett, East India Company’s Artillery. John and Lucy’s children included Lucy Dorothea and her older brother James Robert Wood Grove. He was born in 1888, joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1908 and served in the First World War. James married Eileen Edmonstone Kirk of Thornfield House, County Antrim. They were the last of the line to live at Castle Grove. Finally, some mouth watering early 19th century recipes from the Grove family archives. Lots of sic. Strangely, none of them are served anymore. Oíche mhaith. 

Castle Grove Ramelton Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘Marrow Bones

If too long to serve undivided saw them in too; cover the open ends with a lump of paste and a cloth floured and tied close. The paste must be removed before being sent to table. Boil 1½ and 2 hours according to size. Put a ruffle of papar round each & serve in a napkin, with very hot toast. The marrow is spread on very hot toast & seasoned with pepper & salt.’

Castle Grove Lady @ Donegal County Council Archives Office

‘Raisins Chutnee

Raisins cleaned & minced 2 lbs. Sugar 3½ lbs. Salt 8 ozs, green ginger 8 ozs red pepper 2 ozs garlic ½ ozs. These with the exception of raisins & sugar to be separately well pounded then mixed. Add to them the raisins & sugar & lastly 1 bottle of vinegar. This quantity will make nearly 4 bottles. Fill & leave them in the sun in India but at home cook for about an hour.’

Dorothea Alice Wood Grove October 1861 @ Donegal County Council Archives Office

‘White Milk Soup 

1 onion. 1 carrot. 1 turnip. 3 cloves stuck in the onion. A little stock made of rabbit vial, fowl or mutton (best of the three first). Put the vegetables in the stock & boil for an hour and a half to two hours. Strain salt through a verry fine hair seive. Then warm 1 pint of new milk and add all these together. Season with pepper and salt. This soup must be made just before using as it will not keep – the vegetables turn the milk sour.’

Convoy House Entrance © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘To Prevent Bed Sores

10 grains of the nitrate of silver, to 1 oz of water, to be applied by means of a camel hair brush over every part exhibiting the highest appearance of inflammation, 2 or 3 times a day, until the skins has become blackened, afterwards only occassionally.’

Ramelton Donegal © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Luxury Living Group London + Alberto Vignatelli

And So To Bed

Luxury Living Group Bentley Bed @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are parties and there’s the not so laboured or conservative but very liberal London launch of Luxury Living an equidistant plumped up embossed cushion’s throw from Harrods and Harvey Nics and Hyde Park and Harriet Walk and heaven. It’s the local shop for One Hyde Park. Being Knightsbridge that means a treasure filled palazzo. Limos stretching, (thick pile country pile) scarlet carpet calling, ropes a riposte to the common people segretating, champers flowing, rich doors opening, (the world’s your) oysters on tap. What’s not to adore? You know you’ve landed when even the bidet is solid gold. The World of Interiors and their partner are here. It’s our first party where there are nearly as many bodyguards as guests. Nope, that’s not a fake Van Dyck. Yon butterfly thing, yep it’s a Damo Hirst. The old and new masters are courtesy of Milanese gallerist Jerome Zodo. “I’m opening my first gallery in London,” he tells Lavender’s Blue, “on Dering Street off the top of New Bond Street.” Luxury Living is lined wall to wall with models and that’s just the waiters and marble busts. Founder Alberto Vignatelli enthuses, “We are delighted to open our new store in an area of London synonymous with luxury living. London’s concentration of wealth and power and international audiences with impeccable taste in interiors makes it the perfect city to start Luxury Living’s next chapter.” It’s really not a dog’s life but if Rover is a discerning fan of Top Gear, the Bentley pet bed is a must at £3,960 a pup pop. Luxury Living proves Italians really are more stylish.

