In April 1937, “The face of Ireland”, by Michael Floyd, was published. We don’t know anything about the author but, on page 75, he states: “If I were asked to pick out one spot in Ireland that seemed to me more glorious than the rest, I believe that Rosguill would be my choice”.
Exactly one month earlier, on the 13th of March according to some accounts and some speculations, a car was seen dashing to county Donegal, to go back to Dublin the next day with an extraordinary gift.
The people in the car were An Oige representatives on their way to Rosguill, in the extreme north west of Ireland. They were set to meet the 48 years old Mrs Lucy Phillimore, nee Fitzpatrick. She wanted to donate her holiday home (Tra Na Rosann house) to someone who could use it “for the youth of Ireland”. Other conditions she set were that she would retain responsibility for the gardener and the caretaker.
Why would she do that? And who was Lucy?
Lucy was born in co. Down and married an English barrister. The two soon grew fascinated with the ideas of the Fabian society, a socialist organisation whose aim was to advance the principles of socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. Lucy’s “Fabian name” was LION, because of her hair and her strong personality.
At the time, Ireland was fertile ground for socialist organizations, and the Fabian society figured among the groups. One of its most famous representatives was GB Shaw, who also happened to be a friend of the Phillimores.
The couple spent their holidays in county Donegal, in a house designed by sir Edwin Luytuens, one of the most prominent architects in British history. In GB Shaw’s archive there are pictures of Donegal taken in Rosapenna and Doe Castle, very close to Tra Na Rosann. Might it be that he visited the couple while wandering across the region? We can’t know for sure, but we can play with the idea.
After Robert’s premature death, Lucy’s sojourns in Ireland grew longer. She spent most of her Irish times in county Wicklow, where she had the chance to meet artists like Bertrand Russell, WB Yeats and other representatives off the Protestant aristocracy who would later be involved in the Celtic Revival. In this period, she did not go back to Donegal very often.
In the meantime, An Oige was founded in 1931, and she probably thought that giving her home to the organisation would be a good way to dispose of the beautiful building before going back to England. Lucy was not new to these gifts. Her style was always the same, with every building she offered. “There are conditions, coming with this”, the echo of her voice says through the fold of history, as the recipients of the gifted buildings were bound to use them for the reasons she had envisioned.
Lucy died in London on the 30th of November 1957.
When we go back to Tra na Rosann, after this time of exceptional isolation, we can savour the pleasure and be honoured of staying in a building with such a rich history. And once we step out of it, we can enjoy one of the most spectacular scenery in the west of Ireland.
We have lots of other stories from Tra na Rosann, and we want to share them with you. Stay tuned!