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Earl of Rosse

The Life and Times of an Irish Royal
Up Close and Very Personal
With the 7th Earl of Rosse

Abroad With
Beverly Cohn

the writer with the 7th Earl of Rosse
Journalist Beverly Cohn with Brendan Parsons, the 7th Earl of Rosse, on the magnificent grounds of Birr Castle located in County Offaly, Ireland. Photo: Siobhan Byrne Learat

In Part 1 Brendan Parsons, the 7th Earl of Rosse, talked about his boyhood experiences during World War II, his return to Birr Castle, the Parsons family ancestral home, his school experience, and the path that led him to a post at the United Nations.

This exclusive interview was conducted at Birr Castle and the following has been edited for content and continuity.

Part 2: Return to Ireland & Preserving the Legacy

the UN headquarters, New York
While serving in the U.N., Brendan did not use his title, but rather served as Brendan Parsons. Courtesy photo

hat was your experience like serving in the United Nations?

Rosse: It was the most successful and longest assignment of my career. Unfortunately, I had to cut short my career for family reasons.

Did you agree with all their actions?

Rosse: I think one of the basic mistakes the U.N. made was basing itself in New York. It should be in a smaller, neutral country like Ireland or Switzerland, and not situated in the city of a major world power, and one to which access is only through a visa issued by the U.S. State Department. I've been refused entry into America many times, which caused great embarrassment when one is an official of the U.N.

Swiss flag with mountains in the background
Brendan on the U.N. “It should be in a smaller, neutral country like Switzerland or Ireland. Courtesy photo

Did your title impact on your service in the U.N.?

Rosse: I found it perfectly natural to not announce my title. I served without the title because I considered it to be unnecessary baggage that would hinder rather than help. It would make me apart. I simply served as Brendan Parsons.

Irish Shamrock
The Irish Shamrock is a universal symbol for Ireland and represents the Holy Trinity. Courtesy photo

What was your advantage coming from Ireland?

Rosse: I found it a tremendous advantage to come from Ireland. It is small and relatively neutral on a world scale, and rightly has abstained from an organization like NATO. That gives us more credibility or an entrée into most countries. A big super power like Britain or America seem to come in with baggage attached – baggage that is seen as trying to dominate. We don't come in with that baggage and don't have a political agenda. We are not trying to sell tanks, or aircraft, or submarines, and we don't attach strings to the advice we give.

settlement for earthquake victims in Haiti
Brendan on Haiti: “I had been to Haiti and had seen incredibly poor French-speaking blacks.” Courtesy photo

What was your personal objective?

Rosse: I really wanted the U.N. to use my career to spend time on the ground, beyond Europe, in some of the poorest countries in the world to see what one could do to alleviate misery, stress, and disease. I wanted to accomplish this before the time came for one to return to Ireland. I wanted to know how people lived and what their real problems were. I wanted to see what, if anything, I could do to help people less fortunate than ourselves. For example, I had been to Haiti and had seen incredibly poor French-speaking blacks. I was able to communicate with them in French. Once they realized that I came from Ireland, and was neither British nor American, they bonded more easily with me. They would start chatting about their experiences, which helped one understand what their lives were like.

Birr Castle
On Brendan's return to Birr Castle: "The estate today is less than 10% the size it was when my father inherited it when he was a boy of twelve." Photo: Beverly Cohn

You mentioned that you had to cut short your U.N. career. What brought you back to Ireland, and in what condition did you find Birr Castle?

Rosse: I had to retire from the U.N. and return to Ireland on my father's death. It was an awful horror for me to realize, after he passed away, how horrifically in debt the whole place was, and how much of the heritage had to be sold without losing the core heritage. This led one to define what the heritage was, and what was the key to it, and what one could do to preserve it. The estate today, for instance, is less than 10% the size it was when my father inherited it when he was a boy of twelve.

At what point in your life were you made aware of your royal heritage and what responsibilities came with your title?

Rosse: I certainly did realize after my relatively simple life in wartime England how very different things were in Ireland. It was a different world and one was increasingly aware of the luxury, the opulence, and the unlimited food after living in a country of rationing. But, as a child one was completely unaware of any responsibility that went with being the son of an earl. Eventually, however, I learned that it was our responsibility to make or earn or marry enough money to keep the whole place going.

Oxford University
Brendan met his future wife, Alison Margaret Cooke-Hurle, while attending Oxford University. Courtesy photo

Speaking of marriage, how did you meet your wife?

Rosse: After three years in the Irish Guards, I then went to Oxford and that's where I met my future wife, Alison Margaret Cooke-Hurle. I met her at a party at college. We actually knew each other for a long time, and never forgot each other. I said I wouldn't marry until I was thirty and she beat me by two or three weeks.

