With 12½% Irish blood in my veins I thought I’d celebrate St. David’s Day by looking at an extraordinary Irish life. Actually, I think “astonishing life” would be more accurate because I’m astonished he managed to get away with it! His name is Brian, Baron de Breffny of Castletown Cox,
. County Kilkenny, Ireland
Brian de Breffny was born in 1931. Throughout his life he formed strong friendships with influential men and women, among the first being the composer Sir William Walton. Walton became a kind of mentor and helped Brian to forge connections throughout
Europe. These included politicians, royals and Hollywood legends.
Promiscuously bisexual Brian married twice, first to an Indian princess, secondly to a widowed Finn. With his second wife Brian moved to
having by now become Baron and Baroness de Breffny, an ancient title descending from the Celtic O’Rourke royal family. At the stately Castletown Cox the de Breffnys entertained the glamour and royal sets of the world. Ireland
As a keen historian Brian de Breffny wrote extensively on Irish heritage and genealogy. He was co-editor of “The Irish Ancestor” for which he wrote many articles (including new research he undertook into the ancestry of Oscar Wilde). Another passion was art and he filled his home with paintings and statues, and was a generous patron of the arts in general. In 1984 he founded “The Irish Arts Review”.
Brian, Baron de Breffny, died in 1989.
But what is so extraordinary about his life, you may ask? To which I reply …
… it was all a con.
He wasn’t Irish. He wasn’t called de Breffny. And he didn’t have a real title. What he did have was charm.
Brian de Breffny was actually born Brian Michael Lees, the son of a
taxi driver. His mother’s family did have Irish blood, but not the Breffny’s. With his father’s secondary career as a bookmaker Brian had more money than the typical working-class Londoner, and with it he began to create a new identity and background for himself. London
The first advantageous marriage to an Indian princess gave him more income from the marriage settlement while giving her a way out of
What led Brian to adopt the title of Baron de Breffny was his relationship with Hon. Guy Strutt, who taught Brian everything he needed to know to pass in aristocratic circles. It was like a real-life gay version of “My Fair Lady” – but without the songs! It was Strutt who may also have suggested he take a title. The Breffny title had been extinct since the 1930s so Brian saw no reason why he shouldn’t use it, mainly because there was nobody left in the real Breffny family to challenge him or complain about it. There’s nothing to stop you giving yourself a title in a republic like
because they don’t officially recognise them: in places like the Ireland you have to prove you’re entitled to a title. UK
Having reinvented himself in Ireland Brian lived the life of a millionaire. Some of his friends, even his wives, knew his real background, but his charm opened door after door and he eagerly went through all of them. It was only after his death in 1989 that his real identity and background was revealed.