The place that kept getting robbed
Another of our occasional dips into the Times of London obits, this one for Clementine Beit, longtime resident of County Wicklow's Russborough House and the superb art collection therein, accumulated with her husband, Alfred Beit. Most Irish people will know the collection mainly from the spectacular robberies recounted in the article, although most of it is now safely in the National Gallery in Dublin. A couple of other things worthy of note:
Clementine Mabell Kitty Mitford
Yes, another Mitford (first cousin).
Sir Alfred lost his seat [as a Tory MP] in the Labour landslide of 1945 and the Beits moved to South Africa, where Sir Alfred had inherited substantial business interests. It was not long before politics there took an uncongenial turn with the defeat of Jan Christiaan Smuts in 1948 and his replacement by a government committed to apartheid. It made South Africa a country to which the Beits were disinclined to commit themselves totally, although they retained a residence in the Cape to which they went each year to escape the northern winter.
Nice delicate phrasing there.
In 1952, leafing through Country Life, the Beits spotted an advertisement for a colonnaded Georgian mansion of exceptional elegance in Co Wicklow, Ireland, called Russborough, that had been the seat of the extinct Earls of Milltown. Beit put in a bid that was accepted on the spot. It was a time when many well-to-do British were attracted to Ireland by its benign taxation, ready supply of stately homes and inexpensive servants; it was also a peaceful land with hardly any violent crime.
Indeed, why wouldn't it have been like that, being the expressed goal of the Republic's dominant political figure of the time, Eamon De Valera?
"Let us turn aside for a moment to the ideal Ireland that we would have. That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of people who valued material wealth only as the basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit - a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of comely maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age."
Yes -- the Republic's natural party of government, Fianna Fail, made the country an ideal place for the well-to-do British. There's the strange irony of another upper class English woman, Rose Dugdale, taking part in one of the robberies, motivated by her Irish Republican politics. And the later robberies lacked any Republican veneer, just the plain and simple motivation of money.
One jarring note at the end:
In 1993, some six years after their generous benefaction to the National Gallery, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit were honoured with Irish citizenship. The Government of Charles Haughey, deterred by the Beits’ continuing connections with South Africa, had hesitated on the issue until the apartheid regime was replaced.
Our Irish readers will have difficulty containing their laughter as they read about Charlie's scruples over who should get Irish citizenship; at the same time that he was dithering on it for the Beits, he was selling it to dodgy Saudis.
Anyway, surely some credit to the woman for having, relatively speaking, toughed things out in Wicklow, and we'll close by noting that her husband managed to avoid the standard Irish marriage proposition line of "do you want to be buried with my father's people?"
Appropriately, her husband proposed to her under Goya’s portrait of Doña Antonia de Zarate in his residence at Kensington Palace Gardens where he housed his great collection.
Come to think of it, though, we know the setting, but we don't know what he actually said.