Monday, March 16, 2009

Devonshire Day in Lismore Castle

Yesterday we had a lovely day in Lismore Castle. It was a fundraiser for the annual Immrama Festival of Travel Writing which will be held in June and this was the 6th Devonshire Day, as this day is called. It is so called as the Castle is the Irish seat of the Dukeof Devonshire, and the idea has evolved into an annual day out on the Sunday nearest to St. Patrick's Day, which falls tomorrow.

The Avenue from the riding house looking towards the main gate and courtyard

The Castle is not normally open to the public, as the son of the present Duke, Lord Burlington, and his wife, spends quite a lot of time in Lismore, and as the castle is an upmarket guest house for well-heeled guests (those who can spare about €35,000 for a week's full-board with the butlers on hand for a party of 12!) it is also not practical to have tourists tramping about the rooms. So this day is an opportunity to see a little of the interior and people travel from far and wide to enjoy the day.

Enjoying the tea during the talk

The visitors have Devonshire Cream Tea in the Ballroom, which was formerly a chapel and is known as the "Pugin Room" as it was designed by Augustus Pugin, an architect and designer who also designed the Houses of Parliament in Westminister. A number of church and big house interiors have his signature wood panelling and furnishings. It is now used as a room for events like concerts, wedding receptions occasionally, and banqueting hall for large parties of houseguests. It has a marble fireplace which was originally built by Pugin for the Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1851 and brought here after that was dissembled, with the addition of "Céad Mille (sic) Fáilte" written across the top (this means 100,000 welcomes in Irish.)

Various views of the castle from the courtyard

When Prince Charles and his then fiancée Camilla came to Lismore a few years back for the 60th birthday bash of his pal the current duke who was then Lord Hartington. (The old Duke died some years later and Lord Hartington inherited the title. I suppose that means that Lord Burlington, his son, is technically the new Marquis of Hartington, but he is still using the same title.) Charles and Camilla really chilled out on their visit and did a handshaking walkabout after Sunday service in the Cathedral, with minimal security on hand. He is seen as either a harmless tree-hugger or vilified for his marital infidelity to Diana, but he was accepted in Lismore as another visitor to the castle, without much fuss being made of either of them.

The Duke's main home is Chatsworth in Derbyshire, which is one of the great houses of England and a major tourist attraction, much more open to the public than Lismore Castle. Bolton Abbey is another of their houses, and I have never been to either place, but my son played cricket with the Lismore Cricket Team when they went to Bolton Abbey play the Duke's 11 some years ago, and had a chance to see both houses. Our sons have had summer jobs there as butlers over their student years as well, and were working there for the royal visit. They are extremely discreet so I never get any gossip from them, no matter how much I fish!

Enough potted history for now. Yesterday's event was practically fully booked, as the format was five groups of 60 max came at 80 minute intervals. They arrived via the Castle Avenue to the Courtyard and went to the Ballroom, where they had their tea, surrounded by the splendour of the stained glass windows and the Pugin-designed chandelier and wall lights.

During the tea there were talks on the history of the Castle and Lismore, the "Big houses" along the River Blackwater, and the Castle Gardens from various local historians and the Head Gardener. These informative talks put a context on the day, and after tea they got a guided tour of the spring gardens from the wife of the Head Gardener, as he was out of action from a (work-related) foot injury.
So that was the pattern of the day. I am involved in the festival from the health and safety angle and attend all the events as a First Aid person. This entailed accompanying each group around the gardens, tastefully clad in a yellow Hi-Viz jacket and armed with a medical kit! Luckily my skills weren't called on yesterday and I had a chance to take lots of photos and learn about the wonderful plants, shrubs and trees, and the garden's architecture, which has the remnants of a 19th century Joseph Paxton greenhouse. Paxton designed the above mentioned Crystal Palace in London for the Exhibition in 1851 and he was the head gardener of Chatsworth but was also responsible for how Lismore Castle looks today, as he re-designed it to its current look. There are a number if sculptures in the gardens, which are nice to come upon as you go around. There is a typical Anthony Gormley bronze body cast - his own as is his signature - and that is in the middle of an ancient yew walk in the photo.
His most famous work is The Angel of the North in Newcastle-on-Tyne in England, visible for miles around. The magnolias are magnificent right now and you can see their splendour in the photo, a highlight of the spring garden, along with rhododendrons and azaleas.

