Welcome to the west wing: Russborough targets tourists with taste for the high life


MORE THAN two years after a fire started in the roof and caused major damage, the west wing of Russborough House finally opened to the public yesterday.

The Beit residence, which was the living quarters of the house’s former owners, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, has been transformed into two luxury apartments that will be rented out as self-catering holiday accommodation.

It will be run by the Irish Landmark Trust on behalf of the Beit Trust, which manages the historical mansion outside Blessington in Co Wicklow.

The trust restores, and in this case operates, historical buildings as tourism accommodation.

The restoration plan had been under way for three months when fire broke out on the night of February 7th, 2010, in the attic above the west wing.

The heat of the fire was so intense it caused molten lead to drip from the roof. Holes in the roof meant the water used to extinguish the fire seeped through to the first and second floors of the wing. Some 40 per cent of the top floor and 20 per cent of the ground floor were damaged. The ceiling in Lady Beit’s bedroom also collapsed.

Fortunately, the dining and drawing rooms were not damaged while the shutters, architraves, fireplaces and mahogany doors were unmarked.

The absorption of water by the wing’s heavy masonry and brickwork meant it took nine months to dry the house out.

It was initially hoped the restoration could be completed in the summer of 2010.

The original budget of €330,000 escalated to €1.5 million due to the fire, but most of the costs were covered by insurance.

Consultant architect Fionnuala Hayes from Howley Hayes Architects said the fire inadvertently helped the restoration project because work had been done in the 1970s before there was an understanding of how to treat historical buildings.

“We were able to go back and remodel the interiors in a better way and get rid of all the cement coatings that are quite damaging to an old building,” she said.

The Irish Landmark Trust’s policy is to make their properties affordable to the public.

For a three-night weekend, it costs €1,200 to rent out the Beit apartment on the top floor, which can accommodate eight people on a self-catering basis. This works out at an average of €50 per person per night.

The smaller ground-floor apartment is €1,000 for a weekend, and sleeps up to seven people.

The trust’s executive director Mary O’Brien said the restoration project would not be a success unless people could afford to stay in it.

“The whole idea is to give this back and let people experience it,” she said. “I want people to know what it is like to have lived there.”

The money generated from bookings will go towards the upkeep of the west wing. Both apartments are already booked for Christmas.