Friday, April 27, 2007

Desmond FitzGerald

Desmond FitzGerald is the 29th Knight of Glin, or the Black Knight, possessor of these hereditary titles that date back to 14th century Ireland, and the only noble titles still recognized by the Irish Government (the way the British recognize their dukes, earls and barons, etc.).  The Knight’s ancestral home is Glin Castle, an 18th century neoclassical house (with battlements added in the 1820s), which is set alongside the River Shannon, and only 30 miles from the Shannon Airport. Surrounded by “only” 500 acres of dairy farm and parkland, the castle contains 15 bedrooms and today is run as both a private house and a “stately” dinner, bed and breakfast within close proximity to some of the finest golf courses in Ireland.

DPC and Desmond Fitzgerald, the 29th Knight of Glin
Glin Castle is a unique place to stay in Ireland with its authentic atmosphere of an historic castle with a famous collection of Irish furniture and paintings acquired over the centuries. The castle is surrounded by formal gardens with clipped hedges, stone urns and busts, a parade of yew trees, a series of follies, and a walled garden that supplies the castle’s kitchen with fresh fruits, vegetables and cut flowers. For more information visit: http://www.glincastle.com

Fitzgerald and his wife Olda also own a terrace house in Dublin. They have three daughters, now grown (his eldest daughter’s husband is actor Dominic West – an Irish Catholic from Sheffield, England).  FitzGerald is a major collector of Irish Baroque furniture from the mid-18th century. He is also head of the Irish Georgian society which was started by another Desmond, Desmond Guinness.

He was a child when he inherited the castle, then fairly empty and producing no income.  He got a Masters in Fine Arts from Harvard, and then went to work in the furniture department at the Victoria & Albert. His professional interests in art and furniture took him into the rarefied worlds of international collectors, art historians and artists.

Although he has described himself as a shy man, he’s also a very friendly man, easy to engage in conversation, and has a host of friends and acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic as well as throughout Europe. It is said that staying at Castle Glin one actually feels like a “guest” in the house with its lack of pompousness and formality. That is this knight’s personality signature. His obsession with Irish furniture is enhanced by his keen sense of history of the Irish. Ironically although he is Irish, his accent is British because of his upbringing with a mother who lived in London. His first wife from an early brief marriage was Loulou de la Falaise, the fashion designer and retailer, was for years the muse of Yves St. Laurent.
In his later years, he and his wife have been running the castle and the dairy farm, but his passionate interest is in collecting the Irish furniture. This year, 2007, FitzGerald and a collaborator, James Peill of Christie’s completed and published a seminal book on Irish furniture “Irish Furniture,” published by Yale University Press.

The market for the furniture is now booming thanks to the booming Irish economy where young successful entrepreneurs are buying and restoring what’s left of the Irish Georgian houses and filling them with furniture from the same period. The furniture is also popular with collectors in America because of its harmonious aesthetic with early Virginia and Philadelphia furniture.

Desmond FitzGerald also has the distinction of being not only the 29th Knight of Glin but also the last, since he and his wife have produced only female children, and the primogeniture rules of inheritance still apply in Ireland. A dedicated family man, one gets the impression that although he has deep concern for the future of the family property and collections, he loves his daughters and is unconcerned about the lack of a 30th Knight of Glin. He’s a modern knight, respectful and abiding of the strokes of fate.