Not groped but tackled

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The Independent Online
'IF I'D known I was going to be this thirsty in the morning,' says Oliver, consuming a restorative beer in his Kildare fastness, 'I would have drunk more last night.' Kildare is horse country and, compared to Switzerland, it is reasonably flat. Oliver is the happy possessor of some acres, a walled garden and a few horses, upon which he plays polo.

A couple of Swiss came to dinner. They have a schloss in Alsace and houses in Zurich, Geneva and elsewhere, but had never previously been in Ireland. Kildare impressed them mightily, possibly on account of its flatness. In no time at all they were consulting Desmond Guinness's magnificent tome, written in collaboration with Jacqueline O'Brien, Great Irish Houses and Castles, which they found lying on Oliver's table with, I believe, a view to purchase. It was the first time I had seen one of Desmond's books used as a real estate prospectus.

'Could we buy a house here?' the Swiss gentleman asked. 'For what you spent on your roof,' said Dieter, who lives here already, 'you could buy any mansion in Ireland.' They flicked through the pages. 'This one is nice,' said the gentleman. 'Too small,' said his lady. 'You can forget that one,' I said, as they studied the pages devoted to Leixlip Castle. 'It belongs to the State?' the gentleman inquired. 'No,' said I. 'It belongs to Desmond Guinness and I don't think he's willing to part with it. Besides, it's haunted by a dog with several heads.'

I have never, myself, seen this dog but I do not doubt its existence. Leixlip is on the banks of the Liffey, which I suppose is appropriate, since it was the transmutation of the waters of that river into black beer that founded the fortune of Desmond's family. I have been up and down the Liffey during the Christmas-new year interregnum, partying royally, for really there is nothing else to do. I am in Ireland able to accommodate myself quite pleasantly to this enforced idleness, as never I was in England or America, where I find it merely irritating. In Ireland we order our parties better.

At the residence of the US ambassador in Phoenix Park, previously the residence of the Lords Lieutenant of Ireland, I was given tea with rum in it by the present incumbent, a charming gentleman by the name of Fitzgerald, who will shortly be retiring to his vineyards in California. I gave him the name of Michael O'Callaghan, who, on another splendid river, the Blackwater, makes wine from Irish grapes at Longueville House, which he also runs as a hotel. He is the only man in Ireland to make wine from his own grapes, though vintages, I fear, are not frequent. 'All I need,' says Michael, 'is a grape that hates sunlight and loves rain.'

The rain held off farther down the Liffey at Tony O'Reilly's house on Stephen's Day, what we call Boxing Day. Dr O'Reilly owns a few newspapers here and runs a soup company in Pittsburg. He has a collection of Jack Yeats and played rugby for Ireland with some distinction. The principal entertainment consisted of a game of scratch rugby on what I presume to be the croquet lawn. His guests were invited to join in. This included the ladies. Theoretically, this grants one the opportunity to come to grips with lissom blondes, but I spotted a half- dozen useful-looking fellows of possibly international standard on the field, including his oak-like sons. So, remembering painful childhood experiences of this sport, I declined.

'Can we tackle the girls?' shouts one fellow. 'You can, but you can't grope them,' says the referee, very stern. Several penalties were, nevertheless, granted for this transgression in the course of the game and the tackling was particularly ferocious in the vicinity of the shrubbery. Afterwards, we were warmed up with soup (Heinz, I believe) and the doctor sang at the piano.

I almost begin to weary of parties, but not quite.

'BEING able to ride a horse, sail a boat, put a bet on the right animal and buy a round,' says Mary Finnegan, practising what she preaches, 'is better than being a stunner. That's what gets you one of those fellows.'

We were discussing the gentlemen who ride horses, for Mary is my expert on all matters equine and is herself a stunner. 'It's the women who looked like horses,' says Mary, 'not the women who owned horses, got all the men. I had my eyes wiped often by women who looked more like draught mares than draught mares do.' I will ponder this mystery, but I'll never come to the bottom of it. I was telling Mary about the rules of O'Reilly scratch rugby. 'Sure, what's the difference between tackling and groping?' asks she. I could tell her, but I won't. As for myself, I shall stick to billiards and croquet.

WHILE we are on the subject of Irish lubricity, here's a conversation overheard in the Shelbourne. First lady: 'I can't stand it. Three times a day, every day, for the last 11 years.' Second lady: 'Three times a day? Some would consider themselves lucky.' First lady: 'Oh yeah? Try eating cornflakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner with,' she adds wistfully, 'just the occasional Weetabix or Rice Krispies. It's still cereal.'