In 1970, just three years after Dorinda co-founded the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, along with Peter Rankin and Professor Alistair Rowan she wrote and published the Society’s List of historic buildings in Downpatrick. The introduction to the cathedral’s entry is: “A church has existed here since 530 AD when St Caylan was Bishop: early in the 12th century it was occupied as a house of Regular Canons of the Order of St Augustine, superseded after 1177 by Benedictines. The Church was destroyed by an earthquake 1245; pillaged and burnt early in the 14th century by Robert Bruce; rebuilt; destroyed by the English in 1538, pillaged and burn 1539; incorporated with a chapter by Charter 1609. In the 18th century it fell into disrepair. An Act of Parliament was passed 30 April, 1790, for restoration at the instigation of the Dean, the Honourable and Reverend William Annesley, and of Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough, and 1st Marquis of Downshire; ready for divine service 1818; vestibule and tower added, the latter completed 1826; totally disendowed by Irish Church Act 1869.”
The Service of Thanksgiving tributes were by architectural historians and authors Professor Alistair Rowan and Dr Anthony Malcolmson. Both spoke eloquently about Dorinda’s significant contribution to charities and culture in Northern Ireland, and in particular, architectural heritage. There were plenty of anecdotes of fun times too. Professor Rowan recalled Dorinda and her husband Henry arriving in fancy dress one evening at Leixlip Castle, County Kildare. The hostess, Mariga Guinness, was surprised to greet Dorinda in Little Bo Peep attire and Henry in cartoon character costume. Somehow there had been a miscommunication: it was a formal white tie dinner.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s entry for Denvir’s Hotel includes: “Originally 17th century. A date on the post is inscribed 1641, but the present appearance of the building is the late 18th century and early 19th century. A two storey four bay block pleasantly recessed from the street lined and flanked by two projecting three storey wings – all stuccoed with horizontal glazing bars. The east wing gives arched access to the hotel yards; the west has a gable to the street and, in the corner, a good late Georgian door of tripartite pattern, with grooved columns for the jambs.”
In the evening, back in the cathedral, internationally recognised musician Desmond Hunter performed an organ recital accompanied by the Balligan Consort (a nine voice choir founded by the late Norman Finley), celebrating the life and work of the late Lord and Lady Dunleath through their influential Music in May festival (1970 to 1980). Pieces covered four centuries from William Byrd’s Fantasia in C to the first performance of Fantasy-fanfare Ostendite Terram Occultatum by Northern Irish composer Dr Philip Hammond.
Desmond has written a short history of Music in May. Extracts include: “Lord Dunleath’s passionate interest in the organ and the success of the rebuilding of the Conacher Organ in Ballywalter Parish Church were probably key factors in sowing the seed that eventually led to the flowering of an organ festival… The first recital in 1970 was given, appropriately, by Norman Finlay, co-founder of Music in May.” Norman was Headteacher of Music at Belfast Royal Academy. “Each of the recitals was followed by an informal reception in Ballywalter Park, hosted by Lord and Lady Dunleath. This attractive addition probably helped to ensure a large attendance at the recitals.”
“After Lord Dunleath’s untimely death in 1992, it was proposed that an organ trust might be established in his memory. Discussions with Dorinda, Lady Dunleath, and others closely associated with Music in May initiated the process that led to the formation of the Dunleath Organ Scholarship Trust. The Trust was launched at a concert in Ballywalter in 1995.”
The postlude to Dorinda’s Service of Thanksgiving on 28 September 2022 was Wolfgang Mozart’s Laudate Dominum with soprano Lisa Dawson hitting the high notes to perfection. The early autumn late afternoon sunlight streamed through the glass doors of the cathedral, illuminating the vestibule, touching the tip of the nave with its warm glow. As everyone departed, beyond the sea of parked cars, a cross was momentarily silhouetted by the golden sun setting behind a silver edged cloud.