I hope you like the photos and links and if you get a chance to come to Lismore you can visit the gardens from tomorrow until October when they will be open daily, minus the guided tour - you can get a brochure with identifiers for the trees and shrubs and history - and the Castle Arts Gallery which is in the renovated West Wing and has a different contemporary exhibition every summer. If you like weird and wonderful art - in a multitude of media from sculpture to video installations to technology installations - in a lovely setting then this one's for you!
Sotheby's have had a preview of their Irish Art sales here for the past few years as well, which gives a nice opportunity to see some amazing artworks. The annual exhibitions are not all to my taste, but then I am a traditionalist at heart and love a good Old Master. There was a show two years ago when they juxtaposed the old and the new, with a private Florida-owned collection of very contemporary stuff out in old stables and coalsheds that led to a lot of bewildered head-scratching, and in the Gallery there were lovely works by Van Eyck, Gainsborough, and other famous painters. Each owner selected the works of the other for the exhibition, an odd fusion to say the least!
Yesterday's visitors were very enthusiastic about the whole experience and then they went to the Heritage Centre as part of the day's package. The sun shone and there was spring warmth in the air, and Farmer's Market was in full swing in the Castle Avenue,
so the town was buzzing.

Immrama will have its launch in the Gallery in a month or two, so watch this space!

(If you want to see more photos I have uploaded them to a Picasa slideshow on the sidebar of this blogpost, right at the top right at present. Click on these photos to see them full-screen size, if you want the detail.)

The Stained Glass window overlooking the Ballroom with the Pugin Chandelier in the foreground

The Stained Glass window over the Minstrel's Gallery, with St. Patrick on the Right and (I think) St. George on the Left
Some of the sculpture in the Lower Garden

The yew walk with the Gormley figure visible on the right half-way down

The Pugin marble fireplace
The misspelt Irish greeting
The castle from the Lower Gardens
The Magnolias in full bloom in the Lower Garden with the Riding House in the background. This straddles the Avenue and links the upper and lower gardens


Jeannette StG said...

I love castles- also because it has to do with my background - so intriguing. The marble fireplace is stunning! Thanks so much for sharing this! Happy St.Patrick's day!

Anonymous said...

hi catherine,
what an informative post! i live in cork and had the pleasure of visiting the castle last year on devonshire day and thoroughly enjoyed it, a great opportunity to see inside a castle and partake of tea and cake!
on another note i have baked your madeira cake the lemon one and find it fantastic for easy baking and scrumtious eating!kathleen (cork)

At Home on the Rock... said...

Wow --- looks so beautiful!

Irene said...

Pretty darn incredible that there are families nowadays that are born and bred to live in circumstances such as these, other than those of the Royal Family. Mind boggling. Such entitlement.

Peggy said...

Hi Catherine, thanks for the beautifull photos of Devonshire day. I did not make it as we had a christening on saturday and a very late night. I had mentioned it to my sister Kathleen but she had been there last year and I see she has left you a comment also! i must try the madiera cake as she was raving so much about it.

Rachel Cotterill said...

What a gorgeous castle :) Will you be going to the travel writing event? Is it worth a trip?

Catherine said...

Thanks for your comments, great to get such diversity of opinion.
JEANNETTE - glad you liked it and do you mean castles in your background or the art link? I'm intrigued! St. Patrick's Day was beautiful weatherwise which is most unusual. The day is usually associated with freezing cold parades in the wind and rain, blue legged majorettes from the States being my lasting memory of the Dublin parades of my younger days! They always kept smiling orthodontically despite the cold!

KATHLEEN - as you don't seem to have an accessible blog I hope you see this, I see you are outed from anonymity somewhat by Peggy your sister! I follow her blog with interest, do you have one too? Delighted to have a visitor who actually went to a Devonshire Day and enjoyed it - hope you come another year! Will you make it to Immrama in June? Worth it from Cork, only next door! Glad you liked the madeira cake, it is pretty nice'n'easy isn't it? Keep in touch and let me know if you are contactable via blog/email and I can keep you posted on future events!
AT HOME ON THE ROCK - Glad you liked the post - did you see the slideshow photos? I have updated the post to include the successful slideshow - which is on the top right sidebar - as I had no idea when I did the post if I was able to make a slideshow of the 90-odd photos I took, yet wanted to make them easily available.

