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2005-04-26 Lissadell is happy, positive and alive

After a low period, it looks as though Lissadell House is heading in a direction which ought to transform it into the flagship tourist attraction it deserves to be. From as far back as I can remember, the house always appeared grey, cold and rundown.

 

It was difficult to imagine this `bleak house' as a society home, let alone a family home. The gardens had been destroyed, the destructive sound of the chain-saw was never far away, everything about Lissadell estate was on a downwards spiral. Some members of the Gore-Booth family seemed to fit into Irish society more successfully than others. Some - unintentionally, I'm sure - seemed to drag up all that had been negative about British occupation.

 

Aideen Gore-Booth, thankfully, was in the former camp. When her younger sister Gabrielle died, Aideen took over, personally conducting tours of the house, even cleaning her vast home as best she could. She struggled to cope with huge financial worries, and ongoing problems concerning the sale of timber from the estate. Aideen lived in a tiny back room - I often imagined her hauling her bag of coal or bale of briquettes to heat that lonely little room on dark Winter nights. Her enigmatic brother Angus seemed to add fuel to the mysterious scenario. And yet, miraculously, Aideen always appeared warm-hearted and jolly, and will be remembered with fondness by all who had the privilege of knowing her. When the vultures descended on Lissadell for the auction, the thing that made me saddest was the fact that Aideen had never been in a position to sell even one of her family's artistic masterpieces, to give her the comfort she so richly deserved in her twilight years. It is a century since Lissadell was home to a large family of children.

 

On Easter Saturday, I called in to Lissadell House to meet the new owners Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh, and their seven lively children. I doubt very much that the last flock of children resident in Lissadell were free to express themselves in such a liberated and animated way. Lissadell's perfect marriage of seaside and forestry looked its best in the Easter weekend sun. Edward is one of the country's busiest, most highly respected and compassionate barristers. His wife - Constance Cassidy - is a specialist in `Licensing Law' and a successful writer. Yet somehow, they are finding the time (with 7 kids) to fully renovate and revitalise Lissadell and its vast estate. Already, huge strides have been made, all in the right direction. I had never seen Lissadell buzzing with such activity and positivity before. Many rooms have been redecorated in vibrant sunny shades. Edward's favourite room - The Billiard Room - is home to Henry Gore-Booth's Arctic memorabilia. The new owners worked hard to buy back many of Lissadell's trademark showpieces.

 

I joined a guided tour briefly, conducted in a naturally eloquent, yet animated and informative way, by a well-known RTE actress. I was invited by Constance to play the `Walnut Grand piano'. A welcoming fire filled the great fireplace, restored Grecian gasoliers hung overhead, and the acoustic-friendly gallery was soon filled with my technically-imperfect Schumann. After a few bars I became self-conscious, but I left with the hope that the Lissadell Gallery will, in time, become a popular local recital venue. The stable-block is being developed into apartments - perhaps for Yeats students, or as a writer's retreat. The gardens, nurseries, orchards, walled garden, arboretum, ice house, oyster farm and barnacle goose sanctuary will all, in time, be revived thoroughly.

 

Constance and Edward have been welcomed with open arms by such local businessmen as Mick Carroll in Carney, welcomed to worship at Maugherow Church, and are full of praise for the hospitality received from Damien Davis at the popular Yeats Tavern, and further afield at Austies and Bianconis. Angela Leonard's passion for Lissadell has been a driving force. Everything about Lissadell seems happy, positive and alive. It is in Irish hands now: its once faded grandeur is beginning to sparkle again. Lissadell is open again from 1st May - 11am til 5pm. Phone : 071 - 9163150. (Out of season for tours of 20 or more). Tea Rooms are available. This is a family home, which happens to be open to the public. Let's respect the massive efforts and investments this highly motivated and driven couple have made on behalf of us all.