The people, places and things that make Dublin special.
Set on 260 acres of parkland in the seaside town of Malahide, 16 km north of Dublin, Malahide Castle was home to the Talbot family from 1185 to 1975. The atmospheric castle – yes, there are ghosts – is furnished with period furniture and a large collection of Irish portraiture on loan from the National Gallery. Four main rooms are open to the public: the wood-panelled Oak room, the Small and Great Drawing Rooms and the Great Hall, where an exhibition records the history of the family who lived at the castle for almost 800 years.
Outside there is a splendid series of glasshouses, a conservatory and several very regal peacocks as well as some beautiful gardens to explore. In the courtyard, another exhibition presents the story of these gardens, largely the creation of Milo Talbot, the last Lord Talbot to live at the castle.
Milo Talbot was a world-renowned gardener and an expert botanist. But he was also a British diplomat and a one-time head of security for the Foreign Office. He died in mysterious circumstances while on a Greek cruise in 1973. The friend he was holidaying with was never interviewed, there was no post-mortem and his sister Rose burned his personal papers.
While at Cambridge in the 1930s Milo was a friend of the infamous Soviet spies Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt. One member of the family, Stephen Talbot, believes that he may in fact have been murdered, possibly by MI6.
The castle and estate were sold by Rose in 1976 to Fingal County Council, partly at least in order to pay Milo’s death duties. Unfortunately, however, much of the contents had already been sold – some of them to Mick Jagger, who bought several pieces of fine Irish Chippendale furniture for his chateau in France.
Dublin.ie talked to Nicola Talbot and her brother Stephen (author of an authoritative Talbot family history) about Milo and the castle.
Dublin.ie: Has there been any official reaction to connections your book suggests might have existed between Lord Milo and the Cambridge spy ring?
ST: I don’t expect any official reaction. The general perception of the Cambridge Spy Ring is that it was limited to five men. But a quick delve into wider Western-Soviet espionage history quickly exposes that Soviet infiltration was much broader and deeper than this with some agents on a regular payroll and other sources blackmailed or bribed if ideological reasons weren’t enough. Many wouldn’t even have been aware of fellow agents they worked alongside. As to Milo’s role, I’ll leave it to others to dig further if they wish. There may well be documents on file but I doubt they’ll be released anytime soon.
Dublin.ie: You both live in England now. Do the family maintain any links with Malahide or Dublin?
ST: We hold no property in Ireland anymore but we do make occasional visits. Given the help I received with my research from local residents I’m always keen to say my hellos when I’m over. One of my brothers went recently with his wife, although he chose to remain anonymous on his tour of the castle.
Dublin.ie: How are you related to the current Lord Talbot?
ST: John, 10th Lord Talbot sadly died on 21st November, 2016. He was our father’s first cousin and has been succeeded by his son, our second cousin, Richard. John and his brother Edward were very helpful in the course of my research for the book I wrote about the family.
NT: Take care not to confuse this Richard with our eldest brother who’s also called Richard and has a farm in a place in Tasmania that’s also called Malahide. We have so many duplicate names in the family, it can get very confusing!
Dublin.ie: Has the current Lord Talbot ever been to Malahide, to your knowledge?
ST: John certainly had, I can’t imagine Richard has had time since he’s inherited the title.