IRENE - I agree that there is incredible privelege out there and not alone among royalty, the British aristocracy have managed to retain their wealth though it is not the easy ride it was as they now have to generate the income to pay their taxes somewhere (I think the Castle here pays UK taxes as they do not take any Irish heritage money to maintain the castle and the estate is self-financing through the guests and the working farm, the fishing rights give a lot of income and there has been an ongoing battle with the Duke over the access to the River Blackwater salmon and trout fishing as he retains way too many fishing rights. I can remember sit-ins and protests in the 60s over fishing rights. The old duke was intransigent and the present one is more amenable to change. The land commission has got a lot of their former lands post-independence, they owned huge tracts in the colonial days. There is no feudal kowtowing to the castle even though they stay here and live the high life, it is expected that they pay their way, and their dues. The Irish tax issue is one I am unclear on. There are a lot of Irish nationals who are legally avoiding tax like U2 who fled to The Netherlands as a tax haven when the law here changed which would have them paying VAT (BTW) on earnings over €250,000. There are many non-resident millionaires who live abroad to avoid paying tax here and who are criticised as being hypocritical, specially Bono who lectures everyone on Development aid.

PEGGY - glad you liked the photos and thanks for identifying Kathleen - small world indeed that she was here last year! Pity you missed it but a christening is way more important! The cake is indeed lovely! Maybe you will make it to Immrama!

RACHEL - Thanks, the castle is lovely and we like having it on our doorstep. The gardens are now open to the public til October. I am involved in the travel writing weekend as one of the helpers, and hubby is the administrator so I go to all the gigs. Last year was brill as was every year - check the Immrama website (see link on the post or on sidebar) and see past events. It is worth going to if you are interested in travel - I think the theme this year is India though not sure if final yet, last year was Africa and it was great. Keep in touch!

Reasons said...

Great post, thanks for sharing the info. I will definately visit sometime. Have a good day!!

The Cherry Tree Farm said...

Wow, oh wow. Gorgeous castle. It's so fantastic to see -- so unlike anything we have here (okay, anything we have THIS part of the U.S., anyway). When I was small, I spent quite a lot of time pretending I lived in such a place. My four-times-great (I believe that's correct) grandfather came from Ireland, but I have a strong suspicion his house didn't look *exactly* like Lismore Castle. I'm sure it was very close, however. *ahem*

I'm so fascinated by pictures like this. I think it's especially fun that the family still lives there. I'll be right over to stay the weekend as soon as I have those 35,000 euros ... should be any day now!

I love seeing the formal gardens, as well. How do you get involved with helping at events at such places -- and your sons as butlers, etc.? Do the families advertise in the local paper, or do you volunteer, or what? thanks as always -- love your blog (even my husband reads it now!) -- kristin

Catherine said...

Thanks for the comments!
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL 123 - yes it is worth visiting Lismore anyway, and if you can save up for the castle I'm sure you'd enjoy! Just get your richest pals to share their dosh and spread it around in these recessionary times!

KRISTIN - I suppose it is pretty unique from your neck of the woods - I believe a lot of ancient buildings from Europe get bought and rebuilt brick by brick in the USA, but doubt if you could replicate the ambience of this place. Everyone has a bit of Irish in them on Paddy's day, even Barack Obama's ancestors on his mother's side came from Moneygall in Co. Offaly which is cool! Glad you have Irish roots, and the only Fry that I know (apart from yummy Fry's Chocolate which is linked with Cadbury's which is ubiquitous in Ireland and Britain) is a tropical doctor who's got Plymouth Brethern links from way back, far as I know it is a small group in Ireland.
As for the pictures, they are lovely as the day and location is so gorgeous. The Cavendish family are here for years, and previous owners were Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork and father of Robert Boyle the scientist and of Boyle's Law fame. (don't ask - google it!).
As for my involvement -like I said on the post, I am a (voluntary) support for the Immrama festival of Travel Writing as a first aider from the health and safety perspective, and as hubby is the administrator I don't get more involved - too many cooks etc. - so the castle is supportive of local initiatives especially cultural ones given they have the art gallery and are patrons of the arts themselves. (Chatworth in England has the biggest private art collection outside the Royals in the UK).

The boys have been butlers since they were in school, and are now in college. that's for about the past 6 yrs I guess, they were washer-uppers first and graduated to serving royalty after a year or so! So they get called when it's busy and as they are now doing other stuff it's less so.
They didn't apply, word of mouth is often the way here. One son applied to the printer for a summer job as he was keen on studying graphic design, didn't get the printer job but the head butler was a pal of the printers so he recommended him, then I said there's another younger brother if you have any slot for him - which he did, and that was that - so they have had interesting times there, and met some fascinating people I believe but I hear nothing more as they are discreet as anything. Annoying for nosey me but glad they have integrity!