 

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Castle Coole + Heaton Park

Quite Wyatt

Castle Coole Lavender's © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s the Editor’s night off, the intern’s gone awol and Zelda’s asleep. Dinner at Fischer’s, Marylebone’s finest Austrian, calls, dropping the schnitzels and strudels for the vegetarian gröstl in the esteemed company of Astrid Bray newly appointed General Manager of Hyde Park Residence. So it’s the ideal time for a mega filler quote from our illustrious predecessor, the Lavender’s Blue of his day, Rev Francis Orpen Morris scribing in his voluminous volumes County Seats of Great Britain and Ireland 1850 or so. James Wyatt, never one to shy away from plundering his own portfolio, must have bet that the owners of Heaton Park in Great Britain and Castle Coole in Ireland weren’t likely to compare notes. Or elevations, to be precise. Spot the difference competition.

Heaton Park + Castle Coole © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘This mansion is situated in the midst of the beautiful demesne of the same name. It commands an extensive woodland view to the southwest, with a fine mountain background, while the back, or more correctly the northwest front, looks down upon a picturesque lake (Lough Coole) of some 40 acres of water. A flock of grey lag wild geese, which settled here, it is said, several generations ago, have become domesticated on the lake, never straying far from its shores. There are small four small wooded islands near the borders of the lough, which are possibly ancient Irish cranoges. The demesne contains two other lakes: one, Lough Yoan, of considerable size; the other, Breandrum Lake, much smaller.

The timber at Castle Coole is a noticeable feature in the landscape. There is a row of beech trees, some of which are about 125 feet in height, supposed to have been planted early in the last century; and another not so high, but containing some magnificent specimens, planted probably about 1750.

The present mansion house was erected towards the close of the last century, by the first Lord Belmore, from the plans of the celebrated James Wyatt, at a cost of towards £60,000. It is faced with Portland stone. It contains five handsome Reception Rooms. The Billiard Room to the right, and the Library to the left of the front Hall are 36 or 37 feet long, by 24 feet wide, and 18 feet high. The Drawing Room corresponds with the Library, and the Dining Room with the Billiard Room, on the back or northwest side of the house, and are divided by a very handsome oval Saloon. The Library and Drawing Room are divided by the inner Hall, containing a stone staircase with two branches. Above the Saloon is a large bow windowed sitting room, commanding an extensive and beautiful view, including Lough Coole; this room is divided from the state bedroom to the front by a lobby, lighted by skylights, and surrounded by a gallery from which open the bedrooms, etc, on the second storey.

The mouldings of some of the cornices and ceilings at Castle Coole are very elaborate, and were executed by Mr Joseph Rose of London, it is believed from the designs of Mr Wyatt. In the front Hall are two fine scagliola pillars, and two pilasters, by Mr Bartoli. There are some more in the inner Hall. The estate of Castle Coole came into the family of Lord Belmore by marriage. The residence of the Lowry family was previously at Ahenis, near Caledon, County Tyrone.

The original “Patentee”, or grantee, of the manor of Coole was Captain Roger Atkinson, temp. James I. This gentleman, who was for a time MP for Fermanagh, sold the property circa 1641. In 1655 it was resold to John Corry, of Belfast, who dying between it is supposed, 1680 and 1689, was succeeded by his son, James Corry, subsequently MP for Fermanagh and Colonel of the Militia.

The original house having been burnt by order of the Governor of Enniskillen in 1689, to prevent its being occupied by the Duke of Berwick’s army, a new house was erected about 1709, not far from the present mansion, the broad oak avenue leading up to which now forms an important feature of one of the approaches to the present house. This house was accidentally burnt down about the time the present one was completed.

