Lissadell, always romantic. But the jinx lingers

It is surely the quintessential Irish story of romance, divided family loyalties,  declining wealth and fierce litigation. Over Lissadell  it has extended  through the painful transition from   the Anglo-Irish  to the meritocratic blow-ins of today who so often try to ape the  style of the ould dacency.  And still struggle continues, with the successors every bit as determined to hold on to what they have, as ever were the old gentry. The latest battle of the new era of Lissadell has resulted in expensive defeat for Sligo County Council and victory for the clever new lawyer owners.  But If they are trying to capture the romance of the past through insistence on their full rights of ownership they are surely doomed to failure.

Many a time I think to seek

 One or the other out and speak

 Of that old Georgian mansion,

 Mix pictures of the mind, recall

 That table and the talk of youth,

 Two girls in silk kimonos, both

 Beautiful, one a gazelle

Two girls Constance and Eva Gore Booth, Constance later Markievicz being  the black sheep of a family of colonial governors and officials, most recently as head of the British Foreign Office ( Constance’s nephew)  and another as High Commissioner to India in the 1990s. Both  were characters as well as diplomats. Nephew Paul for instance  was a Sherlock Holmes freak who acted out Holmes’ great struggle with Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.  WB Yeats whose   grandfather was rector of the church up the road at Drumcliffe inflicted one of his crushes on Constance. In  Easter 1916 he recorded her evolution to revolutionary in human terms which surely  would be thought  sexist today:

“That woman’s days were spent

In ignorant good-will.

Her nights in argument

Until her voice grew shrill

What voice more sweet than hers

When, young and beautiful

She rode to harriers?”

However it was her gender that  saved  her from execution after she cried for her life at the court martial.  Although elected as a  Sinn Fein abstentionist to the new Dail in 1918, she couldn’t resist sneaking a visit to Westminster to inspect her coat peg as the first woman to be elected an MP.

After independence the struggle was endless between the state and the Gore-Booths over debts and land management, with the State taking over most of the land right up to Lissadell’s splendid porte cochere.  Was it just about economics or was there a hint of persecution? Probably more the former but it didn’t look good.

In the early 1980s you could still call at the house as I did a couple of times . Miss Aideen made us tea in the crumbling kitchen and showed us round the dusty rooms. She remarked on a set of curtains in a reception room . “Dickie gave us those, “ she said sadly, “ Dickie” being Earl Mountbatten from down the Sligo road at Classiebawn castle  Mullaghmore, assassinated in the harbour a couple of years before.  Classiebawn was  the Irish  ancestral  home of his wife, and the Irish seat of the most imperial of Victorian British prime ministers  Lord Palmerston.   Aideen’s sister  Gabrielle had been  Mountbatten’s  land agent.

A terrible grandeur has vanished. I see the Gore Booth family  papers are in PRONI, well worth a browse.

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  • Brian Walker

    There’s a contrary view of Constance to Yeats’ I can’t resist quoting Kevin Myers’ column in the Sunday Times, attacking the idea of 1916 “celebrations.” I know, I know, over the top for most people but all the same, a great provocative read…

    “In her fine work Renegades, Ann Matthews quotes nurse Geraldine Fitzgerald, who saw Constance Markievicz with a pistol in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “[W]e] saw a policeman walking down the footpath . . . we heard a shot,” the eyewitness recalled. “The countess ran triumphantly into the Green, saying ‘I got him’, and some of the rebels shook her by the hand and seemed to congratulate her.” Good stuff, though perhaps the cigarette should be edited out: we don’t want to give children wrong ideas.
    So when the royal party arrives at St Stephen’s Green, some lucky person is going to have to explain why we erected a bust to this aristocratic lady (born at Buckingham Gate, London, a stone’s throw from the palace) for shooting dead an unarmed peasant from Clare as if he were a mere pheasant at Lissadell….”

    “Anyway, there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate about this period, whether on the rolling pastures of Picardy, the iron ramparts of Verdun, the Lakes of Masuria or in the smoky streets of Dublin, as civilisation was butchered on the cannibal-altars of national pride and imperial hubris. Europe can only contemplate this period with a deep shame at the many millions of lost and ruined lives.
    The Easter Rising admittedly brought in its train fresh freedoms: the freedom to murder policemen emerging from mass, to expel thousands of Protestants and even burn down the Protestant orphanage in Clifden, the freedom for the new Irish government to execute 77 captives, the freedom to impose a Catholic ethos on the entire population, and the freedom to censor. In 1956, a Labour justice minister boasted in the Dail that 6,169 books were on the banned list. That decade, hundreds of thousands of people fled this republic, which had effectively become western Europe’s only failed democratic state.”

  • Just think – “A pistol in one hand and a cigarette box in the other” – “That’s the smoking gun” – “It’s so easy to mistake a peasant for a pheasant. Sure there’s only an aitch or a haitch of difference.”

  • Harumph!

    Yes, Lissadell’s setting is superb (though I trust they have trimmed back the trees so there’s a view to Rosses Point).

    Yes, that window where the poem is set is terribly romantic, but only for that connection (and for the view south).

    But …

    Ever since I visited Lissadell (in the days when it was still a Gore-Booth house), I’ve always felt it to be less than attractive, damned draughty, and not a comfortable joint at all. That gallery is better suited to a municipal building than a home.

    Since the joint was built (I think) in 1832, Yeats is surely wrong to call it “Georgian”.


    Once again the younger sister, Eva, gets airbrushed out of the picture. Yeats was terribly unfair to her:
    I know not what the younger dreams —
    Some vague Utopia — and she seems,
    When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
    An image of such politics.

    Actually, Willie, she spent two years dying of stomach cancer, not from politics.

    Eva’s politics would have been the obverse of Yeats’s: her suffragism, her involvement in the Labour movement, her pacifism, her work in the slums of Manchester … and her rejection of her class. Better, too, not to mention her and 30 years long relationship with with Esther Roper.