When you returned to Ireland, was it different from when you left to serve in the U.N.?

Rosse: When I returned, I found it a very different country than the one I left – a country not only infinitely more prosperous, but infinitely more confidant. It also had a brand new work ethic dispelling the myth of the drunken patties in the bars not doing a day's work. I was appointed to a position with the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, the advisory council on development and cooperation, and started an international volunteer program. I found that those who applied to the program from Britain wouldn't work hard and so I had to send them back as the worst workers in Europe. That was a fantastic eye-opener for me.

Irish writers
Some of the greatest writers in the world came from Ireland, many of whom lived in Dublin. Courtesy photo

Samuel Beckett and the cover of his book, 'Waiting for Godot'
One of the most influential writers of the 20th Century, Samuel Beckett's “Waiting for Godot” is the most famous play to emerge from the Theatre of the Absurd style of theatre. Courtesy photo

What bothers you the most about what other countries think of Ireland?

Rosse: What interests me is the complete indifferent perception of Ireland and the Irish. The way the English saw Ireland, and the Irish, or the way the French saw Ireland and the Irish, was very different. France has a literary culture, as do the Russians, who saw the Irish as a literary people. However, in many countries, the Irish were just seen as Scots, Welsh, or English.

huge telescope created in the 1800s by William Parsons
Brendan on Irish inventions: “The Irish haven't always gotten credit for their inventions, which people assume must have been developed by the British.”
Photo: Beverly Cohn

Can you give me an example of the lack of recognition of accomplishments?

Rosse: My great-grandfather built a telescope, which was seen as the greatest telescope in the world. But it was seen as a British invention because he was seen as a Brit rather than an Irishman, despite the fact that he came from Ireland and built it in Ireland, and everyone who built it with him was from Birr. There wasn't one single Englishman involved in the whole process. But, despite that, it was seen as a great British success story and it was only failures that were seen as Irish. One of the things I try to improve is the unbalanced projection of that image because if people from Ireland had invented this, that, or the other, it must be a British or an American invention. That is how Irish accomplishments were presented.

What action have you taken to change perceptions?

Rosse: I tried to show that more has come out of Ireland than great music, poetry, and a literary tradition from the land of great writers. But even that needs clarification because what the world has seen is only what has been written in the English language versus what has been written in the Irish language. Although I don't have Irish myself as one of my languages, and very much regret it, I think even without those influences, one is immersed and impressed by the magic of the beautiful countryside. That moves one to love the land – the scenery, the romance, and the poetry. We must not only love our land, but must serve our land in different ways.

When you've lectured abroad, was there one overriding question?

Rosse: As an Irishman who went to America to lecture, I've had many problems of identity again. The first question I invariably was asked was, "Are you Catholic or are you Protestant?" I found that question so surprising, so unhelpful, and so sad, as it was always the dominant question.

How would you describe your religious affiliation?

Rosse: We are of a family that has been very ecumenical. We have always supported the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. We have funded both branches of the church and were brought up to believe there aren't two different churches – but branches of the same church that share a great deal with those religions of a monotheistic nature, such as Islam and Judaism. We share more in common than actually divides us.


The conflict between Catholic and Protestants in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles," raged from 1968-1998, resulting in the death of over 3,600 people, with thousands of injuries. Courtesy photo


Brendan on "The Troubles:" There were tragic problems in Northern Ireland, yes, but here, (in the Republic) no. Courtesy Photo

What are your thoughts on the war between the Protestants and Catholics known as "The Troubles?

Rosse: This supposed war in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics that I found on returning to Ireland was complete nonsense. There were tragic problems in Northern Ireland, yes, but here, no. We simply had gone way, way beyond that. Ireland is a country that is one. It's an island as one. It's a people as one – with a vision that's one. That was far more important than this supposed wall – like a Berlin Wall - dividing Catholics and Protestants within Ireland. When I was serving as an Irishman in the U.N., we always worked together – as men, as women, as Protestants, as Catholics. We would celebrate St. Patrick's Day and other holidays happily together as one.


Brendan on his love of land: "We must not only love our land, but must serve our land in different ways." Photo: Beverly Cohn


Brendan wants people to know that Ireland is filled with magnificent gardens such as (above) Castle Ward and (below) Mt. Stewart. Photo: Beverly Cohn


Photo: Beverly Cohn

What steps are being taken the change the image?

Rosse: At the time of my return, The Irish Tourist Board was trying to sell a lovely environmental picture of the mountains and valleys – the blues and the greens – a country with a great literary tradition, but certainly not a country known for its great gardens as opposed to great Georgian houses. To use the terminology of the tourist literature of the time: "Green valleys and mountains so blue, that a hundred thousand welcomes are waiting for you." The image of Ireland was presented as one of luscious valleys, beautiful poetry, great imagination, drama, and dance, but certainly not a country that had ever done anything ingenious or scientific or technological. It was a hard sell to try and get Americans, in particular, or the British to accept that anything like that had come out of Ireland.