“It’s sort of feeble really,” says Min Hogg. “Open the property section of any newspaper and you’ll see page after page of boring beige interiors. I blame technology. People just want to switch on this and that but can’t be bothered to look at things like furniture and paintings.” Her own flat is neither boring nor beige. Quite the opposite. It’s brimming with antiques and art and personality. And magazines. “The red bound copies on my shelves are from when I was Editor. The loose copies in boxes are all the subsequent issues.” Min was, of course, founding Editor of the highly influential magazine The World of Interiors.
“My mum would have made a brilliant Editor but she was awfully lazy,” confides Min. “She always made our houses really nice without any training, none of that, she just did it. She was a great decorator. You bet! So was my grandmother.” Min’s first plum role was as Fashion Editor of Harpers and Queen. Anna Wintour, who would later famously edit American Vogue, was her assistant. “We hated each other!” Min recalls, her sapphire blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “I was taken on by Harpers and Queen over her. She really knew I wasn’t as utterly dedicated to fashion as she was. By no means!” Nevertheless, Anna was the first to leave.
Thank goodness then for an ad in The Times for “Editor of an international arts magazine” which Min retrieved from her bin. She applied and the rest is publishing history. The World of Interiors was a roaring success from day one, year 1981. “I submitted a three line CV,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to bore Kevin Kelly the publisher with A Levels and so on!” It didn’t stop her being selected out of 70 candidates. “I sort of knew I’d got the job. I ended up having dinner with his wife and him that night. I think probably of all the people who applied, I was already such friends with millions of decorators. Just friends, not that I was doing them any good or anything, I just knew them because we were likeminded.”
“Come and have a look at the view from the kitchen, it’s really good,” says Min stopping momentarily. “It’s like living opposite the Vatican,” pointing to the plump dome of Brompton Oratory. Back in her sitting room, the view is of treetops over a garden square, a plumped up cushion’s throw from Harrods. As for choosing an interior to publish, “If I liked it, I’d do it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t! I came to the job with this huge backlog of interior ideas. We never finished using them all. I’m blessed with a jolly broad spectrum of vision, and as you can see, although I’m not a modernist I can appreciate modernism when it’s good. I don’t like Art Nouveau either but I can get the point of a really good example of anything.”
Appropriately Min’s top floor which she bought in 1975 looks like a spread from The World of Interiors. “I don’t decorate, I just put things together. I’m a collector,” she confesses. Eclectically elegant, somehow everything fits together just so. “John Fowler was an innovator. He was frightfully clever.” So is Min. She laments the disappearance of antique shops. And junk shops. “London used to be stuffed with junk shops. Now it’s seaside towns like Bridport and Margate that have all the antique shops. There’s nothing left in London. Just the few grand ones.” Interiors may be her “addiction” but Min is interested in all art forms. She’s been an active member of the Irish Georgian Society ever since it was founded by her friends Desmond and Mariga Guinness. “I love the plasterwork of Irish country houses,” she relates, “Castletown’s a favourite.”
“Mike Tighe, the former Art Director of The World of Interiors, joined me,” she explains. “For me it was a physical thing, cutting out paper patterns by hand. Mike did all the computer work. I learnt to do a repeat and everything else. It’s funny how you can learn something if you’re interested. By pure luck the finished result looks like hand blocked wallpaper. If someone gives us a colour we can match it. I like changing the scale too from teeny to enormous.” It’s a versatile collection, printed on the finest papers, cottons, linens and velvets. Prominent American interior designers like Stephen Sills love it. The collection may be found in a world of interiors from a Hawaiian villa to a St Petersburg palace. But not in any boring beige homes.
Back to Marlfield House, 20 years since the first visit. The Gorey bypass may cause a moment of disorientation along the journey, but the country house hotel at the heart of the 30 acre estate is still reassuringly grand, everything just so, now entering decades of decadence, heaven’s in the detail, sugar crystals in silver bowls for coffee de rigeur. Marlfield is now in the very capable hands of the second generation of the Bowe family to run the hotel. Sisters Margaret and Laura and their own families live on the estate. Their parents Mary and Ray bought the house from the widowed Lady Courtown in 1977. À la mode modifications completed over the following decade allowed the building to breathe as a hotel. Through recessions and a boom, Marlfield became a byword for brilliance, a billet doux to hospitality, a magnet for the smart Dublin set.