Castle Coole Pediment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Colonel Corry dying at an advanced aged in 1718, was succeeded by his son, Colonel John Corry, some time MP for Enniskillen, and subsequently for Fermanagh. This gentleman dying in 1726, aged 60, was succeeded by his son, Leslie Corry, then a minor, who died in 1741, and bequeathed this portion of his property to Margetson Armar, his cousin, and the husband of his third sister, Mary. Colonel Armar dying in 1773, left the estate to his wife for her life, and after her death to her second sister, Sarah. Mrs Armar dying the following year, was succeeded by her sister, Sarah Lowry Corry, widow of Galbraith Lowry, MP for Tyrone, who had assumed the name of Corry on succeeding, some years previously, to another portion of the Corry estates in the county of Longford. Mrs Lowry Corry died in 1779, and was succeeded at Castle Coole by her son, Armar Lowry Corry, MP for Tyrone, created, 1781, Baron Belmore, and advanced to the dignity of a Viscount in 1789, and of an Earl in 1797. Lord Belmore died in 1802, and was succeeded by his son, Somerset, second Earl, previously MP for Tyrone, and subsequently Governor of Jamaica and a representative Peer. He died in 1841, and was succeeded by his son, Armar, third Earl, some time MP for Fermanagh, who, dying in 1845, was succeeded by his son, Somerset Richard, present and 4th Earl, late Governor of New South Wales.’

Castle Coole Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Pierre Chapeau + The French Paradox

Taste of Dublin

Georgian Donnybrook © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A sign in the shape of a wine bottle outside The French Paradox seduces passersby with, “Contents include instant wit, love lotion, truth serum, problem solver, liquid courage, magic, happiness, pleasure.” Promises, promises. Today’s the first day of spring and Donnybrook in South Dublin is soaked in promising sunshine. “It’s Saturday – relax!” says gregarious owner Pierre Chapeau. He’s from outside Cognac where he worked for Hennessy. Tanya his glamorous Irish wife pulls up outside in her car. They live nearby with their children.

The French Paradox Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The French Paradox is a wine shop cum wine bar cum deli cum restaurant cum petit(e) piece of Paris. Tricoloured but not green, white and gold. Today it’s also a cumly alfresco café. Pierre effortlessly rustles up a couple of omelettes. “Simplicity is the key to our food. We prepare ‘chic picnics’ which you can eat indoors. Breads, tapenades, truffles, charcuteries – that sort of thing.” “Red or white?” “Both thank you.” Pierre comes back outside carrying a taster tray of directly imported wines. Wine tasting à deux. Châteaux Franc Beausejour and Haut Bessac; Organic Marigny Neuf Cabernet and Chardonnay; Mas de Lavail Tradition and le Sud 11. Summer’s on its tray way.

The French Paradox Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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l’Écrivain Restaurant + Baggot Street Dublin

Did the echo quickly fade or do you recall as well | We used to meet on Baggot Street beside the old hotel

Baggot Street Arch @ Lavender's Blue Stuart  Blakley

A Michelin starred restaurant named after the French word for ‘The Writer’ is an appropriate choice to hook up with a widely published philosopher. Excuse us! This isn’t a mere tête-à-tête à Terre à Terre. More like the geniuses of the place as a widely acclaimed architect joins us for lunch. Trois grand fromages. l’Écrivain has been on the go for 26 years which in hospitality terms isn’t so much a lifetime as multigenerational (pop ups are so last decade). We enter through an arch, darkly, past a mews bush, and into an oasis of light tranquillity off Baggot Street Lower.

The 16A would pull away and leave that diesel smell | And you’d be standing there by that Baggot Street hotel

Georgian Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

This street is a glorious survival of 18th century Dublin. It has a special architectural coherence. It is not a planned façade, yet is an architectural entity. It is not merely one damned house after another. Rhythm, proportion, balance, joy. These erections aren’t dripping in pearl necklace string courses; they’re grounded by crown jewel doorcases. Shorn of extravagance, the calm brick elevations contrast with the vitality exploding around each panelled entrance door. The grid is only broken by these regular interruptions of semi rotundity on the piano nobile above the areas. Georgian architecture. Has it been surpassed? No. Does it stand the developer’s value engineering test? Yes. Are we being didactic? Never.

