Tuesday, 20 June 2017

"Twilight at the Trust"volunteer -Society's Queen by Anne de Courcy


Even before volunteering at Mountstewart I was aware of this book on the shop shelf. Although the cover was pretty my first notion was to think the biography maybe dull. This was a very poor judge on my behalf as I hadn't even lifted the book to read a portion of it. I have found other biographies of this era uninteresting and found I gave up reading after a few pages never mind a chapter. I even found myself turning off audiobooks of which I find can be more tolerable even if dull.

I have continued to notice it on the shelf and beside the till with no inclination to purchase although my interest in this Lady has grown daily. I have gained an insight into her life and behaviour from the Londonderry papers at Proni but have really little knowledge of her life pre Lady Londonderry.

I decided to volunteer at an event “Twilight at the Trust”. Why did I volunteer for such along session which ended up even longer than first thought as I was there from 1600 hours to 2300 hours. I wanted to be of use wherever the need was and had a few role changes right up to the last minute. My responsibility was in looking after Wilfie Pyper whom I believe to be a musical director/play write. He maybe famous I really have no clue as I rarely read papers or watch tv but he was a delight to spend the evening with. However I wasn't just looking after him as my main concern was looking after the house and all that is in it.

People without thinking go to sit down on a chair for example a few hundred years old or set something on top of something which could cause irreparable damage to the collection that the Trust wish to preserve “forever for everyone”. Wilfie’s part was to read initially to each group at the top of the stairs just opposite Stubbs’ painting. There was some anxiety as the night wore on if he would have adequate light to read but fortunately the light from outside coming through the domed ceiling got him through. He had chosen a few passages from this book, very well chosen might I add as they flowed smoothly. He spoke eloquently and after the first reading I told him so stating it really didn't matter what he was reading as he could hold anyone's attention. However by the time I had listened to the passages five times as each group filtered through I became more in awe of the book itself and keen to know more.

 A few days later as I left after cleaning the central hall floor I popped into the shop to speak to Joanne and decided to purchase this book. I felt it would be no loss as I was about to go on holiday and it would pass time on the plane and if I found it dull I could leave it for another tourist to pick up. I had barely got to the third page when I was dragged back in time reading about horses, hunting and the like. I soon discovered that it wasn't dull after all and it wasn't just Wilfies ability to entertain through reading. it was easy and interesting to read as well as being factual and would add to my knowledge of lady Edith. I also imagine I will be encouraged to look at other titles by this author.

As I read further on into the book as well as what was going on in the family it was lovely to see the connections to what was going on in the real world. She talks of horses again and their necessity especially at that time when the Boer war was on. Two worlds come to my mind at this point, there's and mine. My great grandfather Sergeant Russell fought in the Boer war his main responsibility being the  care of the horses for the cavalry. Back in Co Armagh he was a blacksmith with his main job shoeing  horses hence his nick name of shoey amongst his colleagues in the Boer war. It was a tough time for him which I gleaned from an article he wrote for Seagoe church reflecting back from 1921 to his war times of the 1890's. Conditions were poor and he spent time in hospital in Africa with malaria. He certainly didn't have the same comforts that Londonderry had but he seemed to accept life for himself as normal and it didn't cut his life short.unfortunately he died as a result of a road traffic accident close to home.

I wonder what he would think now if he saw me sponging the floor of the Londonderrys central hall.

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