Forget the usual bog standard 20th century hotel extension horrors. Distinguished artist and architectAlfred Cochrane’s work at Marlfield adventurously augments its presence, both physically and architecturally. Creative clients helped. “We’re all mad about design,” according to Margaret. “Our family all have a good eye.” From the whimsical to the wacky, always tasteful, never tacky, it’s a tour de force of neoclassical language reimagined for the spirit of the age. Petit Trianon on speed, Temple of the Winds on a high, Crystal Palace methodology. Now if Loulou de la Falaise was an annexe… Take the entrance portico. Its Doric centrepiece, confidently stepping forward from rusticated stone bays, explodes into a not so much broken pediment as broken temple, like ruins glued together with glazing.
A vast half moon (fully completed by the half moon pond outside) entrance hall links the main house to the rest of Alfred’s single storey bedroom wing. Top lit long galleries spread like elegant tentacles in all directions connecting the entrance hall to the six state suites: the Print Room, Morland Room, Stopford Room, Georgian Room, French Room and Sheraton Room. The crème de la crème is the Print Room, an octagonal cove ceilinged panelled pièce de résistance. “Mariga Guinness did the print decorations on the walls,” says Margaret. “They took days and days to complete! The inspiration came from Louisa Connolly’s famous Print Room at Castletown. When the doors are pulled across the bed alcove, wedding ceremonies are often performed in this room.” A handily placed harp stands next to the French windows. She confirms the hotel can accommodate up to 145 guests for a wedding.
The other 13 guest bedrooms, all with marble bathrooms, are upstairs in the main house. A conservatory on the garden front, also designed by Alfred Cochrane, balances the state room wing on the entrance front. History, symmetry, geometry, harmony, luxury: all are important at Marlfield. The conservatory is a tripartite triumph in cast iron and glass. A central projection balloons up to a storey height ogee shaped dome. A frame of distinctive lattice metalwork pilasters topped by stylised Ionic capitals holding a frieze is as stylish as anything produced in the days of the Prince Regent. Yet more French doors lead onto a croquet lawn.
Bon appétit! Mushrooms immersed in white wine, thyme and cream on toast accompanied by poached hens’ eggs trickling in black truffle oil are a culinary must in the library. “The eggs are from our neighbours, Samuel and Maurice Allen’s happy hens!” Many of the herbs and vegetables are from the Bowes’ kitchen garden while fish, meat and dairy produce are all sourced locally. Classy food in classical surroundings. The library is a rich blue; the sitting room next door, a pale lemon. Like all the rooms, they are filled with more antiques than Mealy’s on auction day. Plasterwork and white marble fireplaces form the backdrop to colourful festoons and fabric pelmets.
Marlfield House was built in 1852 by the 4th Earl of Courtown as a dower house in association with his principal seat, Courtown House. It’s a classic three storey block of the middle size, four bays wide by two bays deep. The west or side elevation is bowed towards the sunken topiary garden. The other side elevation adjoins a two storey ancillary wing. A two bay breakfront projects from the centre of the south or garden front. Characterful rugged semi coursed rubble stone on cut granite and red brick quoins contrast with overhanging modillioned box eaves (c’est quoi?). A low pitched roof is punctuated by tall chimney stacks. The 5th Earl swapped the ground floor multi pane windows found elsewhere in the building for plate glass sash windows in 1866.
This architectural dowager, a bon viveur full of joie de vivre, not in mourning, never rests on her manicured laurels. More than 160 years after the first stone was laid, a new lease of life is underway for Marlfield. “It will be rustic and informal, edgy even!” says Margaret about the new bistro in the ancillary wing. “French doors will open onto the market garden and there’ll be a fireplace on the terrace. It will be very family friendly. We’re also opening a small interiors shop which will host pop up events every so often.”