Searching for a Title
By hook or by crook we will dine at Dunbrody Park. Cromwell, ever the joker in the pack, reputedly quipped he would take Ireland “by Hook or by Crooke”. That is, start a-raping and a-pillaging in one of the two villages facing each other across the Waterford Channel. Our mission is more sedate – in search of the perfect fish ‘n’ chips. Make that beer battered fish and chips with tartar sauce and a shot of green pea in a neoclassical reception room overlooking a sun drenched terrace leading onto landscaped gardens in a country estate.
Dunbrody Park was the gaff of an Anglo Irish family up to 1996. Let us tell you about the very aristocratic. They are different from you and me. They have titles. C’m’ere t’me. Deep breath. The last owner was His Grace the 7th Marquess and Earl of Donegall, Earl of Belfast, Viscount Chichester of Ireland, Baron Fisherwick of Fisherwick and Hereditary Lord High Admiral of Lough Neagh. Known to his friends as “Don”. He was once engaged to Sheilah Graham, then a household name, now a footnote in history. Her story was the ultimate top-of-the-bus on the hard shoulder to back-of-the-limo in the fast lane dream come true. From pleb to sleb. After a lowly start in London’s east end, she became a west end show girl, then a Hollywood celebrity gossip columnist. Before long Sheila was skating, skiing and skijoring with the likes of Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker (of “don’t put all your eggs in one bastard” notoriety), Jean Harlow and the Mitford brother. At the party to celebrate her engagement to Don, she met F Scott Fitzgerald. Sheilah became the writer’s partner for the last four years of his life as recorded in her 1958 autobiography Beloved Infidel. Wha’s the story? They were the toast of Hollywood, before getting burnt. Don went on to marry Lady Josceline Legge, daughter of the 7th Earl of Dartmouth.
Now a hotel run by superchef Kevin Dundon and his wife Catherine, this long low lying house hasn’t changed much since it was built 180 years ago. The central tower of the garden front has been removed and dormers added. Otherwise, the Edwardian country house party atmosphere continues amidst well preserved environs. Craic’s almighty. “You must drive round to see Hook Head,” exclaims the maître d’hôtel. “Visiting this peninsula without seeing the lighthouse is like going to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower!” With less than Cromwellian perseverance, we decline and sail off on the ferry into the sunset.
Back in London, we catch up with another aristocrat – tenuous, yes – Lord Newborough for a topping time at Magazine, the restaurant with a gallery attached (The Serpentine) while devouring the world’s smallest onion rings. Robert is owner of Rhug Estate (pronounced “Reeg”), one of the largest organic farms and certainly the most ethical in the UK, d’y’ know’d I mean?
“Rhug is our brand,” explains Robert Newborough. “All we are really are farmers from North Wales. My family can be traced back to the ninth century – not me personally. We were good at pilfering, stealing farmland. Slate fortunes fell into the estates followed by mismanagement, divorce, inheritance tax. Our estates rapidly diminished. Then my family acquired Rhug by marriage. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good dowry! Across three estates, we farm 7,000 acres organically and pride ourselves on animal welfare. Rhug Estate supplies to over 20 Michelin star restaurants here and abroad, and over 20 five star hotels.”