And then that day we made our way down by the Liffeyside | In a bar we had a jar and watched the rain outside

Like London’s Chez Bruce, chef Derry Clarke is still the patron managing a team of chefs rather than a chain figurehead. That hasn’t stopped him penning two bestselling cookbooks and becoming a judge on Irish reality TV series Fáilte Towers (no, seriously). His wife Sallyanne manages front of house. After a sparkling (wine, conversation and sequins) reception in the ground floor bar we ascend to the first floor dining room. It’s a barn-like space for uncluttered minds to while away languid afternoons on banquettes and soft chairs. A Knuttel painting fills the gable end. Geometric glass panels – Mackintosh, Mondrian, Modigliani, Moholy-Nagy mash – diffuse the lavender glow of an early Celtic twilight.

We finished up our pints and we paid the barman’s bill | Walked back up the Liffey in the silence and the chill

Two pan seared scallops with smoked celeriac and pickled samphire (€11.50). Hake with glazed parsnips, velouté of cep mushrooms and salted grapes (€22.50). St Tola goat’s cheese mousse with rye crostini, figs, candied macadamia nuts, aged red wine vinegar and honey dressing (€8.75). Dark chocolate violet and blueberry macaroons (prodigal). Form and content at one: looks good, tastes good. Franco Irish feel good factor on a plate. l’Écrivain – it’s somewhere to write home about.

But still at times when I lie down I’ll dream and start to dance | With the long-gone ghost of Baggot Street | And an echo of romance

l'Ecrivain Restaurant Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Henrietta Street Dublin + Lavender’s Blue

Writers’ Block

Henrietta Street Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lavender’s Blue, 2015, “It’s a permanent film set, a black and white photograph, a frozen moment in the decline of the Ascendancy – squares of cobwebbed glass blind to the 21st century.”

Henrietta Street Townhouse Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christopher Hussey, 1979 1939, “There can be few streets in any city in Europe of such surpassing quality in such a state of decrepitude.”

Maurice Craig, 1970, “Of so palatial a cast that one easily understands how it remained the most fashionable street in Dublin till the Union, long after many rival centres of social attraction had been created.”

Henrietta Street Doorcase Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

James Joyce, 1914, “The gaunt spectral mansions in which the old nobility of Dublin had roistered.”

Henrietta Street Railings Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Lady Colefax + Belgrave Square

Social Twirl

Belgrave Square © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

More epicurean shenanigans. It’s barely midday in London – but it’s almost midnight in Shanghai. Cakewalk-o’clock. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, so we’re off to join fellow sophisticates for a G+T at the O+C. And maybe prawn starter, swordfish main and cold pudding from the trolley. Pall Mall is the new Vauxhall when it comes to clubbing, dress code not Bar Code (yesteryear’s utopia a distant dystopia), house white instead of house music, the dance floor now a marble floor. Eagle eyed viewers will have noticed Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack’s son The Travellers Club, a few mahogany doors down from the O+C, was the star of The Riot Club. Non sequitur alert perhaps, but George Orwell is forever spot on: “A duke is a duke, even in exile.” Another epiphanic afternoon imbued with meaning, as passionate as Conor Harrington’s Dance With the Devil, as poignant as Douglas Gordon’s BBW, as enigmatic as Miaz Brothers’ Master #6, as serene as Vespers at Brompton Oratory, as choreographed as The Bling Ring.

The day ain’t over yet. Like social moths fluttering below a dusty light, we’re off to Belgrave Square as guests of the Italian Embassy. To quote Lady Colefax, “We’ve of course slipped back into the ballet, opera, dining whirl which is very pleasant.” Seven-o-clock shadow. The Italians aren’t the only overseas residents to occupy Cubitt’s hallowed 1820s quadrilateral, a paean to pillared neoclassicism. International neighbours include Alderney bankers (Barclay bros), oligarchs (Oleg Deripaska), Qatari royals (Sheikh Jassim) and Dubai head honchos (Sheikh Mohammed). Having the coffers to cough up £60 million over a coffee (cold milk, coloured sugar crystals thanks) on a coffered terraced house is their one thing in common. Quick! Time to absquatulate. Dring dring, dring dring. What would Jacqueline Duncan think? Mrs Duncan to you. “I’m interested in taste,” says the founder of Inchbald. “My school is about philosophy.” At day’s end, before we close the wooden shutters on our stream of consciousness, we reflect on the ostensible realism and symbolist deployment of our structural patchwork. Thank goodness there’s only one shade of Grey Gardens. We twirl.