Delighted you and hubby read the blog and enjoy it, I must try to keep it going and not lose readers through being boring!

Irene said...

Catherine, it only seems logical that these people pay their own way, but since they are preserving buildings and parks of national heritage, I do think that they ought to have some help with this, providing they are open to the general public to some extent. I am just uncomfortable with the term 'entitlement' that means you are automatically born into a privileged position and deemed to be better and more special than your peers. I am all for a somewhat classless society in which people self determine their status as human beings. Nothing rubs me the wrong way worse than entitled people who I am supposed to be in awe off.

Catherine said...

IRENE - I think you have thought this through and I agree about the entitlement bit, I am not comfortable with a lot of the issues surrounding our colonial past and in the context of that the caslte is seen as somewhat benign. And the whole aristocracy is so alien to the Irish psyche that we cannot stand it when Irish people who get awards from the Queen of England like Bob Geldof call themselves "Sir" Bob, though he never does, only the media do. It is seen as the height of what is called Gombeenism or sycophancy. One media mogul Anthony O'Reilly of Independent news and media group always calls himself "Sir Tony" and gets lampooned for it here in Ireland.
I don't think anyone is better than anyone else and believe in a meritocracy not the birthright of the aristocracy but there has to be a pretty major revolution before there is a classless society that works! No way should you be in awe of these people. I chat away to Lord Burlington and he doesn't expect to be called by his title here in Ireland, it might be acceptable in England but he has played soccer and cricket with my son on the local team when he is here so doesn't expect any VIP treatment. No Irish person would curtsey to royalty and that is always an issue if the queen meets with our president - she has not done so nor would it be liked by us if she did.
As for funding for the upkeep of the castle, they decline local heritage trust funding so they can determine the upkeep themselves. As long as they make it available to the community for events like this they will not be resented, if they started putting on the ritz they would soon be out of favour. The gallery is seen as an asset to the town, and it is nice to have some cultural access through the castle, there are often nice musical events in the Pugin Room pictured in the blogpost, the acoustics are wonderful.
Hope you are keeping well Irene!

Wisewebwoman said...

I picked up your like on Irene's blog and enjoyed my visit very much being originally from Cork. Your header photo looks like Skibbereen to me, is it?
I tend to get political myself but often post other stuff, anything that takes my fancy. My recent post on bastable cake was picked up elesewhere - a unique Cork recipe.

FoodFunFarmLife said...

Another lovely & informative post - it's always nice to learn about different parts of the world, especially from the perspective of someone who actually lives there. Loved your photo's, too :)

Catherine said...

Thanks for all the comments! A quick recap on those I haven't answered.

WISEWEBWOMAN: Glad you like the visit to my blog, and the header photo is from Lismore, my hometown in waterford. I joined your knit blog, as I like knitting and am making a cardi right now. I also like the political stuff on yours, the ethical consumer post was cool! I commented on a couple of your posts, but I couldn't figure out how to follow the main blog. Liked your take on Facebook - I am on it but most of my "friends" are casual and some are political party colleagues - united by a common philosopy in Labour! So I enjoyed the greyman youtube clip!
I have to find your post on bastable cake. I had a friend in Sligo way back and they had a bastable oven in the embers of the fire cooking bread and cake. Looking forward to the Cork recipe!
By the way I see you live in Newfoundland now - I have seen another blog from there and told her that there are strong links with Waterford and Newfoundland as many emigrated from there in the post-famine days. and there are some festivals that celebrate that shared culture.
Talk to you again.

Catherine said...

LYNDA - thanks for the compliment! Glad you enjoyed the post, it has generated a diversity of feedback which is always good and I hope I have been able to explain things in the context of our present post-colonial status! I keep meeting new Irish expat bloggers on various sites as well which is very nice.
Maybe I will try your fudge this weekend and I am off Monday as well for my birthday - a chillout day!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely adore Lismore castle and hope to visit it someday. I find it such a stunning and captivating castle. I'm from the states, but fell in love with Ireland back in 2003 and plan to move to the South West or South in a few years!! God willing ;) Thanks for this!!! ~Jill

Catherine said...

Jill nice to see your comment and that you found the post so long after I wrote it! Don't have your blog/email so can only hope you see this reply. Glad you like Ireland and good luck with a return journey - you may even make it to Lismore next time!