Dubliners Get A Taste of Hillsborough Castle, Co Down

Dublin’s press last night were given a taster of what the public can expect when Co Down’s Hillsborough Castle and Gardens opens officially in April.

Organised by Historic Royal Palaces, the event took place at the Irish Georgian Society on South William Street. There, the independent charity responsible for renovating the landmark highlighted the type of artifacts, food and festivities on offer at Hillsborough.

On display was the bugle used to announce VIPs into the castle. These in the past have included, along with various members of royalty, the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Dwight Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt, George W Bush, Mary McAleese and Tony Blair. Adding to this list was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who stayed overnight in the landmark this week.

Other artifacts for guests to scan included a shovel used by many VIPs to plant ceremonial trees in Hillsborough gardens, replica royal hats, the remains of clay pipes discovered on the castle’s 100 acre grounds and various artworks relating to the location. Attendees were also fed drinks and canapes provided by Yellow Door, Hillsborough’s newly appointed catering company.

Speaking at the event, Historic Royal Palace conservator David Orr told Travel Ireland Magazine: “Hillsborough has a rich history of growing all of its own food, much like any Georgian or Victorian house. We’ve redeveloped and restored the castle’s walled garden and all of the food were growing is going to be served in our cafes and at events. Yellow Door will be doing that on our behalf.”

Historic Royal Palace representatives also provided information on some of the unique tours they will be running at Hillsborough to mark Easter. The castle employ actors or ‘character explainers’, the aim being to educate through live performance.

“As they come into the fabulous gardens, guests will be able to meet key characters from Hillsborough’s history,” said Shan McAnena, public engagement manager at the castle. “There will be Benjamin Franklin discussing politics and kite making with Wills Hill who built Hillsborough. There will be the 3rd Marquess of Downshire who was president of the Ulster Gaelic society. He was a great supporter of Irish language and culture. He will be telling Irish fairy stories and teaching people a bit of Gaelic.”

“Then there will be Lady Alice, the ‘it girl’ of the mid-19th century talking about her wedding in Hillsborough Castle. Guests might also encounter MI5 and CIA operatives as they secretly prepare for the presidential summit between George Bush and Tony Blair in 2003. These will be vignettes visitors can dip in and out of, each about 5 or 10 minutes long.

McAnena told Travel Ireland magazine she was surprised at the vast amount of history uncovered by Historic Royal Palaces since they took over management of the building in 2014. “The Irish country house has a very black and white historical reputation of absentee landlords and impoverished tenants. In fact, when you look at the Hill family – yes they were incredibly wealthy – but they were good to their tenants. We found out they used to keep ale in a special tree in the garden just to serve to their tenants’ children when they visited.”

Continuing McAnena noted: “People are always very interested in the different lives those in the past lived. But it can be difficult sometimes to relate to certain subjects’ level of opulence and extravagance One of the things we try to do is tell the whole spectrum of stories from Hillsborough, ones from the gardeners, the cooks, the footmen’s perspective.”

At the event, senior curator for Historic Royal Palaces Christopher Warleigh-Lack said: “What’s fascinating about Hillsborough is how complex its history is. To share 300 years and all those strands in 45 minutes is incredibly difficult so what we attempt to do its touch on everything lightly. For those who want to delve deeper, we are currently writing tours that focus purely on the political, royal, art, LBGT and family history of the castle.”

McAnena also revealed information to Travel Ireland Magazine about one other special event to take place at Hillsborough this year. “This summer, we’ve got the Horrible Histories theatrical performance coming for a week in August. Visitors will be able to learn all about vile Victorians and gorgeous Georgians.”

Currently the set date for Hillsborough to open to the public is April 18. The location is only 15 minutes from Belfast and one hour 45 minutes from Dublin. See here for more details and read Travel Ireland Magazine’s review of the castle by following this link.

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