OBITUARY: Oonagh Oranmore

For those who knew Oonagh, Lady Oranmore and Browne she will be fashioned in memory by the name of Luggala, her home for many years; Luggala, in County Wicklow, a place of magic. A day's march, an hour's drive south from Dublin, the sometime 18th-century hunting lodge had once belonged to the family of Rose La Touche (a 19th-century beauty who had received the unwelcome attentions of John Ruskin). It was then bought by Oonagh's father, Ernest Guinness, younger son of the first Earl of Iveagh.

Tucked into a cleft of the Wicklow mountains under Sally Gap; purple heather on black rock, a waterfall behind and before a lithe river feeding first one lake and then another and another, the Victorian Gothic folly, as Luggala had become, shone like the discarded crown of a prima ballerina. The lake nearest the house was fringed with soft white sand brought by cart from beaches beside the Irish Sea - an exotic conceit.

Oonagh was the youngest and, she suspected, the favourite of her father's three blonde and blue-eyed daughters - corkers all. Her father gave her this jewel of a property when she first became engaged at 19 to Philip Kindersley, the second son of the banker Lord Kindersley. Five years and two children later they were divorced, whereupon Oonagh married one who bore what her friend the film director John Huston described as his favourite name: Dominick, fourth Baron Oranmore and Browne. It was a name Oonagh was to keep in spite of a third, last and childless marriage in 1957 to one Miguel Ferreras, putatively of Cuba.

She bore three children by Dominick, one dying at birth, a younger son dying tragically young. The elder, Garech Browne, champion and guardian of Irish lore, and an early sponsor of the the pop group "The Chieftains", is the present owner of Luggala.

It was not until after the Second World War and her second divorce that Luggala came into its own as the most decorative honeypot in Ireland. Oonagh somehow imbued Luggala with enchantment. Nobody could keep away: Dublin intelligentsia, literati, painters, actors, scholars, hangers-on, toffs, punters, poets, social hang-gliders were attracted to Luggala as to nowhere else in Ireland - perhaps even in Europe, from where many would come. And the still centre of this exultant, exuberant chaos was Oonagh.

The warmth of the reception, the generosity of the hospitality and depth of cellar, all presided over by a gentle Irish Jeeves, Patrick Cummins, was never allowed to be scuppered by the unforeseen. Such were Cummins's diplomatic skills they always seemed to have been anticipated.

One of the splendours of Luggala was the ease with which life could be conducted harmoniously and concurrently on several levels. On the ground there might be the inimitable Claud Cockburn measuring his considerable length on the drawing-room carpet after an exhilarating morning of informed discussion spent not far from the brandy decanter. His supine form lent itself to adaptation by energetic five-year olds into an impromptu playground. Then, a little higher, seated earnestly on the edge of, or laid back over, sofas and chairs was the jeunesse doree, exploring each other's personalities. Upright, might be found the "grown-ups"; the writer Erskine Childers, the playwright Sean O'Casey, Soho regulars en permission, cosmopolitan lovers of the turf, politicians of different persuasions, and threading through all a beady-eyed Lucian Freud, careful to avoid Brendan Behan in lively exchange with the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Unlike her two sisters, who both had a more prominent social profile, Oonagh was an intensely private person, a listener rather than a speaker; and all the more observant for that. Because she was so self-effacing, it was easy to cast her in the role of Cinderella. Certainly there were always a number of princes, slipper in hand, eager for that little foot. But perhaps it was only Oranmore and Browne who came up to snuff.

Vulnerable, she was; downtrodden she never allowed herself to be. A powerful weapon was her dangerously sneaky camera which delighted in taking people unawares. Her carefully tabulated library of photographs would be a rich vein for a social historian to mine. It was people rather than things which held a finely veiled but intense curiosity for her. Her astute observation of people could express itself in a throwaway comment borne in a small voice of such deceptive innocence that the sharp wit informing it was often felt in delayed reaction.

With the constriction of age her presence in no way diminished. Half witch, half goddess, Oonagh Oranmore was nevertheless "real" in a very unusual, disturbing and exhilarating way. However brief the encounter her savoury uniqueness made you sit up and look a little more carefully at your own cherished illusions.

At the age of 21, Oonagh's son Tara was killed in a motor accident. He was a friend of the Beatles and his death was the inspiration for their song "A Day in the Life". After the accident, Oonagh's life changed radically. She left Luggala to live in France with Tara's two children and the Mexican twins she had adopted while married to Ferreras, at John Huston's instigation. She then moved to Guernsey before returning to County Wicklow, where she finally came to rest.

Michael Luke

Oonagh Guinness: born London 22 February 1910; married 1929 The Hon Philip Kindersley (one son, and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1936), 1936 Dominick, fourth Baron Oranmore and Browne (one son, and two sons deceased; marriage dissolved 1950), 1957 Miguel Ferreras (one adopted son, one adopted daughter; marriage dissolved 1965); died County Wicklow 2 August 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee