Evelyn Waugh and Irish Castles

An Irish blogger (“Lord Belmont of Northern Ireland”), specializing in the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and related matters, recently posted an article about Gormanston Castle. This is located in County Meath about 16 miles north of Dublin.¬†After reciting the Barons and Viscounts Gormanston dating back to the 14th Century, Evelyn Waugh’s brief encounter with the estate is mentioned:

The author Evelyn Waugh was interested in purchasing the estate in 1946 and even bid for it.¬†He described it as “A fine, solid, grim, square, half-finished block with tower and turrets”.¬†On learning that Butlins were opening a holiday camp in the vicinity, he promptly changed his mind.

Waugh was actively looking for a house in Ireland after the war. He visited Gormanston in December 1946. The quoted description on the blog comes from Waugh’s Diaries¬†(pp. 664-65) and continues:

The ground floor rooms were large and had fine traces of Regency decoration. Pictures by Lady Butler were everywhere. There were countless bedrooms, many uninhabitable, squalid plumbing, vast attics. On the whole I liked the house; the grounds were dreary with no features except some fine box alleys. The chapel unlicensed and Mrs. O’Connor evasive about getting it put to use again.

The house was evaluated at ¬£13,ooo¬†plus 5,000 more for repairs. Waugh authorized his agent to put in a bid but then explains: “On boarding the ship [for England] I bought a local evening paper and read that Butlin had acquired a stretch of property at Gormanston and was setting up a holiday camp there. This announcement made us change all our intentions. It came just in time for us, disastrously for Mrs. O’Connor.”

Waugh was perhaps premature in predicting the outcome for Mrs. O’Connor. There was at least one other bidder. According to the blog, the house was acquired by the Franciscans in 1947 (just after Waugh’s visit) and has been operated as a school to this day. The blog also describes¬†another of Waugh’s encounters¬†with the Anglo-Irish aristocracy¬†here¬†(scroll down to “SIR JOHN EDWARD NOURSE HEYGATE, 4th Baronet (1903-76), of Bellarena”).

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