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.


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.

Ballinastragh Hse

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


The Hall of the Guilds


The Throne Room


Titania’s Boudoir

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The Morning Room – and one of the 75 miniature books

Memories of St Patrick’s Day

irish_tricolour-1The 17th of March signifies so much for me; obviously being Irish it’s filled with all the razzmatazz of our national holiday. However although it wasn’t always the glitzy affair of today, the proverbial pot of gold that attracts foreign visitors to our shores, it was very special.

pats parade 1965

1965 Dublin Parade

When I was a kid we viewed St. Patrick’s Day as a welcome break in the sweet and sugar drought that was the forty long days and nights of Lent. Starting on Ash Wednesday, we carefully stashed sugary treats in a box for opening on Easter Sunday. The church (or at least so we had convinced our pre-teen selves) granted a special dispensation in honour of St. Patrick and ordained a pause in the purgatory of Lenten sacrifice. If Easter was late, the stash of goodies would have time to appreciate into the sizable hoard. The best result was to be found in the years when the 17th of March fell in the middle of Lent. The worst was when it fell on the candy-desert that is Good Friday or even worse the pre-stash Ash Wednesday!

croke park 1970s

The parade wasn’t central to my St Patrick’s Day; Croke Park and the finals of the Club Championships were far more important. (photo shows a croke Park of the 1970s)


When my own two kids came along, I really enjoyed laying down a St. Patrick’s Day traditions for them to build upon. They had spent a lot of time in school preparing for the day, making flags complete with shamrocks, learning the life story of St. Patrick and lamenting the torture he endured while tending sheep on those cold barren slopes of Sliabh Mis. I can’t remember which of them spoke in serious tones of the role Niall of the “Nine Sausages” played in the epic story.


We’d hit off early for Dublin (Naas didn’t have a parade) garbed in green (the skies were usually grey!), loaded with sandwiches and sweets and a step ladder. Anyone who has ever brought children to a non-seated event will know that a tall person will ALWAYS stand in front of you and so will appreciate the value of the steps! It gave two kids an amazing vantage point on Dames Street to see all that was happening. Of course there were some who had access to upper windows on the street but we were happy with our “step ladder” view!
As well as that we were among the crowd to hear all the jokes and comments that only Dubs can come up with. We might also touch hands with some of the puppets or catch some of the goodies being thrown from the floats. The parade of the 1980s was still a bit raggle-taggle, like a local parade of today rather than the commercial and artistic “themed” display of the capital’s parade. There were many local enterprises with their displays on flat-back trucks and small neighbourhood bands.


The American Marching Band was beginning to appear and their polished and uniformed appearance and sound thrilled us all.





Their majorettes were from the world of TV.


I thrilled my pair with stories of Helen and Carmel playing in an accordion band on the back of a flat-back, mortified in case someone would spot them and remind them of the spectacle at school the next day! Mine had no understanding of that kind of embarrassment as they looked with envy on the marchers.

croke park nowCroke Park regained its Paddy’s Day supremacy in my life when the nineties came along. At this stage attending matches especially on Hill 16 with uncles and their friends was way more exciting for my two lads and so the Parade was something we watched on TV that night “Highlights of the day – the Dublin Parade and parades around the country”. I had never realised that parades occurred all over the country.

But very soon I was to be immersed in one such local parade myself! Kilcock formed a parades committee and local clubs and enterprises were encouraged to enter.  Scoil Choca staff and students and of course parents all lent their talents and labour to preparing a float, costumes and a marching routine.

Particularly memorable were:

    1. 2009 Ireland Past and Present which featured a giant Bull of Cooley.

brown bull

  1. 2015 Mama Mia with our giant wedding party

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3. 2010 Our Kilcock with our Giant Chinese Dragon and over 30 representative costumes – I know there are photos somewhere?

4. 2015 -T-shirts for parading and a revamped St Pat


20170317_133852This year I was invited by the Parade Committee to be GRAND MARSHAL (“auspicious”) of the Kilcock Parade. Dressed in thermals and green I sat on the viewing platform with dignitaries and organisers.

20170317_133614  I was introduced to the crowd  and a brief bio of my life in Kilcock was presented. Particular mention of my teaching and leadership in Scoil Choca and my involvement in community especially sport was described. It was nice to be reminded of managing a camogie team in Croke Park on the first night hurling was played under lights and the beating of teams from Kilkenny and Wexford in a Leinster Blitz.



The rain arrived just as the parade was about to start but spirits were undaunted and crowds gathered with their painted faces, orange wigs, flags, leprechaun hats and umbrellas.


