This book is a great pleasure, particularly for the many who admired and miss the Knight of Glin. The book is a tribute, not a biography: ‘a celebration of Desmond’s public life’ as Robert O’Byrne says, ‘and a record of his achievements’. So, after an early chapter which describes Desmond’s early life, there are chapters on Desmond as art historian, as conservationist and as connoisseur. There is a final chapter on Glin and on the part it played in the life of its 29th Knight.
O’Byrne has been thorough, and has talked to many of Desmond’s friends. Indeed one of the principal pleasures of the book derives from the reminiscences of those close to him – Anne Crookshank, Mark Girouard, John Cornforth, Christopher Gibbs, John Harris and many others. One of the Knight’s most remarkable gifts was his ability to attract the affection of a bewilderingly wide range of people. In the words of these, and particularly in the words of his beloved wife Olda, he is brought to life. And if there is a touch of the hagiographic in all of this, that is as it should be in a tribute and celebration. And even those who knew the Knight well will learn much here: of his travels in south-east Asia, of his career in Harvard, and of the intensity of his socialising with which few of his friends will have had the energy to become fully acquainted.
One of the principal pleasures of the book derives from the reminiscences of those close to him – Anne Crookshank, Mark Girouard, John Cornforth, Christopher Gibbs, John Harris and many others
This last is recorded in one well-chosen photograph in the book, entitled ‘Mick & Maurice’, taken by the Knight in the Dining Room in Glin. Mr Jagger and Dr Craig stand at the different ends of the spectrum of highly talented people, from the Dionysiac to the Apollonian, which the Knight so happily navigated. As this book shows, there was a great deal of fun in the Knight’s company; but it wasn’t all frivolous.
Desmond, the ‘Patriot Knight’, called in 2007 for a major international exhibition of Irish decorative arts to ‘waken up the world to a staggering array of art that was manufactured in Ireland’ in the 18th century. So it is pleasing to learn from this splendid book that such an exhibition, entitled ‘Ireland on the World Stage, 1690-1840’, will open on St Patrick’s Day 2015 in the Art Institute of Chicago. Taking its inspiration from his life’s work, the exhibition will be dedicated to Desmond’s memory.
Edward McParland is the author of Public Architecture in Ireland 1680-1760 Yale University Press (2001).