Garret FitzGerald – A Childhood in Bray

State Funeral for Dr Garret FitzGerald arriving at his final resting place Shanganagh Cemetry, outside Bray, Co. Wicklow.

It is but a month since the late Statesman, noted academic and former Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald was laid to rest in Shanganagh Cemetery just outside Bray. It is some 80 years ago since he first came to where he would spend his formative years, a rambling old country house in Bray called Fairy Hill, now demolished, but remembered in the name of a housing estate that stands today where its gardens once grew.

In his memoir ‘All in a Life’, Garret describes clear memories of growing up in Bray and Fairy Hill. Here are two passages from his book that describe happy childhood experiences at Fairy Hill, marred only perhaps by his father’s frequent absenses due to imprisonment for revolutionary activities, a cause in which his mother was also deeply involved.

” Our house, with the enchanting name Fairy Hill, was set in several acres of gardens and lawns and surrounded on three sides by fields, with two small woods and a complex of stables and outbuildings. The building itself was two-storeyed, with a bewildering and eccentric internal plan involving five different levels on the ground floor and three on the first floor.

Half way up the main staircase from the back hall was a spacious drawing room, with steps to a conservatory opening onto a balcony leading to a walled flower garden. The back hall also gave access to a large dining-room and the kitchen quarters. The indoor staff comprised a cook and a maid.

Outside the kitchen was the vegetable-and-fruit garden, and beside it the stables, with their lofts and mangers and numerous outbuildings, included a cow-shed and hen house. Lawns broken by borders with rose bushes sloped down in front of the house to a tennis court, which served also as a croquet lawn, below which was a meadow and beyond that a small but mysterious wood. A gap in the trees revealed a dramatic view of the great houses of Sorrento Terrace on the sea at Dalkey four miles away.”

” Summer activities centred around tennis and bathing expeditions to Co. Wicklow beaches; in winter there were walks, including hill-climbing, but that exaggerated the size and steepness of the inclines we attacked. The tennis parties were accompanied by tea, home-made lemonade and cakes on the lawn – including my mothers’ speciality, a three tier strawberry-and-cream sandwich cake. No alcohol was served either then or at lunch or at ‘late dinner’ – the latter being a meal in which I did not participate. My father was not an absolute teetotaller, although, apart from a rather unsuccessful attempt to get him to drink stout medicinally after an illness, I cannot recall him drinking anything other than perhaps a glass of sherry at a reception. But he had a deep distrust of alcohol and distaste for drunkenness. He believed that drink had predjudiced many earlier Irish attempts to achieve independence of Britain. As a result the only alcohol – apart from that medicinal Guinness – that I ever saw in the house was a solitary bottle of Benedictine kept in the pantry off the dining room ‘in case a visitor came’, i.e. a visitor with the temerity to ask for a drink.”

Garret FitzGerald 1926 – 2011. May he rest in peace.

All in a Life, by Garret FitzGerald (Gill & MacMillan, 1991) is available to purchase online. Extracts about life in Fairy Hill and Bray, including the above, are reproduced in the current Journal of the Bray Cualann Historical Society, available from shops in Bray including Dubray Books.

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The editor of this diary lives in Diamond Valley, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. Diamond Valley is a modern apartment community in the old setting of the Valley of Diamonds, alongside the river Dargle. Contact editor@diamondvalley.ie
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