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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

David Durdin-Robertson

Sculptor & Raconteur
1953 - 2009

Michael Purcell on the left presenting David Durdin-Robertson with family documents in Feb. 2009.

David Durdin-Robertson, who died suddenly aged 56, was a sculptor and raconteur whose extraordinary gifts and humanity were greatly valued by all who knew him.

He grew up in an enchanted setting of Ireland's longest inhabited castle (Huntington Castle, Clonegal, Co Carlow). There he managed to live on good terms with benevolent ghosts - much nicer than other human beings, he would assure his more nervous guests - and as a self-taught master builder to keep a foothold in the real world.

His grandmother first recognised his ability as a sculptor when he carved a tiny mouse on a small shoe. His youngest sister Lucy received a miniature carriage drawn by four horses on her eighth birthday.

His irrepressible aunt Olivia commissioned him to realise her more celestial visions of female divinities to be worshipped in the dungeons below.

Five floors above, he remodelled the roof space of the castle as a hidden studio for his wife Moira, completed last year beneath a reconstructed roof, along with the replacement of the windows. The work renewed the glazing bars as they would have been in 1740 to avoid neo-Victorian pastiche and now look as if they have been there forever.

He restored the historical interiors, furnished them with treasures acquired in the un-catalogued debris of local auctions, and with the fervour his ancestors would have demonstrated in shooting snipe or casting for salmon.

The castle was opened to the public to comply with new legislation. He replanted and embellished the gardens, repaired the family theatre converted from a barn in the 1930s, transformed the dependencies into self-sustained apartments and made a dragon-crested Chinese pavilion to allow a friend to guard the gate to the back avenue. His ceaseless activity assured attention when he addressed the board established to safeguard the future of Ireland's historical houses in private hands.

He also made a remarkable contribution to contemporary architecture with the gallery in the park that he built for a tenant, the German sculptor Ulrich Ruckreim. This allowed Ruckreim to house his own work, then generously presented by him in return for tax exemption as a gift to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

After a row, witnessed by Durdin-Robertson, but never divulged, Ruckreim's sculptures were sold to the Museum of 20th Century Art in Vienna. Ireland's loss was Austria's gain.

However, Durdin-Robertson's structure - a cloister of four steel barns - can still be admired as an empty shrine in its own right. His expertise was sought after in many commissions. He was one of a few sculptors able to carve new timber or marble fireplaces on a heroic scale (Clonmannon House, Ashford, Dargle Cottage, Enniskerry, Castle Cove, Co Sligo).

One of his most ingenious tasks was - with the help of Hugo Merry - to protect from collapse the four Francini ceilings in Kilshannig. Here he also assisted with rebuilding the arcaded wings, terminating with their domed pavilions, unroofed 150 years ago by Lord Fermoy to repay huge gambling debts.

After hours of work Durdin-Robertson would then relax and reveal that he could have also been an actor.

Certainly, his stories, generally told against himself, revealed an unnerving ability to become another character with a Shakespearean diversity - playing such double roles as a pompous ass being outwitted by a country yokel. Few have lived to be so irreplaceable to his wife, his family and an ever widening circle of colleagues, friends and admirers.

Source: Michael Purcell


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