Doneraile Court towers majestically over the glorious Doneraile Park, a 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate.
The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. By the time it was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century it had become an outstanding example of Georgian architecture. Its associations range from links to the famous St Leger Stakes in horse racing and literature, with famous Irish writers such as Elizabeth Bowen.
Thirteen generations of the St Leger family lived at Doneraile over three centuries. The family had some extraordinary members. For example, Elizabeth St Leger made history when she became the first woman Freemason in the world in 1712.
The fine parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many beautiful water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks. Lucky visitors might just spot some of the red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that live on the estate.
The castle at Rathfarnham dates back to the Elizabethan period. It was built for Adam Loftus, a Yorkshire clergyman and politician. Loftus was ambitious and eventually rose to become Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
Loftus’s castle, with its four flanker towers, is an excellent example of the Elizabethan fortified house in Ireland. In the late eighteenth century, the house was remodelled on a splendid scale employing some of the finest architects of the day including Sir William Chambers and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. The collection includes family portraits by Angelica Kauffman, Sir Peter Lely, and Hugh Douglas Hamilton.
It now hosts a wealth of exhibitions and cultural events.
Phoenix Park Visitor Centre – Ashtown Castle
Ashtown Castle is a tower house that probably dates from the seventeenth century, but may be as early as the fifteenth.
For years it was completely hidden within the walls of a Georgian mansion once occupied by the under-secretary for Ireland. When that house was demolished in the late 1980s, the castle was rediscovered. It has since been fully restored and now welcomes visitors.
Surrounding the castle is Ashtown Demesne, which boasts a plethora of attractions. Chief among them is the walled kitchen garden, which has being beautifully restored to its original Victorian layout. There are also woodland walks, picnic areas and a universal-access playground.
The Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, adjoining the castle, contains an entertaining exhibition on the park’s history from 3500 BC right through to the present day. There is a charming restaurant in the visitor-centre grounds.
The Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed public park in any capital city in Europe, at more than 700 hectares in area. It was created as a royal deer-hunting park in the 1660s and only opened to the public in 1747. The park is now home to Dublin Zoo and Áras an Uachtaráin – home to the President of Ireland.
The Phoenix Park has been the location for a number of major events – from an international motor-racing event in 1929 to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, when more than a million people attended the celebrations.
The park itself is exceptionally scenic. A large herd of fallow deer still calls it home. Enjoy the landscape from one of the many walks and cycle routes available to the public.
The imposing complex of Government Buildings on Upper Merrion Street, next door to Leinster House, was the last major public building the British constructed in Ireland. It was intended as accommodation for the Royal College of Science and various departments of the administration.
Fortuitously, it was complete by 1922. When independence dawned, the new Free State government moved in.
In more recent times, Taoiseach Charles Haughey converted and entirely refurbished the building to form state-of-the-art accommodation for a number of departments, including the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance and the Office of the Attorney General. Despite criticism of the expenditure involved, the renovated building won awards for its architectural design when it opened in the 1990s.
There are free guided tours every Saturday, although they are subject to occasional cancellation for urgent government business.
Farmleigh House and Estate
Farmleigh is a 78-acre estate inside Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The government bought it in June 1999 to provide accommodation for high-level meetings and visiting guests of the nation.
Farmleigh is a unique representation of its heyday, the Edwardian period. Edward Cecil Guinness, great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, constructed Farmleigh around a smaller Georgian house in the 1880s. According to his tastes, the new building merged a variety of architectural styles.
Many of the artworks and furnishings that Guinness collected remain in the house. There is a stunning collection of rare books and manuscripts in the library. The extensive pleasure-grounds contain wonderful Victorian and Edwardian ornamental features, with walled and sunken gardens and scenic lakeside walks. The estate also boasts a working farm with a herd of Kerry cows.
Take a guided tour of the house before visiting the estate grounds and enjoying refreshment in the onsite restaurant.
The Casino is a remarkable building, both in terms of structure and history. Sir William Chambers designed it as a pleasure-house for James Caulfeild, first earl of Charlemont, beside his residence in what was then the countryside. It is a gem of eighteenth-century neo-classical architecture. In fact, it is one of the finest buildings of that style in Europe.
The term ‘casino’ in this case means ‘little house’, and from the outside it gives an impression of compactness. However, it contains 16 rooms, each of which is finely decorated and endlessly rich in subtle and rare design. The Zodiac Room, for example, has a domed ceiling which represents the sky with astrological symbols modelled around its base
The Casino is located at Marino, only three miles north of the centre of Dublin.
Áras an Uachtaráin
Áras an Uachtaráin started life as a modest brick house, built in 1751 for the Phoenix Park chief ranger. It was later an occasional residence for the lords lieutenant. During that period it evolved into a sizeable and elegant mansion.
It has been claimed that Irish architect James Hoban used the garden front portico as the model for the façade of the White House.
After independence, the governors general occupied the building. The first president of the Republic of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, took up residence here in 1938. It has been home to every president since then.
The Áras welcomes slightly less distinguished visitors, too, offering free guided tours to the public every Saturday, subject to official State business permitting.
Glebe House and Gallery
This elegant Regency house, dating from 1828, is set in woodland gardens near the town of Letterkenny in County Donegal. The celebrated painter Derek Hill lived and worked here from the 1950s until the 1980s, when he presented the house to the Irish state – along with an extraordinary collection of art.
Hill was a man of exquisite taste. The house itself, is as he left it – beautifully decorated with William Morris textiles and furniture of oriental design. His collection includes hundreds of works by some of the leading lights of the art world, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Louis le Brocquy and Auguste Renoir. There are also choice pieces from further afield, including Japan and the Islamic world.
Hill’s studio, which adjoins the house, has been transformed into a modern and stylish gallery, which now plays host to changing exhibitions.
Castletown House and Parklands
Castletown is set amongst beautiful eighteenth-century parklands on the banks of the Liffey in Celbridge, County Kildare.
The house was built around 1722 for the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly, to designs by several renowned architects. It was intended to reflect Conolly’s power and to serve as a venue for political entertaining on a grand scale. At the time Castletown was built, commentators expected it to be ‘the epitome of the Kingdom, and all the rarities she can afford’.
The estate flourished under William Conolly’s great-nephew Thomas and his wife, Lady Louisa, who devoted much of her life to improving her home.
Today, Castletown is home to a significant collection of paintings, furnishings and objets d’art. Highlights include three eighteenth-century Murano-glass chandeliers and the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room in the country.
It is still the most splendid Palladian-style country house in Ireland.