Heritage hot spots History, nature, art, environment
RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE: What is it?Russborough House, near Blessington in Co Wicklow, is one of the finest Palladian country houses in Ireland. The former home of Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit, it was gifted to the State in 1976 and opened to the public in 1978. It is now managed by the Alfred Beit Foundation.
Why visit?Russborough House is a striking mansion by any measure; it also has the longest front facade – extending to more than 210m from end to end – of any Palladian house in Ireland. Described by the historian Mark Bence Jones as the most beautiful house in Ireland, it was built in 1741 for Joseph Leeson, the first earl of Milltown, following the design of Richard Cassels, the greatest promoter of Palladian architecture in the 18th century.
Most famous for the Beit art collection (with paintings by the Spanish artists, Goya and Velázquez and Dutch and Flemish old masters), which was donated to the National Gallery of Ireland in the 1980s, the house has a rich collection of antique furniture, tapestries, carpets, porcelain, silver and paintings.
Why now?It’s a beautiful place to visit in autumn, with the rich variety of deciduous trees and the backdrop of the Blessington lakes and Wicklow Mountains beyond. On Sunday week Blessington Vintage Car and Motorcycle Club will start its autumn run from Russborough. You can see the cars before they set off between 10am and 11am and wander around the gardens in front of the house for free.
The interior of the house is viewed by guided tour only; these run every hour between 10am and 5pm. But you can get a snapshot of life at Russborough on a self-guided 3D interactive exhibition on the Beits, their world travels and the famous art robberies – which featured in the movie The General – in the basement of the house.
Artisans, including blacksmiths, a weaver, a ceramic artist and a woodturner, welcome visitors to their studios in the grounds of Russborough. Children should have fun in the beech maze, and plans are afoot to open the walled garden next year.
How do I get there?Russborough House is just off the N81, 45 minutes from Dublin and 2km south of Blessington.
Adult admission costs €10 (house tour), €6 (3D exhibition) and €12 (tour and exhibition); admission for senior citizens, students and children costs €6 (house tour), €4 (3D exhibition) and €8 (tour and exhibition). Tours of the maze cost €3 per person. Group or school tours can be arranged all year. Call 045-865239. The newly renovated west wing is also available for rental. See russborough.ie.