OBITUARY: Oonagh Oranmore

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The Independent Online
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.