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For Dubliners, Lambay Island has always had an air of mystery and impenetrability. If like me, you spent your summers digging sandcastles on the various strands from Portmarnock to Sutton, facing east to the Irish Sea, Lambay was a looming but in many ways distant presence.
A private island around three miles offshore, we never knew anyone who had landed there, still less lived on it. There was talk of amazing flora and fauna, from puffin colonies to (incredibly) troupes of wallabies. When the great Irish poet WB Yeats visited the island in the 1880s, he likened it to landing on a South Sea island.
So when the chance to make the trip for the first time arose, it awoke memories of childhood and of the island’s hulking presence just a few miles from home.
This week, I landed there in the excellent company of the team at Camus Cognac, including President Cyril Camus, who have partnered with the Baring family who own the island. The reason? Together they have launched a new Irish whiskey named after Lambay that will come to market later in the year, initially through duty free.
Alexander Baring takes up the story of his family’s presence and involvement: “My great-grandparents, Cecil and Maude, bought Lambay in 1904 to escape from the gossip of London and New York society.”
Cecil Baring was a member of the well-known Baring banking family and with his wife employed Edwin Lutyens, the then rising star of British architecture, to transform Lambay’s buildings between 1906 and 1933. Of all Lutyens’ works, Lambay is the only one still in the hands of the commissioning family. What he created there stands the test of time, with a castle and sculpted gardens that you’d associate with an English Heritage site.
Baring says: “Since I arrived here five years ago we have had to inject significant funds for repair, and doing so in the context of protected and listed buildings. To ensure a level of income to manage the island we must have a highly adaptable business plan, which is loosely called the Lambay Initiative. We run leadership and team-building courses here and will expand these. My sister Millie has established a private networking club, The Island Club, for forward-thinking entrepreneurs to bring new ideas to Lambay’s development.
“But the most significant development has been our new partnership with the Camus family and the birth of Lambay Whiskey. This is a marvellous fit and balance for Lambay. Like Lambay, Camus is a family business. And although they have global reach, personal interaction and dynamics still count. I’m confident that the blend of Lambay’s heritage married to the creative and commercial flair of Camus will result in something very exciting.”
On Tuesday we spent a memorable (perhaps even once in a lifetime) day exploring the grounds and buildings, lovingly restored to their former selves of over a century ago. It was hugely evocative to enjoy lunch while looking back towards the mainland beaches I once sat on as a child.
The Camus-Baring connection adds a lovely family dimension too. As Cyril Camus puts it: “Both families have that will for independence. The notion that being a steward of something make a difference – their goal is to protect the island, ours is to protect and grow our brand and company and that’s a connection point. We feel like we’re doing something right.”
There’s a commercial angle of course, but preserving the magnificence of Lambay is a noble goal in itself, for the Baring family, for the flora and fauna that live there, for the puffins and yes, for the wallabies who live here too.