King Stan, exiled from his estates

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THE CENTRE of Kinsale has been tastefully regenerated and there is a healthy tang of money and cement dust to the sea air. Various distressful ruins have been replaced by colonnaded arcades and terraces of shops surmounted by apartments.

It is amazing what you can do with breeze blocks which, if suitably rendered, can be made into the shape of Norman castles, Mediterranean palazzi or even, I do believe, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. We must hope, for the sake of the developers, that these apartments and boutiques are rapidly snapped up, the economic climate being what it is.

The principal purpose of my visit was to look for a house to live in, but one is able on long weekends to attend the odd function here and there. The Office of Public Works was showing off its handiwork at Desmond Castle, otherwise known as the French Prison, which it has been restoring these past several years.

The castle was built, c 1485, by the FitzGeralds for the purpose of mulcting merchants travelling in or out of the town. Some unfortunate French prisoners of war were burnt to death there in, I think, 1746, when they managed to set fire to the foetid straw which was their bedding. If there are any ghosts there, they keep remarkably quiet (not, I would have thought, a Gallic characteristic) for I never heard a peep out of them in the years I lived across the street in Desmond Court.

During that time I would look out of my bedroom window in the morning to observe with satisfaction various gentlemen, charged with its restoration, sunbathing on the roof of the castle, for the OPW has always been meticulous in its approach and need not stint, being lavishly provided with European funds. It is these funds which enable it to desecrate the Irish countryside with its vile 'environmental centres'. It can afford to take its time.

Kinsale is notoriously 'twinned' with Antibes-Juan les Pins. All the more reason to put up a plaque to the Frenchmen so unfortunately brules at that place. Pierre Joannan, a historian who is Hon Irish Consul- General in France, made a pretty speech at the unveiling. The castle, said he, had been a customs post in a Europe which would no longer have any tariffs, and a prison in a Europe which would no longer have prisoners of war. I would believe the first part of this prospectus if I could buy a car or a bottle of wine in the Republic of Ireland for less than twice what these commodities cost in France and I would believe the second if I had been born brain-damaged.

The refurbished castle would make, in my opinion, a fine, if modest, banqueting hall, the officers' quarters which make up the main tower disposing themselves into two fine medieval apartments. My friend Eugene Gillen, of the Historical Society, disagrees on the grounds that they are the site of a tragedy. I fear I shall lose this argument. Wherever the Office of Public Works treads, it leaves behind it either desolation or a museum.

I AM cooling my heels in Cobh, a guest of Peter and Sarah, when not tearing about the country. I was up in Antrim last week, for instance, attending the inauguration of my friend Hugo O'Neill, a Portuguese gentleman, as The O'Neill of Clannaboy, head of his ancient and royal line. We were entertained afterwards by the Hon Hugh O'Neill and by the Lord and Lady O'Neill.

At Shane's Castle, where the Lord O'Neill keeps three steam locomotives, his wife was kind enough to put me next to the Portuguese Minister for the Environment, who must be the most beautiful as well as one of the most intelligent politicians in Europe. I fear I spent most of my time explaining how the Office of Public Works was intent on wrecking the Republic of Ireland. I believe she offered to teach me Portuguese. Mind you, I would learn Cantonese at the moment to avoid my own conversation.

The torpor which has settled on me is the consequence of having lost my estates, for Madame has bid me depart Castlehaven, its house, woods, gardens, sheds, cats and dog and, not least, herself. The fact that this exile is entirely the consequence of my own tiresome behaviour does not make it any the less intolerable.

I shall have to follow the example of the O'Neills who were deprived of their lands; they went and got more of it elsewhere. These O'Neill celebrations took place on either side of the border, for Ulster straddles it and they were Kings of Ulster before they were Kings of Ireland. There are O'Neills on both sides of the present tedious squabble, but then there have usually been O'Neills on both sides of any scrap. Upon this occasion they presented us with harmony and hospitality.

On the morning of my departure I noticed with some dismay that the Portuguese Minister of the Environment had preceded me. Could this be a sign of reawakening interest in the world around me? I hope not.

McCLORY, progenitor of the James Bond films, rings to say he was looking for me the day before yesterday to nominate me as a judge at some stage of the Miss Ireland competition. Apparently it is too late now. I take no trouble to conceal my savage disappointment. If ever a man was ready to pass judgement on the female sex, it is I.

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