On a meadow deep within Clandeboye, her magnificent 2,000-acre estate in Northern Ireland, a tempest has just lashed her mass of curly hair and splattered mud about her, but Lindy, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, doesn’t so much as ask for a brush when it’s time to take her portrait. Instead, the sprightly Lady Dufferin frets about her 130 heifers, some of which are also due to be photographed. “I’ve ordered the cows to be washed,” she explains. “Where’s Willow?” she asks a gamekeeper somewhat nervously. “Is she ready?”
Willow, it turns out, is the bovine Miss Universe—Ireland’s Supreme Champion, Cow of the Year, and the undisputed star of the Clandeboye Herd, voted No. 1 in all of the UK in 2007.
Dufferin, 67, has traditionally guarded her privacy and never fully opened her home, or herself, to the press. But cow pride—and perhaps some newfound business savvy—seems to have softened her reserve. “Tears,” she says, when asked of her reaction to the top herd honor. On the heels of this award, she has just launched Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt from the milk of these fine beasts, an artisanal product that the UK’s leading supermarkets, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, vied for the honor of carrying first. When asked which one she was likely to choose, Dufferin confessed to a reporter that she “[hadn’t] a clue,” because she’d never been to a supermarket, prompting the British press to make predictable fun of her. Still, the very p.c. New Statesman admitted that the “hideous unfairness” of the class system had nonetheless produced “some wonderful eccentrics,” namely Dufferin.
Her lack of familiarity with the pantry aside, Dufferin has labored valiantly throughout four decades to keep Clandeboye—one of Ireland’s largest and oldest estates—intact. During the course of her often tumultuous life, the property has served as an anchor and a refuge—a subject she broaches once we escape the inclement weather following Willow’s portrait (a difficult sitting, as the 1,700-pound Holstein, like most beauty queens, proves temperamental).
“I’m not remotely interested in being posh or chic,” announces Dufferin, sitting down to tea and just-baked crumpets in Clandeboye House’s vast library, a richly paneled and gilded room. Yet she then proceeds to rave about Nicky Haslam’s much chronicled ball two nights earlier in London, where she danced until four, primarily with Picasso biographer and old friend John Richardson. According to several stunned observers, the pair flung themselves about with ferocity.
A tall woman who seems constantly energized, Dufferin is a product of Ireland’s fabled Guinness family twice over. Her father, Loel Guinness, a dashing sportsman, came from the so-called banking branch of the clan, and in 1964 she married a distant cousin from the brewing side, Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the Fifth Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.