Rhymes with “Rainy”

by wjw on August 8, 2019

IMG_4270This is Castle Dunsany, home to the second oldest peerage in Ireland and to Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the soldier, poet, playwright, and fantasist who published under the name Lord Dunsany.

Castle Dunsany is not normally open to the public, but we were privileged enough to rate a tour from the voluble and charming Lady Dunsany, widow of the 20th baron and mother to the 21st.  She began by showing us the field where 29 members of the Dunsany family were executed by Cromwell, apparently in hopes of finding the family gold.  The only survivor was the child who actually knew where the treasure was buried, and who escaped to Belgium to be adopted by a local family.  He returned to Ireland after the peace, dug up the gold, and with the assistance of the Belgian family and some other relations, re-established the family seat.

Castle Dunsany is not really set up for tour groups, and things are organized rather casually.  Original bound holograph manuscripts by the 18th Lord Dunsany are just sort of lying around in the library, and I paged through several with interest.  He wrote on whatever piece of paper was available— letter stock, handbills, receipts— and sometimes he’d re-use the paper.  I saw one manuscript that had one story written in red crayon, a second in green crayon over the top of the first, and a third in black ink atop that.  (He usually wrote with a quill pen he cut himself.  It was all first draft, and other than a few corrections he never revised.)

We saw a box containing the relics of the martyr St. Oliver Plunkett, Bishop of Armagh, who was railroaded in the aftermath of the Popish Plot and who several centuries later became the first Irish saint in nearly 700 years.  “Just pass them around the table,” said Lady Dunsany, and we dutifully shuffled the relics from hand to hand.

There are some good pictures by the likes of Van Dyck, but the documentation was lost in a fire, and so the provenance is gone along with the value of the paintings.

In the snooker room, we saw a giant bound holograph manuscript— really huge and heavy, nearly three feet wide— containing Dunsany’s epic poem “Journey,” the story of his escape from Greece ahead of the German panzers, followed by an odyssey through Turkey, Egypt, around South Africa and eventually home to Ireland.  From what I could see of it, it was pretty good.  I know it was published, and I’ll have to see if I can find a copy.

The Plunketts have got everywhere in the last thousand years or so, and knew everybody, and were probably related to everybody.  Dunsany was a major figure of the Celtic Twilight, a friend of Lady Gregory and Yeats whose plays were performed at the Abbey and the London West End.  He was a candidate for the Nobel Prize, but failed to get it on account of some chicanery or other (I hope to find out what it was).

I’ve been doing my homework and reading a lot of Dunsany lately, and I have this whole Theory of Dunsany which I will spring on you when I have the time.  But in the meantime I’d like to thank Lady Dunsany for her kindness in showing us her home and giving so much of her time to us.

She comes to my house, I’ll show her around.

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