Thursday, 5 June 2014

Farmleigh House, Phoenix Park

Farmleigh gets a starring role in Chapter 23 of my first 'Moss Reid' mystery, Another Case in Cowtown. Here's how the chapter opens...

The woman had suggested the venue. Farmleigh. It’s quiet, she said. Especially on Monday mornings. 
Farmleigh is an enormous estate, tucked away in the western corner of an even more enormous estate, the Phoenix Park. Despite this enormity, Farmleigh can be easy to miss if you’re simply driving through the Park or don’t know where to look. At its heart is a Georgian mansion with various extensions, ballrooms, libraries of ancient books, huge conservatories, glasshouses with exotic plants, tree-lined avenues, wildflower meadows, walled gardens, lakes, boating ponds, and a rare breed of Kerry cattle...
But why Farmleigh? Because of its dramatic - dare I say filmic? - possibilities for an Irish crime fiction novel. I don't just mean the mansion itself, the main house that would suit one of those traditional country house whodunits. I've never actually stept inside the building and, besides, my novels aren't that kind of cosy whodunit.

No, I was more intrigued by the estate in its entirety, in its nooks and crannies and outdoor expanses. A collection of lands and buildings that are very public yet at the same time very private. On show, yet hidden.

The estate has been owned by the Irish State since 1999, and has buckets of history from when it used to belong to the Guinness dynasty. Besides the more fancy rooms and buildings, it has a fascinating warren of outhouses, stables, potting sheds, greenhouses, walled gardens and suchlike, and all those paths, ponds, lakes and wooded areas.

And - without giving anything away - pond or lake was what I consciously wanted because, as some readers will have noticed, a water theme runs all the way through the story, from first chapter to last. So that's one of the main reasons that I ended up picking Farmleigh's Boathouse Cafe as the scene of an important rendezvous in that chapter of Another Case.

At one level Farmleigh has been bandied about by the newspapers to symbolise the extravagant follies and foibles of the Celtic Tiger years; ostensibly it's a rather expensive B&B for visiting dignitaries (and very rarely used for this).

At another level, alongside the Phoenix Park it has quickly become a wonderful resource for the people of Dublin, even if it's a little "tucked away".

It's very much a "family" place, with all the noise and bustle of parents and kids in a public space, yet also with many quiet, lonely and solitary spots, and the ghostly traces of a rich family and a private estate. All in all, the perfect place.