Did Arthur Kingsley Porter, the Yale-educated professor of American Art and owner of Glenveagh Castle, fake his own death and start a new life in Europe?
Glenveagh Castle is a 19th-century castellated mansion built between 1867 and 1873. Its construction in a remote mountain setting was inspired by the Victorian idyll of a romantic highland retreat. It is now part of the Glenveagh national park in County Donegal in Ireland's majestic northwest.
It has a turbulent history tinged with fame and tragedy. During the Irish Civil War, the castle was garrisoned by both pro and anti-treaty forces. Glenveagh was of no real strategic value but each side craved the symbolism of holding the castle rather than utilizing it during the civil war. Once the Free State was founded, the castle lay empty until 1929, when just before the world economy collapsed, a Yale-educated professor of American Art purchased the property.
Whilst owning the Glenveagh castle and estate would give anyone an allure of fame, Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter would be more infamous for his mysterious disappearance from Innisbofin Island, in July 1933. Did he fall from a cliff in a tragic accident, perhaps he killed himself, was he murdered or had the troubled man faked his own death and created a new life for himself in his beloved mainland Europe?
Nobody really knows for certain but this is his tale.
Arthur Kingsley Porter was born in 1883, the third son in a wealthy family in Stamford Connecticut. Tragedy was soon to strike when his mother, Maria Louisa Hoyt died when Porter was only eight years old. His father Timothy Hopkins Porter was a wealthy banker who suffered from regular bouts of depression and paranoia.
Such was the wealth of the Porter family that an 18-year-old Arthur Porter became an instant millionaire when his family trust fund matured.
Porter graduated from Yale with a degree in law in 1902 but soon decided that the legal profession was not for him. In 1904 he was touring Europe and while in France visiting Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Coutances, a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral constructed from 1210 to 1274 in the town of Coutances, Normandy, he experienced what he would later describe as a semi-spiritual experience.
The 21-year-old Porter now a wealthy man decided that he would now study Art History and on his return to America he enrolled at Columbia University’s School of Architecture.
In 1907 Porter now gaining a reputation as a scholar of architecture met Lucy Byrant Wallace, seven years his senior, at a social gathering in New York.
While Porter was a handsome and shy man with a bookish nature Lucy was a force of nature with a confident outlook on life and a busy social life.
Oddly suited to some, the couple however shared a passion for art and architecture and quickly fell in love. They married in 1908 and spent the next few years traveling throughout Europe, only returning as the continent fell into the horrors of the First World War.
As war-ravaged Europe destroying much of the architecture he loved Porter returned to Yale in 1915 to take up a lecturing role, while he worked towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
After the war, Porter and his wife returned to Europe where he became a guest lecturer at universities in France and Spain.
In 1925 the couple returned to America where Arthur became the chair of art history at Harvard University. He was now at the top of his field and he became one of the founders of the College Art Association of America, and a prize in his honor is still given out each year.
Despite his success, Porter was concealing a dark secret from his wife. After 17 years of married life, Porter confessed to his wife that despite loving her deeply he was a homosexual.
Lucy Porter decided to stand by her husband, but this confession perhaps explains the scandal that clouded his departure from Harvard in 1929, where rumors persisted of Porter sexually harassing his students.
Porter like his father before him suffered from bouts of depression and his wife decided that a move to Ireland would help her husband recover. As 1929 drew to a close the couple purchased Glenveagh Castle and the estate for £5,000. Porter turned his eye to Celtic art and Irish archaeology. He became friends with the Irish writer and artist George William Russell whose paintings still hang on Glenveagh’s walls.
He also restored a fisherman's cottage on Inishboffin Island (Inish Bó Finne in Irish), which is located 3km from Machaire Rabhartaigh (Magheroarty) on the County Donegal coast. It was here that Porter also learned the Irish language.
However, Porters' Irish idyll began to unravel as his depression again began to take hold.
His wife arranged for Porter to see Dr Havelock, an unorthodox psychotherapist and sexologist in London. The Doctor believed that Porter's repressed sexuality was the cause of his depression.
He recommended that Porter give in to his desires with a young homosexual patient of his called Alan Campbell.
The bizarre situation took an even stranger twist when Porter's wife Lucy agreed with the Dr and young Campbell became a regular visitor to Glenveagh Castle and to Porter's American home in Connecticut.
This strange relationship could not be sustained for long and when all three set sail for Ireland on May 27th, 1933, Campbell ended the relationship and traveled onto London instead. Porter now relapsed into a deep depression.
Eleven days later, while spending a night at the fisherman’s hut that he built on Inishbofin, Porter went out walking during a storm and was never seen again.
The inquest held that September was the first in the short history of the state to be held without a body.
During the inquest, Porters widow detailed her frantic but futile six-hour search for her husband.
Lucy Porter gave evidence that she believed her husband must have slipped off the cliffs, fallen into the sea and been carried away.
It was also recorded that the next day she had told the author George William Russell that:
"Kingsley will not return tonight, Kingsley will never return."
The inquest was also told that one small boat had left the island that morning.
The inquest returned a verdict of death by misadventure, though privately the coroner voiced his opinion that Lucy knew more than she said in court. And that she acted as if her husband’s disappearance was not unexpected.
The inquest did not discuss Porter's homosexual love affair that had ended just before his disappearance.
As for Lucy, she returned to Glenveagh and funded research to study the "nature, cause and treatment of homosexuality". She also continued Porter's archaeological studies.
The story of Arthur Kingsley Porter did not end with his inquest. A few years later, there were reported sightings of Porter in Europe and these continued to be reported from locations all over the world for many years after his disappearance.
Perhaps he died on Inishboffin or had he faked it all to leave North West Donegal behind to live the life he always wanted to experience in Europe?
We shall never know.
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