Heritage hot spots: Where to take the family for a taste of history

Sat, Dec 17, 2011, 00:00

Farmleigh, Dublin

What is it?Farmleigh is a fine country house and estate on 30 hectares or so of the northwest of Phoenix Park, in Dublin. It was owned for more than 150 years by the Guinness family, from whom the government bought it in 1999 for €29.2 million. The house is used to accommodate visiting dignitaries and guests of the nation, such as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip of Britain on their State visit earlier this year. It is also used to host State functions, government meetings and international events such as the Global Economic Forum. The public can take free tours of the house and come for public events at various times throughout the year.

Why visit?The house has many beautiful interior features, ranging from the classical style to Jacobean, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Georgian. Originally a small Georgian house, it was extended in the late 19th century by the then owner, Edward Cecil Guinness, a great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, the founder of the brewery. A ballroom wing and conservatory were subsequently added. A 37m clock tower in the gardens offers views to Malahide, in the north, Dún Laoghaire and the Dublin Mountains, in the south, and Maynooth, in the west. In the past, it held a private water supply for the estate and was part of the electricity generation system for the house. The gardens include a large circular fountain, a walled garden, a decorative dairy and cowsheds that have been redesigned as a gallery. The Benjamin Iveagh Library, which contains many collectable Irish books and manuscripts, is open for use by scholars and readers by appointment with the assistant librarian, on 01-8155908.

Why now?Farmleigh House is beautifully decorated at Christmas, as you can see on tours today, tomorrow and next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Christmas programme, which runs from 10am from 5pm today and tomorrow, includes a food market, a festive crib, horse-and- carriage rides, storytelling, magic and puppet shows for children, carol singing in the ballroom and barbershop melodies in the gardens. An exhibition in Farmleigh Gallery, Landscape Photography from the State Art Collection, continues until December 23rd. The boathouse cafe (weekends 10am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday 10am-5pm until December 23rd; reopens on Wednesday, December 28th) is at the edge of an ornamental lake.

How do I get there?As Chesterfield Avenue, the main road through the park, is closed for repairs, if you’re travelling by car need you need to take the peripheral route around the park, in an anticlockwise direction. If you’re travelling by bus, take a number 37 from Baggot Street, Suffolk Street or the south city quays to Castleknock Gate. When you enter the park take the path to your immediate right and follow the signs for Farmleigh. It is a 15-minute walk from Castleknock Gate. More details from 01-8155900 or farmleigh.ie.