While there isn’t too much information about this illustrious couple to be found in the internet I transcribed a newspaper article from around 1990. The yellowish and stained clipping was given to me by somebody who knew Audrey Kaulback. There was no name of the newspaper noted on it; the article is by Sandra Woolridge.
Aubrey Kaulback a sensitive soul – had no alternative but to survive
In some ways, Aubrey Kaulback, once mistress of Ardnagashel House near Glengarriff, has had a wonderful life; in others it had been devastating. She has seen her fashionable and elegant country house hotel gutted by fire. She has endured the sudden and painful separation from her charming explorer husband, and she has eventually been obliged to leave the beloved house she had rebuilt. Here on her own initiative; Aubrey Kaulback, talks to Sandra Woolridge about how she has finally survived the painful times.
This could be termed a sad story, but in a way it is not. It is not about success. It is about being brought to a position from where there is no possibility of return; no glorious re-ascending; a place in which acceptance is the only healing. But it is also about the vulnerable nature of emotions, the slow healing of time, and the delicate achievement of a sensitive soul who had no alternative but to become a survivor. She sits now at the big window of a large, almost mock-Tudor, dark-timbered sitting room overlooking the sea, surrounded by a few pieces of good old furniture retrieved from the fire. A few slightly charred books and pictures have been saved, too, and on the wall hang two small mirrors baroque guilded plaster frames. Just one month ago, the turning point came: she decided that she could live in this house house, and that Max and herself would become friends.
Aubrey bought this ‚horrible little house’ and three acres of jungle’, just one year ago [probably 1989, note from the editor]. It is within a few miles of Ardnagashel House. Max is a Golden Labrador, a recent gift. She is not sad, she is bright, and as she sits sipping a just-opened bottle of cloudy 77 Moulin a Vent in which the sediment swirls towards the bottom of her long-stemmed glass, she laughs her racking, throaty laugh, and pronounces the wine over the top. It is slightly acidic, but nice and dry; fine fort he misting drizzle of a June afternoon. The sensual laughter turns into orderly, resigned coughing: „Cigarettes“, she says briskly, holding one to her lips with redpainted nails, and expecting no sympathy. She enjoys the joke that she and Ron once had the best wine cellar in Ireland. Her offer to open a better bottle is refused. It will settle. She has a way of muddling through in terrific style, and in her company, everything is OK. It ist he same with the sandwich. There isn’t much in the house, she apologises, making it seem an adventure. She has been eating out a lot, lately, she says.
Ron and Audrey came with two little daughters to Glengarriff in 1946, to open a country house hotel in their own special fashion. It was to be a fun place, run in the style of a house party, in which guests were introduced, and hosts joined in, or led the entertainments. Good food and wines were to fuel the shooting, fishing and riding, and nothing but good times were to be had. It worked, and for the first six years Ardnagashel House was open all year round. Guests were not asked for money and there were no hotel rules. They just lived there and had a long party. The tricky bit was presenting the bill at the end, but it was often done over a civilized lunchtime brandy and ginger.
„He’d wanted to go home to Canada, where there are lots of Kaulbacks and I’d wanted to go to Scotland, where my grandmother was from“, she laughs, but Ron said „Scotland? Where the men wear skirts, and they eat terrible things like porridge?“ So we came to Ireland, and I have been here for 44 years. I shall die here. Yachts berthed outside the waterfront house and it became voqueish. It was the place, celebrated widely, and always full. The couple were witty, entertaining and game for the amusements. Ron knew a lot about wine, and installed an enviable cellar whilst Audrey’s haute cooking was exotic and spared no expense. She drove a two litre Ford Capri convertable. They often went without shoes and Audrey adopted two badger cubs, regally extending to them total freedom of the house and lands. Trees and shrubs were planted in the 200 acres, and gardens were made. Twin sons were born.
Ronald Kaulback has two snakes and a lizard bearing his name. In the thirties he collected Asian mammals for the British Museum, and mapped territories in India for the Crown. His book ‚The Salween’, describes his quest for the source of the Salween River in the Himalayas, and he wrote another called ‚Tibetan Trek’. He was awarded the Murchison Grant by the Royal Geographical Society, and he has an entry in the British Who’s Who.
