A FAIRYTALE IS BORN

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Titania’s Palace on display in Egeskov Castle, Denmark

A COMMENT on a feature about the famous dolls’ house, Titania’s Palace, Stephen writes: “Am I one of the fortunate? That I was able to see Titania’s Palace, in its entirety in a big empty house beside a lake near the town of Gory, Wexford R.o.I. “In July 1952, I was staying with friends in the Barnland Gory, and as I had travelled from Dublin on a motorcycle I was able to visit the house at the cost of 3 pence.

A short comment in a newspaper brought me back through the decades to a trip with. Mam and Dad to Ballinastragh House, just outside Gorey to see a very famous doll house – Titania’s Palace. I was always a romantic and a lover of stories and this house fed both interests. Its accessibility, a country house within driving distance from Cahore, gave its magic and magnificence an ordinariness, an availability to everyone! It also had a particular interest for Dubliners, for it was in Dublin that it was conceived and made. The story of the conception of this fairy palace is as romantic as its construction is an exquisite work of art.

A Fairy Palace is born

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Sir Neville Wilkinson Daughters-Guendolen and Phyllis

Once upon a time on a hot summer’s day in 1907, Sir Neville Wilkinson sat at his easel, in the grounds of his estate at Mount Merrion, Dublin, pencil in hand. Nearby stood an old sycamore tree and Sir Neville was drawing the bark peeling from the old trunk. His daughter Guendolen aged three became very excited. She said she had seen a fairy running under the roots of the tree. Sir Neville told her that the Fairy Queen she had seen lived in an underground palace with their family and the treasures of fairyland. During the day the fairies hid in the roots and at night , when the moon came up, they danced in the fairy rings on the lawn.

Guendolen asked her father if she could see Fairy Queen Titania’s Palace and Sir Neville promised to show her it. That started the train of thought that resulted in the ultimate conception of the lovely miniature fairy palace of Titania. The promise would take sixteen years to fulfil. Throughout his life, Neville collected miniature antiques from all over the world to decorate the Palace.

For years royal and wealthy families had played with luxurious dolls’ houses. Creating miniatures was not new to Sir Neville. He had already created Pembroke Palace at Wilton House, a doll’s house opened by Queen Alexandra in 1908.

Titania’s Palace was, however, to be a very special doll’s house. Sir Neville wanted to build a Palace where children would discover the entire trove of Fairyland. He designed it for Titania, the Queen of the Fairies and her family: Prince Consort Oberon and the seven royal children. Fairy Queen Titania is a character in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written by William Shakespeare. It was from this that Sir Neville took the name for his doll’s house. The Palace was to be worthy of a Queen, filled with fairy-sized treasures.

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Sir Neville claimed that the Fairy Queen was willing to move in and live in her new house on the condition that the palace would help human children. Titania’s secret is that a Fairy Queen is not able to help human children directly. Sir Neville and Queen Titania agreed that by making the treasures of Fairyland visible to children and visitors to the Palace they might be inspired to perform an act of kindness towards others.

The building of Titania’s Palace was commenced in 1907 by James Hicks in No. 5 Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin with detailed drawings by Sir Nevile. It was completed in 1922 and opened by Queen Mary.

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Sir Nevile showing the palace to a young Princess Elizabeth and Margaret in 1920s

The Palace went on a world tour as Sir Neville intended. It travelled 40,000 miles and was visited by millions of people in 160 cities in the British Isles, North and South America, New Zealand, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia before returning to Dublin in 1930 and then to Ballynastragh, Gorey, Co. Wexford, rented by Guendolen and Phyllis following the death of their parents. During the years in Ballynastragh, 287,702 people went to visit Titania’s Palace and contributed £50,000 per year towards children’s charities. I’ll never know how Mam and Dad knew about it as there was never any advertising whatsoever.

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I was one of those visitors before 1965, when Titania’s Palace was packed and lodged for safe-keeping in the Bank of Ireland. Eventually it found a home in England before its final move to Denmark. I can still remember the wonderful house with its amazing pieces of art. I recently purchased a book by Laura Ricks who saw the palace in England as a child. She was enthralled and when she discovered that it resided in Denmark close to her new home. Her colour illustrations conjure up all the wonderful memories I’ve carried through the years. (Titania’s Palace A Fairytale Doll’s House, L B Ricks 2012)

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The Hall of the Fairy Kiss

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The Hall of the Guilds

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The Throne Room

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Titania’s Boudoir

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The Morning Room – and one of the 75 miniature books

Author: Breda Fay

I'm retired since end August 2016 and loving the new life! More time now for family and friends and to explore craft, history, travel and certainly more of a chance for, me-time. To paraphrase Seuss: I've no tears that (teaching) is over; but many smiles that it happened!

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