Cars that the young Brendan might have driven in 1948 were (top) Rolls Royce and (above) Jaguar. Courtesy photo

Do you have a special childhood memory?

Rosse: It was very early on when I learned to drive myself, even unofficially from age twelve on. Neither of my parents ever learned to drive. They had a driver. So, it became handy to have someone else to take the cars away from the front door. I was taught to drive very young, and to take one's parents around later and to get around. So, I knew the estate probably better than my younger brother or anyone else. I love land. I've always had a passion for land – whether woods or farmland or whatever, and that has stayed with me to this day.

American Bald Eagle and Celtic bird
Left: The American Bald Eagle represents freedom as well as power and strength; Right: The Celtic bird stands for freedom and transcendence. Courtesy photos

We have about 30 seconds left on this tape. Is there something you would like to say in bringing our interview, which I've enjoyed immensely, to a close?

Rosse: Well, I hope I said something useful. I wish to build a new, better bond with the communities in the United States, in particular. I hope they see the evolution of a new Ireland that appreciates all the elements of our society, culture and community, and is carrying no baggage, or any negativity, or anything reflecting an artificial division of religion or anything else between us.

Thank you so much for this fascinating journey into your extraordinary life…

Related Articles:
Up Close and Very Personal With the 7th Earl of Rosse, Part 1; Magical, Mystical, Delightful, Enchanting Part 1/Part 2; Return to the Emerald Isle; Faces of Ireland; Aran Islands; Land of Smiling Irish Eyes; County Cork, Ireland: Remembering the Famine


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Let Bev know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Thanks so much for those lovely tourism photos, especially of Ireland. I certainly enjoyed all the places you suggested, and am working towards my next vacation. Don’t forget Cuba. That’s an exciting place.

Rosalie, Los Angeles

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Enjoyed your article on Mira Sorvino. Such an interesting background – family, education, career and now human rights activist. I'm not a gossip mag fan so getting more meaty news about movie celebrities from you gives me hope that there are some inteligent life forms in Hollywood.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

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Thank you, Bev. This reminded me to go see the movie, "An Education," which I had already almost forgotten about, having seen the preview a few weeks ago. I enjoy this actress quite a bit--she has a uniqueness about her and she pulls me in. I enjoyed this.

Sandeee, Seattle, WA

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Thank you Beverly,I really enjoyed reading about your intimate conversation with Forest, of whom I am a great admirer. I look forward to seeing the film "Our Family Wedding."

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

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Thank you for the sending me the beautiful article you wrote about Ireland. We will use your recomendations for hotels in the Southern part. We plan to also go to Dublin and some other Northern cities so I will get some recommendations for these from others. After reading your article, I am getting more excited about going. I think we will be in Ireland for 8 days altogether.

Leah Mendelsohn, Santa Monica, CA

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Very much enjoyed Ms. Cohn's article about Munich, especially the visuals. Though it has been 25 years since my last visit, the piece brought back countless pleasant memories of the city and the people!! Many thanks.

Lawrence, Los Angeles

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Marianplatz and that general area is truly one of the best Christmas celebrations in the world. Between that and Oktoberfest (which I can only imagine) Munich is one of the greatest cities in the world for major annual events.

Christopher Dale, New York, NY

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Hi Bev, you have done some wonderful pieces on some great celebs...Great work. The travel articles are just wonderful too.

Scott Mueller, Huntington Beach, CA

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Your great Zurich article makes me want to go there for the holidays! I love the photos, too, especially the ones of you in the sleigh, the view over the houses and the zoo!

Anna Marie, Santa Monica, CA

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Lovely article! As a European, and having been to Zurich (albeit in summer) I can vouch for this lovely city. Great pictures, too!

Helene Robins, Santa Monica, CA

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Hi Bev,

Nice review, nice seeing you, nice website interface "...Talk to Bev" - Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Richard D. Kaye, Marina del Rey, CA

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Hi Bev,

Your interview with John Cusack is very interesting. I always wondered why these actors/actresses always get top billing when really, if you think about it, the real work come from the animators, writers and tech whizzes who spend far more hours on the movie than those actors. I know, I know, it's the all about marketing. The names of these actors are what bring in the big bucks. Still, I think these actors are way overpaid for the "little" that they do.

I remember that once upon a time, the early animation classics never mentioned the voices behind the characters. I think it was only later when Walt Disney tapped into the voices of known celebrities like Walter Matthau in the Jungle Book or Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Rescuers that the voices became a marketing magnet.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy your interviews as you peer into the lives of the Hollywood celebrities.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA




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