Sunday, 15 August 2021

Hillsborough Castle Visit

"The mansion, garden, and lawn of the Marquis of Downshire are situated on the west side of the town, and the demesne on the east: 
the mansion, though a plain-looking structure, has a fine Greek portico; the garden and lawn are extensive and well-kept; 
and the demesne comprises nearly 800 Irish acres, and is embellished with artificial lakes, and agreeable plantations".
HILLSBOROUGH CASTLE and Gardens, County Down, the ancestral seat of the Hills, Marquesses of Downshire, were thus described by the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland in 1844.

Sir Charles Brett remarked in 1974 that the house was "a pleasant if not very imposing two-storey, rather rambling, ashlar mansion-house...."

I hadn't paid a visit to the Castle and Gardens since the £20 million restoration recently.

Royal connections are advantageous, and a brand new entrance and slip road from the A1 dual-carriageway have been created for visitors.

This "must-see" tourist attraction is now easily accessible.

It's impressive: the gilded embellishments, exquisite detail and craftsmanship; the absolutely wonderful and vast walled garden.

Hillsborough Courthouse and Gates from the Castle

My guided tour of the Castle was at 11am, and I had allowed myself plenty of time, so I had tea in the new Stable Yard Tea Room adjacent to the mansion.

This old stable-yard has an interesting history.

It was originally built ca 1780 as a stable-yard, together with a farm-yard to the north of it.

The two buildings are shown as a pair of interconnecting U-shaped ranges to the east of the Castle on an estate map of 1788.

When Hillsborough Castle was sold to the Government in 1922, the stables were converted for the use of a Guard of ‘A-Specials" of the Ulster Special Constabulary, whose duties were to protect the first Governor of Northern Ireland, the 3rd Duke of Abercorn, from assassination.


The A- Specials were disbanded in 1935, but the Governor retained a Guard consisting of an officer, two sergeants and sixteen constables, which continued to exist until His Grace retired in 1945.

The Guard-house, as it became known, was listed in 1976.

In 1994 the building was restored and upgraded for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Further renovations and restorations took place in 2007; and more recently the Stables have been converted into use as a tea-room, shop, and the Clore Learning Centre.

While I waited outside the main entrance of the L-shaped east front I examined the stone plaques set into the wall of the former Governors, including the last holder of that office, the Lord Grey of Naunton.

I met him at a reception in the Castle during the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Entrance Hall ca 1993

The tour of the ground-floor reception rooms was conducted by knowledgeable and attentive guides.

Entrance Hall in 2019

Following my tour of the house I wandered round the gardens, discovering the charming little Friends' Burial Ground, the Lost Garden, LADY ALICE'S TEMPLE (an elegant eye-catcher just beyond the pond overlooking the Ewe Tree Walk).

I walked round the large lake, where a family of swans were preening themselves nonchalantly and oblivious to passers-by.

Having lunched in the main restaurant (salmon, gateau, tea), I explored the adjacent and most impressive walled garden, which comprises four acres.

The Pineapple Gateau

For fear of duplication, I shan't describe the main features; suffice it to remark that Hillsborough Castle and Gardens are worthy of inclusion as one of Northern Ireland's main visitor attractions.

Summer Menu

Incidentally, there are no less than two former pineries (hothouses where pineapples are grown) beside the walled garden.

Only the wealthiest families could afford this exotic fruit in the 18th century: pineapples cost upwards of £34 each (about £5,000 today).

First published in August, 2019.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Very good, great idea to have car entry from the motorway to avoid clogging up the streets of Hillsborough.