Imagine you’re on your way to a 21st birthday party; except it’s 1966, the venue is deep in the Wicklow Mountains at the beautiful Luggala estate in Roundwood, the host is Guinness heir, Tara Browne, face of the Swinging Sixties and subject of The Beatles Song 'A Day in the Life.' Guests include Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenburg, and Irish playwright Brian Behan, and the entertainment is American rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful. Could you contain yourself. I couldn’t.
It all kicked off in Dublin Airport with a leased Caravelle passenger jet; antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs, one of the many guests, recalls a vision of Swinging London infiltrate Dublin Airport, “All sorts of people got off that plane. I just remember this mass of androgynous youth moving towards the terminal building. There was a group of bohemian types there… and they were carrying bottles of Guinness, which I thought was odd, bringing Guinness to a party hosted by the Guinness family. And they said it wasn’t for drinking, it was for washing their hair. It was that kind of weekend.”
Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg and Tara’s wife Nicki dropped a pane of acid each before the flight. A chauffeur collected them, drove through Dublin City and up into the Wicklow Mountains. Brian Jones announced he needed to pee and they all fell out of the car, still tripping. They stood in disbelief, looking down at the dark murky waters of Lough Tay, the imported sand, soft and foam-like, trees cascading down the hill as though in a terrible hurry. Brian found the skeletal remains of a dead goat and became hysterical. British photographer Michael Cooper happened to be in the car with them and captured this intoxicating moment in time on the edge of the world.
Moments later, Tara greeted them at the door, dressed in his favourite black velvet suit, a blue shirt with a purple collar, and a blue brocade tie. He offered them each a thumb of hash and a pipe, the party had begun. According to John Sebastian, lead singer of The Lovin’ Spoonful, “…it was like nothing any of us had ever experienced before or experienced since. A dangerous number of irresponsible, young people in the grandeur of this old castle in the middle of the Irish countryside. It was extraordinary.” Years before, his mother Oonagh Guiness had hosted equally thrilling dinner parties where a precocious Tara would walk down the centre of the table barefoot in blue satin pyjamas, greeting the guests. Her parties were a mish-mash of aristocracy and the artistically gifted, figures such as John Huston, Lucian Freud and Brendan Behan. When guests were asked to account for the time missing from their lives, they explained that they’d been ‘Luggala-ed.’
Tara and Brian sat side by side on the dance floor watching The Lovin’ Spoonful play their set, while women in tiny mini-skirts, patent loafers and geometrically-cut hair mingled with men in velvet tailored suits. Joe Butler (of the Lovin’ Spoonful) remembers challenging Mick Jagger to a boat race across Lough Tay in the dark, but he was in the middle of a fight with his then girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton. According to Nicki Browne “Anita and I got it into our heads that Mick Jagger was the devil… and we locked him into the courtyard and then we ran into the woods at the back of the house. We had these walkie-talkies, which I think had been a birthday present from someone to Tara. We were in the woods and we were talking on these things... paranoid, of course, watching Mick trying to get out of the courtyard. For Tara, it would be one of the last defining nights of his short life (he was killed in a car crash later that year), and for his guests, the last defining moment of the Swinging Sixties.
Find out more in Paul Howard (creator of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly)'s recent novel detailing Tara Browne's short but gilded life I Read The News Today, Oh Boy.