Music in September
A Service of Thanksgiving was held for Dorinda Lady Dunleath in the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Downpatrick, County Down on 28 September 2022. The Dean of Down Cathedral, The Very Reverend Henry Hull, welcomed the congregation and noted that like the late Queen, Dorinda had a Christian faith which was reflected in a lifetime of dedicated and joyful duty. He recorded how she had worshipped at Holy Trinity Church Ballywalter, St Andrew’s Church of Ireland Balligan and at times, Down Cathedral. The cathedral is high on a hill clinging to the edge of the town, clearly visible across uninterrupted countryside from Ballydugan House to the southwest.
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Caylan was Bishop: early in the 12th century it was occupied as a house of Regular Canons of the Order of St Augustine, superseded after 1177 by Benedictines.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.
One of the readings was Order to View by Louis MacNiece. The poet’s mother and Dorinda’s mother were cousins. The opening line is, “It was a big house, bleak.” Another reading was a verse from St John’s Gospel which includes the line, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” The organist and choirmaster Michael McCracken led Down Cathedral Choir singing In Paradisum from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. The Harty Quartet played three pieces: George Frideric Handel’s Le Réjouissance; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Arioso; and Edward Elgar’s Salut d’Amour.
Beautiful floral arrangements by Florestina enriched the stone architectural foil. Dorinda’s brother, Brigadier James Percival, remarked that just a couple of weeks earlier, Florestina, which is owned and run by Suzie Scott, Dorinda’s cousin, was responsible for the floral decorations of The Queen’s Service of Reflection at St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast. A reception was held after The Service of Thanksgiving for Dorinda at the appropriately historic Denvir’s Hotel below Down Cathedral in the town centre. Architect John O’Connell summed up Dorinda subtly and succinctly as being “spirited and singular”.
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.