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A treasure comes back to Turlough Park House

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A treasure comes back to  Turlough Park House


John Healy

An 18th century painting is to be returned to Turlough Park House, its origins, in the near future, closing a circle of some 350 years.
The portrait, of George Fitzgerald, owner of Turlough House, with his sons Charles Lionel and George Robert, was executed by the celebrated German born artist, Johann Zoffany, in 1764. Five years ago, the oil on canvas painting was donated to the National Gallery by John and Bernie Gallagher, of the Doyle Hotels Group. And now it has been decided to return the piece to where it began its journey, back at Turlough Park House and the Museum of Country Life.
The scene of familial harmony depicted in the painting did not, alas, last long. The father stands with his arm protectively around his younger son ; the other boy, George, plays happily with his kite. But George, later to become legendary as Fighting Fitzgerald, soon wearied of kites. A notorious duellist and hellraiser, he had fought eleven duels by the time he reached the age of 24. He fell out with his brother and his father, imprisoning the latter in a cave in Rockfield, near his home, for fifteen months, and guarding the entrance with his pet Russian bear. His exploits came  to an end when, at age 40, he was hanged on the Mall in Castlebar for murder, with the rope succeeding in its task only at the third attempt.
The return of the Fitzgerald portrait to Turlough House represents something of an attempt to bring back to their origins some of our most noted treasures and artefacts. The Cross of Cong was allowed out of the National Museum last year for a three month display at the Museum of Country Life. And so it should. It had been held in Cong, after all, down through the centuries until in 1839 it was sold by the then PP of Cong, Michael Waldron, to Professor James McCullough of Trinity College, who then entrusted it to the Royal Irish Academy.
Not all were happy at the loss to Dublin of this priceless relic, however, and local resentment ran high. The next P.P. of Cong, Pat Lavelle, finally took it on himself in 1870 to visit the Academy, where he asked to be shown the Cross. He boldly seized it from its case, put it under his greatcoat, and made for the train station home. His gesture proved futile when the alarm was raised, the Royal Academy took off in hot pursuit, and Fr. Lavelle was forced to hand back the captured piece at the railway station.
And there are other relics now housed in Dublin which arguably should be returned to the county from where they came. The Black Bell of St. Patrick, for example, was a most highly venerated relic on Croagh Patrick for over a thousand years .The Bell - called the “ Clog Dubh “ - was reputedly used by St. Patrick to ward off the snakes and serpents during his fast on the Reek. Later, it came into the stewardship of the Geraghty family near Headford, in whose keeping it remained until 1860, when it was sold by Hugh Geraghty to Sir William Wilde to pay his passage to America. Wilde presented the Bell to the National Museum, where it remains to this day.
But there is one Mayo linked relic of the past which is never likely to find its way to Turlough House. The book, ‘Foxford through the Arches of Time’ tells of how when Michael Collins was killed at Beal na Bláth in 1922, his car contained a once-off, specially made Foxford rug, which had been sent to him as a present some months earlier. When his body was taken to Shanakiel hospital in Cork, with it came the blood-soaked, bullet riddled carriage rug.