A vivid childhood memory of mine is visiting the magical Luggala house, lake and estate in beautiful County Wicklow. A very handsome coffee table book on the house and its history, and of the life and family of its owner Garech de Brun, has recently been written and assembled by author Robert O’Byrne and published by Cico Books. Garech was a son of Lord Oranmore and Browne, and hailed from Claremorris, Co Mayo, (where the family had its estate, Castlemacgarret) and he and my father became life long friends. O’Byrne’s book is, amongst other things, a fascinating social history and an absorbing portrait of a particular cultural world, which connects to the English monarchy at one end and to wild Irish poets and pipers at the other! This is my review of the book in the Irish Independent.


Luggala Days- The Story of a Guinness House by Robert O’Byrne

Cico Books (London and New York)

Imagine a big house in Ireland, where Hollywood film star Charlotte Rampling is dancing wildly in an ornate living room with the elfin Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains, watched by pipers, Rolling Stone Ron Wood (with large glass in hand) and the legendary, Dennis Hopper, looking as menacing as he ever did in Easy Rider or Blue Velvet. Imagine the same room ten years earlier, with Brendan Behan holding forth, or the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmaid in full flow. Or, best of all (an iconic 1960’s moment), the other Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and the late Brian Jones reveling at a lavish 21st birthday party held in 1966 for Tara Browne, along with Anita Pallenberg, John Paul Getty Jr and actress Siobhain McKenna. My parents were there as well, and my father, Edward a young and outspoken sculptor, has just come from a major row about modern art on RTE TV’s The Late Late Show!


The house is, of course, Luggala, nestled deep in the Wicklow countryside, owned by Garech de Brun, the Guinness scion and founder of Claddagh records, and the legacy and history of Luggala has been done rich justice here by a lavish and colourful coffee table book, compiled by author Robert O’Byrne. New photos of the tawny bracken-covered countryside by James Fennell are mixed with fascinating archival photos. And, as with the parties, you just don’t know who’ll show up. Half of Luggala’s appeal is its location, at the bottom of a glacial valley, next to the scenic Lough Tay, near Roundwood,  and nestling at the heart of a 5,000-acre estate, stocked with deer and game. As country houses go, Luggala is not a Downtown Abbey-type ‘Big House’, but actually quite a small, an ornate 18th century hunting lodge, but with curious battlements and trefoil windows, just like a miniature castle.

The other half of Luggala’s appeal, and its driving force, is of course, Garech himself who broke from the traditional (and often rather boring) Anglo-Irish mould of hunting, horses and banking to embrace Gaelic culture, traditional music and the international counter culture of the 1960’s and 70’s. In this, he was following the footsteps of his mother Oonagh, one of the three ‘Golden Guinness girls’, who befriended 1950s literary figures like Claud Cockburn, Robert Kee and Brendan Behan. Married three times, Oonagh was given the house as a present by her father. In the quiet years of 1950s or 1960s Ireland, her parties were sparkling and even decadent affairs, as were those thrown by her son Garech in the following decades.


However, it was not just frivolous partying. Garech (above) also played host to acclaimed American poets like Robert Lowell and John Berryman, as well as Michael MacLiammoir and the piper Leo Rowsome. He was painted by Lucian Freud (who married his cousin, the writer Caroline Blackwood) and he befriended and recorded the avant-garde composer Frederick May, as well as Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke and the haunting Jack McGowran reading the works of Samuel Beckett (supervised by Beckett himself). So, it is quite a cultural legacy for which Garech deserves great credit, especially given that it was often (then, as now) against the prevailing philistine Irish mentality of a country more interested in field sports and politicians.


Having artists stay in Luggala was part of all this. And the word ‘magical’ is not overused here. Angelica Huston (pictured), who visited with her father, the legendary film director John Huston, described Luggala as ‘a dream of enchanted place’, while the poet Robert Graves, a man not given to hyperbole, wrote to Garech after a stay in 1975, that he would ‘never forget a square yard of your domain. Nor the herds of deer, nor the fish jumping from the lake, nor the shining mica on the sand..The long splendid table where we dined and the proud position you gave me at your side which implied my gift of the first helping of food..”

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It is a magic I remember myself from staying in Luggala as a child, when my parents visited. My late father, Edward, was a close friend of Garech’s but he also designed record sleeves for him, and specifically for The Chieftains (picture above), and adorned Luggala with his large bronze sculptures, including the 12 foot tall figure of The Good Shepherd standing beside the house, and acting as a reminder of the rugged West of Ireland from where they had both come. Looking at the sculptures now, and the striking highly modernistic designs of the LPs, is a reminder that notwithstanding the ‘ye olde’ atmosphere of Luggala house and surroundings, it is the actually the very European and restlessly modern quality of the place and ambience that makes it so special. And Robert O’Byrne’s voluminous book captures that precisely.

Angelica Huston photo (above) by Bob Richardson

More on Luggala, and the Browne (de Brun) family: