Farmleigh House, Phoenix Park, Dublin was one of the illustrious addresses of the Guinness family from 1847 until 1992.
The particular Guinness was the great grandson of brewery founder, Arthur Guinness. The family sold the house to the Irish State in 1999 for the €29.2 million. €23million and two years were spent on its restoration by the wonderful people at the Office of Public Works. And, by 2001, the house was opened to the public.
The house has been adapted for State visits so that it can accommodate visiting heads of State from other countries. At other times it is open to the public for guided tours, concerts and other events.
It really thrills me to see such places opened so highly accessible now to all of us in the country. I`ve been to many events there, including their wonderful Christmas markets, their summer markets, concerts and art exhibitions. Yes, you can tell I`m a big fan of the OPW and I`m glad, given our history, that we are reclaiming, restoring and repurposing these places rather than have them fall to rack and ruin.
The tour of the house is free and just half an hour long. I`d hoped yesterday to enjoy my third tour of the place but when I rocked up at the Farmleigh front door, it seemed there was no one at home at all.
The Courtyard at Farmleigh
So, I rambled around to the courtyard for a bit. Usually a hive of activity in summer, this too was deserted. The gallery too, was empty.
Only there was no queue. Just me, and six other people for the guided tour.
We trooped up from the basement to the diningroom. Panelled in Irish oak and hung with three hundred year old Italian silk tapestries, I could easily imagine a scene from Downton Abbey in there.
This, our guide told us, was where Queen Elizabeth and President Obama were welcomed on their recent visits to Ireland. The table is original to the room, while the china bears harp insignia of Irish state china. The cutlery is from Newbridge and the crystal is also Irish, coming from the Waterford.
The entrance hall in Farmleigh is something of a piece de resistance. I wish I had a better picture of it here. Yes, you can see the fine Italian fireplace and the view of the mahogany staircase running to the upper floors. The mahogany for this stairway is from San Domingo mahogany, from Central America.
But I`d love you to see the doorway. There are magnificent Connemara marble pillars and Greek styled statues either side of it. And then, a step up towards the grandeur of the hall itself. There is lots of glass incorporated into the design beautifully dressed windows all around the door. Light also floods through the glassed roof above the stairway, so that initial effect upon entering Farmleigh is of space, light and grandeur.
I wondered if the Guinness kids came charging through the front door and plonk their mucky trainers and cricket bats there for the servants to clean up?
Oh, I wouldn`t mind having a room in which to take tea with my pals. I`m not sure I`d be having it in here though. Yes, it`s all very pretty with it`s delicate plaster work, light colours and curved walls. But there is nothing to do in it. Except talk and take tea and well, um, I think I`d rather join the guys in the library. I really want to climb the nifty staircase there and spend some time in the gallery browsing through the rare books.
The Guinness family bequeathed the library to the Irish State on condition that they mind the collection there. There`s a letter from Daniel O`Connell to his wife there which he wrote after the Catholic Emancipation Bill was passed. And a primer in the Irish language which was used by Queen Elizabeth 1. Along with thousands of other rare books. A rainy afternoon in there would be just heaven!
But we must dance onwards to the ballroom.
Lighting is a particular feature of Farmleigh as it was one of the first houses in the country to use electricity. There are three chandeliers in the ballroom-a magnificent French one, flanked by two from Waterford. The finely plastered walls are another feature as they are not plastered at all. In fact its wood panelling, with fine carvings added, and the whole painted off white to resemble plaster.
We were taken to the conservatory then. It reminded me of the glass houses in the Botanical gardens, complete with pots filled with the kind of greenery of which Victorian lords and ladies were so fond of.
We didn`t get a peek at the state bedrooms upstairs. There are fourteen in all with bathrooms en suite. Some are decorated in the 19th century and others in the upper floor, in modern style. Or so the guide told us. I don`t believe her though and really think we could have slipped up there for just the tiniest little peek.
And, with the views of Farmleigh estate and the Phoenix Park beyond, it was time to go running.
Further information on farmleigh.ie
Pictures of Farmleigh interior here are all from farmleigh.ie.
Farmleigh exterior photos are my own.