Tribute to Irish Georgian Society Co-Founder Desmond Guinness

21st August 2020
News Item

Desmond Guinness, who died on 20th August 2020, is to be remembered as having made the single greatest contribution of any individual to saving Ireland’s architectural heritage, from his co-founding of the Irish Georgian Society (IGS) in 1958.

Through his books he communicated the value and importance of Ireland’s post-medieval architecture and artistic legacy as something to be proud of. As a lecturer he energetically raised major funds for the IGS in the USA over a number of decades when there was no State support for heritage.

Following in the philanthropic tradition of the Guinness family, he took on the ownership of our greatest country house, Castletown in Co. Kildare, when it was endangered in the 1960s and could have been lost or compromised by inappropriate development. His donation of the house to a charitable foundation should be recognised as one of the greatest bequests to the nation.

Never seeking personal credit, he had a unique way of bringing people together. It was his leadership along with the late Uinseann MacEoin that took on the saving of The Tailors' Hall after it was nearly lost through dereliction in the 1960s. His charm and enthusiasm inspired a volunteer programme by the Irish Georgian Society which engaged in projects all around the country.

The full extent of his achievements is not known. Much of what he did was quiet, behind-the-scenes persuasion of politicians and public officials in decision making, such as abandoning the County Council plan to demolish the early-18th century Damer House in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary for a car park in the 1970s. So many buildings that might have been lost survive because of his initiative, notably in the IGS taking on the repair of Doneraile Court in Co. Cork when it was falling into ruin in State ownership.

The impact of his life and legacy for Irish heritage and culture goes far beyond the achievements we are aware of. His inspiration encouraged many others to take on the restoration of neglected 18th century houses on the Northside of Dublin City and in the country.

An Taisce was pleased to have nominated him for the Europa Nostra lifetime achievement medal and asks now that his numerous achievements never be forgotten.