Tpats9he floats were brilliant – I particularly enjoyed the wit of the GAA and their wall-building to keep out the Dub footballers and the men’s shed comment on the health system.

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Naturally my favourite was Scoil Choca – all the friends from over the years singing Louise Goggin’s composition. Just like with my own 2 lads, I’d like to think I started a GREEN PARADING tradition in Scoil Choca.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day where ever you are in the world and I hope the ties that bind you to this tradition enrich your life with the sense of belonging to this most diverse and dynamic of tribes.

Beanachtaí na Féile Pádraig!





Having visited Cobh during the summer of 2016 the reality of emigration, particularly in today’s context when so many people are being forced out of their home, became very real. The statue of Annie Moore and her two brothers is a poignant representation of a miserable time in our history.

anniemoore cobh

The day Annie Moore landed on Ellis Island in 1892 she was just 17½ years old. The girl from Co Cork, who arrived with her brothers Philip and Anthony to rejoin their parents, became the first documented migrant to go through the processing centre on the small island in New York harbour.

Moore’s life wasn’t easy. She spent her time in the Irish slums of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and died there when she was 50.

Ellis Island

Irish artist, Matt Loughrey, discovered the New York Public Library had a store of photographs taken at Ellis Island, some of which it had bought and others which had been donated. He contacted the library, which then emailed the scanned images to him. Most of the photographs had been taken in glass plate by Lewis Hine, an American sociologist and photographer. For others, the photographer is unknown.

Loughrey’s interest in the centre in Ellis Island was first piqued in 2014. “I happened to stumble upon the information about it on the internet and was astounded by the numbers,” he says. “Some days 10,000 people would pass through the station.”

annie moore

So he decided to colourise some old photographs of migrants who had passed through the checkpoint. However the image he chose of Annie Moore from Co Cork, the first immigrant to enter the United States through Ellis Island immigration point, he chose an image taken more than 30 years after her arrival and which he felt was more representative of her, the face of a woman who has lived her life as an immigrant in the United States.

Loughrey’s images have particular resonance today and he hopes to highlight the origins of today’s Americans, many of whom have ancestors who passed through Ellis Island.

“If you look at Ellis Island those people were fleeing persecution,” he says. “That’s what’s happening now too. It’s very relevant in these times.”

In addition to Annie Moore, Loughrey also worked to add colour to pictures of other Ellis Island migrants, including German and Finnish stowaways, women from Syria, Albania and Czechoslovakia, a Romanian shepherd, an Armenian Jewish man and a little Italian girl who had found a penny.

Part of article from Irish Times Digest (Sun, Feb 26, 2017)


Friday 24th Feb 2017: Diarmuid Gavin was on the Ray Darcy show today answering the usual gardening questions about seasonal work in the garden – what else would he be talking about? you might ask. Ray was particularly interested in what made a GREAT GARDEN great. Diarmuid told the story of a garden on the Ballyboden Road that attracted huge attention through the latter part of the last century. No one could explain its attraction ..

Ballyboden Garden6

We didn’t live in Ballyboden but we drove by the garden frequently when we went to Kilakee visiting our granny.

As a family we had a gardening history: My parents were garden aficionados. We had plaques and trophies for Spring and Summer displays year after year in the Walkinstown Residents’ Garden Competitions.

32 St Mary's Park a prize winning garden

Our garden in 32

The pleasure and the pride it gave my parents, planning the colour scheme – Michaelmas daisies, salvia (awful for slugs), lobelia, stock, wallflowers, standard roses,- we knew these names from listening to planting discussions. We heard about borders, window-boxes, lawns, edgings, trellis, lawn decorations were all familiar garden resources and within our vocabulary.

 We knew the location of other award winning gardens and often drove by them. But the garden in Ballyboden took the biscuit! Here was a garden with a difference, a gaudy and eccentric affair, every spare inch packed with garden ornaments. We were not the only drive-bys who were enthralled by the creation – you would frequently see cars slowing down to view. Reputedly cars screeched to a halt and reversed for a second look

Even Diarmuid Gavin admitted to its magic. Seemingly he used a slide of the garden at the beginning of his lectures to illustrate that a great garden was a garden that captured people’s interest!

Gnome Garden2

The slide was quite dull and hoping for a clearer illustration he contacted Ray Darcy in 2014 to inquire if better photographic evidence was available.

“Dear Ray

This is a photo of a garden which I took around 1994. The house is located on the Ballyboden Road in Dublin and as a kid growing up nearby, it fascinated me.

It had an effect on everyone who passed it, it made some people smile and a few became annoyed by its eccentricity.

