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Britain > N.Ireland > Co.Down > Hillsborough Castle

Both tourist attraction and functioning government building

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Guided Tours
Prom Concerts
Garden Festival
For much of the 20th century, Hillsborough Castle was home to the Governor of Northern Ireland, an official representative of the monarch. This position was abolished in 1972, so from then on the building became a Royal residence. The queen and her relatives stay here whenever they're in the country, as do the Royal Family's guests. Throughout the year it also houses the Secretary of State, and a crowd of junior ministers.

Hillsborough Castle.
Photo VirtuaaliAnu
In short, almost everybody who comes to Hillsborough is both distinguished and important. It has even been the venue for some serious political talks, with big decisions being taken within its walls. British Prime Ministers and American Presidents have each taken advantage of the house's hospitality.
Despite the name, this isn't really a castle. It's a Georgian mansion, built back in the 18th century. Hillsborough was recently opened up to the public for everyone to enjoy and not just politicians. Because of the important business going on inside, the premises are only open on the Saturdays of May, June and August. Guided tours are available for both the castle and the gardens. Inside are some lavishly furnished rooms from a time before the Royal Family moved in. In other places you might catch sight of official government functions. These are signs of Hillsborough's double life: half ageing relic and half modern office.

Hosting an event at Hillsborough Castle.
Photo karenandkerry
Sometimes the property abandons both history and business entirely. In recent years it has hosted the Proms, an extravaganza of classical music, lighting displays and casual picnicking. A giant screen broadcast highlights from the Last Night of the Proms in London's Royal Albert Hall. Their success sets the scene for more events in the future.
The concert happens in the grounds, next to the well-kept gardens. There's a neat, extensive display of roses, and a rhododendron bush that claims to be the largest in Europe! Visitors can walk around the lake, as the Royal Family have done many times before them. There is also a lovely walk along an avenue of yew trees. This lead beautifully to a slightly raised, circular Greek style temple built in 1880. The parkland also contains a kitchen garden, and like so many stately homes built before the invention of the refrigerator, it has an icehouse. This once stored snow collected in the winter, to preserve its food.

The Gardens at Hillsborough Castle.
Photo andrewmuir.net
Unfortunately, the grounds are only open on the same few occasions as the house. However larger groups can sometimes organise a weekday trip. It's tempting to complain at the inconvenience, but when you consider that this is a fully functioning government building, it's a surprise to be allowed inside at all.

Did You Know?

A garden festival is held within the walled garden at Hillsborough Castle each May. Highlights of the festival include show gardens, growers pavillion, garden roadshow, floristry demonstrations, garden equipment and local crafts stalls.

Hillsborough Garden Festival.
Photo andrewmuir.net
Visitor Information
Hillsborough Castle and Gardens opens its gates to the public each Saturday in May, June and August.  For admission charges, tour times and group bookings please phone the booking office. Hillsborough Castle & Gardens, Hillsborough, County Down, BT26 6AG. Tel: 028 9268 1309

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