Audrey Elisabeth Howard met Ronald in 1934, the year she came out as a debutante. With the Duke of Norfolk as head of the Catholic branch of the Howards, not-too-distant relative, Audrey Elisabeth is listed in ‚Debrett’s Peerage’ guide, a sort of aristocratic ‚Who’s Who’, based on blood lines.
Her father was a country gentleman, but not terribly rich. Even so, Audrey is to-day able to live on the money inherited from her mother. The house she was raised in, near Guilford, is now a boarding school.
For twenty-two years the hotel thrived, closing in the winter after the first six years to allow for family life. In 1968, whilst the family were away in Morocco, Ardnagashel House was gutted in a terrible blaze. Beautiful antique furniture, rare books, and most of their possessions were lost. It was the beginning of the end. They moved to their nearby courtyard and started a bar and restaurant. The kitchen was no fun anymore, and with Ronald manning the bar, the couple were separated by their respective jobs. Ardnagashel House was rebuilt, but was then sold together with the lands, to a Dutch firm, with a proviso, that the family would have life tenure. The restaurant was closed. Ronald had a heart attack in 1974, and two years later came the separation.
„I left the door open day and night“, she remembers, „and waited in case he might leave her and come back“. Her gravelly voice has that British no-nonsense quality, that never-say-die bravura, but ist depth also has an emotional rattle; a cracked poignance; a bittersweetness which proclaims, under the fun-loving spirit, that the hurt remains. Yes, she says, it does. After four or five years she gave up waiting, „but by that time I’d got used to having the door open,“ and she is laughing again. For thirteen years she remained alone in the house, getting involved in the Friendship Force Club, Bantry Life Boats, and golf. She was involved with dendrology, too, and collecting seaweeds for cataloguing. She did gross-point tapestry for Fota chairs, her days of eye-straining petit-point work being over.
At first she called the Samaritans. „They were marvellous, because really all I wanted to was to jump in the bay. It was right outside. All I had to do was jump. I don’t think I pestered them much. Then I felt I counldn’t be as stupid as that. I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up. It was the grandchildren who kept me interested in living, and they are all super.” She has nine now, misses them but sees them sometime these days. About a year ago, Ardnagashel House was sold by its owner, completely demolished, then rebuilt. Audrey, now in her late seventies, stayed with friends until she found a suitable house. The ordeal of moving house, she said, this time nearly killed her. But true blue, she rallied. She began to travel alone, going last year to see her son Peter in Canada. “I panic a bit, looking through my handbab. Have I got my passport?; have I got my traveller’s cheques?; have I got my money?; digging away my bag.” She talks rapidly, laughing at herself; mocking of her own lack of sophistication, but it is a worldly-wise chuckle. “I am getting better at it,” she grins still game.
She hated that secluded little coastal house at first; thought she would never settle. “I am not a modern bungalow girl, and I couldn’t live in a row. I had to be near the sea.” She watches the swans and the oyster-catchers; the tides; the seagulls gliding low across the narrow sound in front of the house. Wasting time, she calls it, thit Ex-lady President of Bantry Golf Club, and Friendship Force President, mocking herself again. Three days after she got back from Canada, her pet dog was killed on the road. She wa s given the pale Max, which was a wildly ill-mannered mutt at first, and she began the process of training him. Now he will wait for permission to take the nightly biscuit she places on top of her shoe for him. At first she would nearly taken her hand off, she says. Then just recently, the turning point. At last the coming to terms; the learning how to shut the door. She is not sad because she can hold her head up, she says. She has lots of friends. “Look at these postcards from everywhere.” She reads one out. It praises her way of life, her charming little house; her dog. She takes off her reading glasses, and looks towards the bay.
“I still hate the idea of the winter coming,” she smiles quietly, “the days getting shorter and the nights longer. The worst months are January and February. I must think of somewhere to go this winter. I hate the idea, ” she muses, looking down at Max, ” of putting the dog in the kennels.” The glass has been drained of fine wine and only sediment remains. Audrey Kaulback is no longer mistress of Ardnagashel House. She once was, though, and says that her heart is still there. Briefly here, in black and white, is her story. She is very brave. There is no point, she says now, in bottling things up. Better to tell it. Please God it will help her to lay those few remaining ghosts.
While I did every effort to locate the newspaper and the author of the above article I didn’t find them. Please contact me if you own the copyright to those lines! [neroli at eircom dot net]