Around the time I took the photo I have vague memories of the lady who owned it being in the audience of the Late Late Show, talking to Gay Byrne about her garden. I’m almost sure they showed some footage and think that Dulux gave her a load of paint as a gift to celebrate the gardens vibrancy.

For 20 years I’ve used the image to start most presentations and power points. I introduce audiences around the world to the notion of garden design by charting the amount of ‘stuff’ that’s been packed into such a small space to create an overall effect.

The garden is sadly no more; it’s been gone for many years. As, I believe, has the owner who created it.

My image, originally taken on as a slide is blurred and slightly fuzzy. I can’t make out all the ‘stuff’. So, to further inform my lectures and to help me develop a new project I’m trying to track down more images, pictures or footage of it in its prime. And stories of who created it and why. And I’d love to find out where the ornaments went and see if any survive anywhere.

Can you help?

Best wishes

Diarmuid Gavin”

D GAVIN’S LETTER TO Ray Darcy in 2014 looking for info about the garden

There was huge response from the locals of Ballyboden and Tallaght areas who dug out photographs for Diarmuid. Some respondents had passed the house many times as children and their parents had taken photos.Gnome Garden4

The clearest were from a guy who had photos from 1990.

There was also a copy of an old documentary called ‘Old Rathfarnham’ – and it featured lots of close up video footage of the garden, as well as an interview with Julia Pegman, the owner.

One listener Jeremy had some stories about the gnomes being vandalised – someone even doing jail-time for the theft!

Julia’s granddaughter Julieann got in touch:

Gnome Garden 3

“Hi Ray,

That was my family home and my grandmother was the lady who started it all. I have spoken to her daughters one of whom is my mother and they have asked that I contact you as I was the person who helped my grandmother with the garden and Gnomes and I have family pictures of the garden and press clippings about it. I will gladly pass on all the history about the garden, my grandmother and why the garden and Gnomes came to an end. It would be such a pleasure for my family to know that my grandmothers work and passion have not been forgotten.

Julieann Kelly-Williams”

 Ray spoke to both Diarmuid and Julieann the following morning.

Julieann chatted about growing up in the house with her mother and grandmother. Kitty, as Julieann’s grandmother was known to everyone, died in 1997.

But even before Gavin’s interest, the garden had been documented in a book Tiwidu: Village on the Verge (2016) by William Tucker, a story about a village that comes to life! A passage by Willie Walsh in the book describes Julia’s garden.

Page 1: a distant neighbour – we’ll call her Julia because that was her name- was famous for her collection of garden ornaments….the 1980s in front of her house, proudly speaking about the gnomes that were kept brightly coloured and maintained year round in pristine condition….

Page 2: the Irish had tales of the sidhe and of fairy folk that lived in certain ancient hill forts or were associated with particular trees, streams or lakes.

By 1229, there was a Mayor of Dublin. A Lord Mayor presided at meetings of the City Assembly from 1665. The Assembly became Dublin Corporation in 1840 around the same time as the first ceramic gnomes were being produced in Dresden, Germany. Six years later the march of the gnome into Britain began. It’s uncertain when the fashion first came to Ireland but it would be a bit more than a century before gnomes arrived in numbers in Ballyboden.

Julia’s home was built in the very early 1950s by Dublin Corporation, who regulated public housing and other services in the city and on some outlying lands. I don’t know when she acquired her first gnome, but one can imagine the pride Julia and her family must have felt in their new terraced house. Perhaps the garden was a little hilly to the front, so maybe a gnome or two would brighten it up.

We of course knew nothing of this ancient gnomish history in our childhood days of the 1970s but we knew that our neighbours were colourful, strange, amusing characters and that some stood our more than others. Julia’s gnomes were unusual for our time and place, but they were taken for granted by us kids as one landmark among many. (A man further up the Mountain had constructed a porch made of brown Guinness bottles.)

The gnomes that watched the borders of Julia’s front garden are now just a pleasant memory. Julia passed away in 1997, aged 82 years. Her house still stands among the others on Ballyboden Road.

The unity of village life is in the unity that comes about by shared experiences of people. The foibles and personality of individuals add the colour that enriches the everyday and the mundane. The everyday, in time, becomes history for another generation to study and to learn.

Willie Walsh

Dublin, Ireland

September 2013

A nice addendum to the story is that when Julia Pegnam died. The house was being renovated. A neighbour across the way ( who also has a house/garden worth seeing, I’m told!) asked the builders for the old garden lamp from the garden. Sometime later he bartered it for a load of logs and it now stands in Lambert’s front garden in Kilakee.

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The Gnome House today – all the magic is gone!