Searching for a Title
By hook or by crook we will dine at Dunbrody House. Oliver Cromwell, ever the joker in the pack, reputedly quipped he would take Ireland “by Hook or by Crook”. 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 refined – in search of the perfect fish ‘n’ chips. Make that beer battered fish and chips with a scoop of tartar sauce and a shot of green pea in a neoclassical reception room overlooking a sun soaked terrace leading onto landscaped gardens in a country estate.
Dunbrody House was the gaff of an Anglo Irish family right up to 1996. Let us tell you about the very aristocratic. They are different. They have titles. C’m’ere t’us. 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 Sheilah 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 Francis 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.
Ireland’s most distinguished auctioneer, Fonsie Mealy, with half a century of experience behind him, recalls the late Lord and Lady Donegall complaining about “forever trying to make ends meet”. Fonsie launched a sale of Dunbrody’s contents in May 1985. “It was such a social occasion. The sides of the large marquee were down as the weather was magnificent. The prices were magnificent too! Stair Galleries of New York spent £240,000 on a suite of bookcases.”
Now a hotel run by superchef Kevin Dundon and his wife Catherine, the architecture of 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 betwixt its well preserved walls. 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, so it is!” 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 link, yes – Lord Newborough, for a topping time at Magazine, the restaurant with a gallery attached (The Serpentine) while enjoying 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 we 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 9th 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.”