The Hon. Desmond Guinness (1931-2020)
The Desmond Guinness Scholarship is awarded annually by the Irish Georgian Society to an applicant or applicants engaged in research on the visual arts of Ireland including the work of Irish architects, artists and craftsmen, material culture and design history, 1600-1940. Preference will be given to work based on original documentary research.
Monalty House is situated in a drumlin landscape next to the N2 roadway and to the south of Monalty Lough, a proposed Natural Heritage Area. It was built c. 1770 by the Bath estate, is set overlooking a parkland and is approached by a tree lined avenue. A road widening proposal by Monaghan County Council threatens to significantly encroach on the demesne and parklands of this protected structure which is described by Kevin Mulligan as being “studiously proportioned” with an “attractive central limestone doorcase with engaged Tuscan columns” and a Doric frieze surmounted by a webbed fanlight (Buildings of Ireland – South Ulster, Yale, 2013).
In a submission to the Council, the IGS has contended that as a protected structure, Monalty House, its curtilage and attendant grounds should be protected from inappropriate development and noted that the Monaghan County Development Plan aims “to resist any development which is likely to impact on the building’s special interest and/ or any views of such buildings and their setting” (BHP 6).
This exhibition will remained closed until late October, in accordance with government guidelines.
18 September to 30 October 2020
The Irish Georgian Society has objected to a planning application that proposes the construction of a six-storey residential building to the rear of No. 38 North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1.
No. 38 was built in 1785 by Charles Thorpe who lived in the house and went on to become Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1800. It was later occupied by Professor John Pentland Mahaffy, founder of the original Georgian Society (1908 to 1913) and tutor of Oscar Wilde, and it is for him that the house is today named. Between the 1920s and 1960s the building deteriorated into tenement use but after its purchase by Desiree Shortt in 1975 it gradually underwent a long series of repairs and restorations which the Irish Georgian Society lent support to through its conservation grants programme.
As many readers will be aware, Desmond Guinness, the pioneer of architectural conservation in Ireland. died last Thursday, at the age of 88. Led by Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, many tributes have quite correctly been paid to Desmond and his decades-long defence of the country’s architectural heritage. So, it is easy to forget that for much of that time, he and his supporters received not encomiums but abuse, not praise but criticism, not support but hostility. And yet he continued on his crusade, one which has left this country and its citizens considerably richer than would otherwise be the case.
Although a member of the Irish Guinness family, Desmond spent the greater part of his life in England until, following his marriage to Hermione Marie-Gabrielle von Urach – universally known as Mariga – he moved with her to Ireland and they began looking for somewhere to make their home. It was while engaged in this quest and travelling about the country that the couple became aware of how many old buildings of note in Ireland were being either neglected or demolished. The 1950s were an especially lean era here and, understandably, the losses to her architectural heritage provoked little, if any, protest or regret among the greater part of the Ireland’s impoverished population. Most of them had other, more immediate, concerns than what happened to properties with which they felt no great affinity; in the popular mind, historic houses were associated with the old regime. Inspecting many sites over a couple of years had the effect of refining Desmond and Mariga’s already intuitive aesthetic sensibilities, and it made them acutely aware of just how many 18th and 19th century buildings around the country were at risk of being lost forever. However, it was the demolition of Georgian buildings in Dublin rather than the disappearance of another country house that inspired the couple to establish the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. On their visits to the capital from 1956 onwards, the Guinnesses had seen Dublin Corporation workers clear away magnificent mansions on Lower Dominick Street and Hardwicke Place and replacing them with blocks of local authority flats. Most of these old properties had long ago deteriorated into squalid tenements; their loss, though unwelcome, was comprehensible. But in July 1957 the government authorised the demolition of two 18th century houses on Kildare Place, only a matter of yards from the Dail in Leinster House. No. 2 Kildare Place had been designed by Richard Castle and executed after his death in 1751 by John Ensor; its neighbour was of a slightly later date. Both houses were in excellent condition and there was no reason for their destruction other than an unwillingness on the part of the State to maintain the buildings. This barbarous act on the part of government spurred Desmond and Mariga into direct action, and the Irish Georgian Society was born.
The Irish Georgian Society has learnt with great sadness that Hon Desmond Guinness (1931-2020) has passed away. We are indebted to his legacy in founding the Irish Georgian Society in 1958, together with the late Mariga Guinness. He boldly championed the cause of Ireland's architectural heritage at a time when it faced great challenges through neglect and the threat of demolition from new development. In spite of hostility in some quarters, through his ardent campaigning, educating and working to save numerous buildings we are surrounded by a rich legacy of historic buildings saved to be celebrated as an integral part of our culture and identity. He has inspired us all and, for the thousands of members and supporters of the Irish Georgian Society in Ireland and around the world, Desmond has truly been a Conservation Hero.
Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.