Belgrave Square Gardens © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

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Jamie Sinai + Mayfair Gallery

Making a Statement

Jamie Sinai Mayfair Gallery @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Most recent news stories about Mayfair focus on how it’s changing. Mount Street, once a commercial backwater, now hosts Britain’s chief fleet of fashion flagships and international designer powerhouses. Waves of overseas money are buying up former English aristocrats’ homes on Rex Place and Balfour Mews. “In the last 10 years the number of antique shops and galleries in Mayfair has fallen,” observes Jamie Sinai. “Nevertheless London as a whole remains a strong centre for antiques.” Indeed sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what fair is when. Bada, Battersea, Lapada, Olympia and best of all, Masterpiece. There are still a few art and antique galleries on Mayfair’s South Audley Street including Mayfair Gallery and Sinai and Sons. The former was started by Jamie’s Iranian born father; the latter, his uncle.

Mayfair Gallery @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“My dad set up Mayfair Gallery over 40 years ago,” explains Jamie. “Prior to that he gained a wealth of experience in the hustle and bustle of Jaffa. That’s where he first traded in collectibles and antiques before moving to London. Dad put his entrepreneurial spirit and international experience to good use by establishing Mayfair Gallery.” Jamie sees the core business as adding to the extensive inventory, providing professional art and design advice, maintaining a good shop front and attracting serious customers. It’s successful. “My dad has a great eye for new pieces. He looks for unique well made pieces showing quality artistry and craft.” Jamie oversees the day to day running of the Gallery alongside his younger brother. His English born mother also works in the family business. “We all muck in!” Stock is mainly 19th century with some earlier, some later pieces.

The internationalisation of world cities has affected business. “We do still have some UK buyers,” he says, “but the main interest is from overseas. We’re starting to see more Chinese and Indian customers. The US was strong at one point, in the Eighties and Nineties, but less so now. The Middle East continues to do well.” So far, so good. Jamie’s role at the Gallery, though, is to take it forward into the next decades of the 21st century, to move into new areas. Holding regular exhibitions – the most recent was on the Impressionists – is one innovation. Gallery as shop as gallery. The website features a 360 degree tour of the interior which is linked to the Google Street View of South Audley Street. Virtual shopping at its integrated best. “One of my challenges is to communicate to people yes we’re high end but we also sell smaller pieces at a medium price point.”

“It’s a slow changing industry compared to others,” Jamie reckons. “That’s not always a bad thing but it takes time to implement change. The auction houses have embraced change better.” His wider mission is to alter the way people view antiques, to make them more relevant, more appealing to the younger generation. “I like placing really fine antiques into very contemporary settings. Overly traditional interiors can be cluttered and overwhelming. On the other hand, minimalist rooms are often cold and lacking. Bringing the best of the two together you get a very nice harmony. I want to try and promote that style and look, to celebrate the vibrancy of antiques in a new context.”

Mayfair Gallery South Audley Street @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Jamie started working life as an auditor for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It sounds a world away from art and antiques but he believes it equipped him with an outsider’s insight into the industry. “Clients ranged from small retailers right up to FTSE 100 companies. It was a real eye opener into how businesses are run.” He believes it will take time to change the public’s perception of antiques. “Taste is definitely cyclical. It’s driven by the media. Right now, everyone is being swept along by the big craze for technology. Look at the queues outside stores when a new smartphone is released! There’s not much individuality but that will come back.” He reckons people will get bored of spending money purely on functional items and will start looking for belongings with character. “For me, it is very exciting to continue to explore new ways of promoting antiques.” Jamie Sinai is a breath of fresh air in an industry in danger of becoming stale. It’s time to say goodbye to safe greige interiors and hello to statement antiques.

Mayfair Gallery London @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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