In the summer of 2019 our family had the chance to spend almost three months in Dublin and I’ll try to tell you about everything interesting, popular or not, in the city. Overall, I wouldn’t say that I liked Dublin much, unlike Ireland. If you go out of the city everything is gorgeous, but Dublin itself not so much… There were amazing places, of course, and I will tell you about one of them now
Farmleigh is situated in the northwest corner of the Phoenix Park and is adjacent to the Chapelizod and Castleknock areas of Dublin. It covers an area of 79 acres and contains many beautiful features, including the main house, which is a fine example of Georgian – Victorian architecture, the sunken garden, the walled garden, the famous clock tower and the lake.
Farmleigh provides premier accommodation and facilities to visiting dignitaries and officially sponsored national and international meetings of importance.
Originally a small Georgian house built in the late eighteenth century Farmleigh was purchased by Edward Cecil Guinness on his marriage to his cousin, Adelaide Guinness, in 1873. A great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, founder of the eponymous brewery, Edward Cecil became the first Earl of Iveagh in 1919.
With the addition of a new Conservatory adjoining the Ballroom in 1901, and increased planting of broadleaves and exotics in the gardens, Farmleigh had, by the early years of the twentieth century, all the requisites for gracious living and stylish entertainment. Its great charm lies in the eclecticism of its interior decoration ranging from the classical style to Jacobean, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Georgian.
Farmleigh was purchased from the Guinness family by the Irish Government in 1999 for €29.2m. The house has been carefully refurbished by the Office of Public Works as the premier accommodation for visiting dignitaries and guests of the nation, for high level Government meetings, and for public enjoyment.
The Entrance Hall – Six columns of Connemara marble, with Ionic capitals and pedestals as well as respondent pilasters of Portland stone, support the coffered ceiling of the Entrance Hall. The focal point here is the chimney piece of carved and inlaid marble, probably a nineteenth-century copy of an original, though the plaque may date from the eighteenth century.
The classical motif continues at the Staircase to the rear of the hall.
The door to the left of the hall leads to the Dining Room, which is lined with boiseries in the style of Louis XV. There is some spectacular woodcarving in this room, of particular note is the chimney piece, supported by a pair of female herms, with a clock at its centre surmounted by a grotesque face. Bronze figures of Bacchantes are placed in the shell-topped niches on either side of the fireplace, while beneath them are late Victorian oak buffets.
The room was designed to facilitate the four late seventeenth-century embroidered panels, purchased by Edward Cecil Guinness in London in 1874. They came from the collection of Queen Maria Cristina of Spain.
The main entrance to Farmleigh was originally on the north side of the house and this was probably a reception room where guests either dined or withdrew after dinner. By 1873, when Edward Cecil Guinness bought the house, the entrance had been changed to the south of the building and this room was the entrance hall. It subsequently became a boudoir and reverted in later years with the Guinness family to a reception room while keeping its appellation as ‘boudoir’.
The Boudoir is oval in shape with two niches, one each side of the door into the Corridor. The ceiling plasterwork dates from about 1790 and is in the Adam style.
An item of particular interest is the pair of engraved brass lock-plates on the door into the corridor.
The Blue Room is an ante room to the Ballroom. The ceiling was copied from that in the Oval Room, though it is not at all as finely executed as the original. The three arched doorways in these rooms were created out of windows in the old house when Young added the Ballroom in 1896.
It has been said that Farmleigh’s Ballroom is a good example of turn-of-the-century social architecture. The Guinness’ guests could not fail to be impressed with the superb decoration in the style of Louis XVI with swags, wreaths, musical trophies, urns, sphinxes, and Corinthian pilasters. The rich decoration is executed in plaster that is applied to wood panelling, and the whole room, including the ceiling, is painted off-white to resemble plaster.
Hanging from the centre of the ceiling is a magnificent late nineteenth-century cut-glass and gilt metal chandelier complete with coronet. Purchased specifically for the Ballroom, it is on loan from the Guinness family. There is a story that the oak floor was made from disused barrels at the brewery but that has never been confirmed!
From the Ballroom, doors lead into the Conservatory, which was used as an extension of the entertainment space. Exotic plants and flowers were grown here, and have been re-introduced by the Office of Public Works. Hot water pipes that ran around the perimeter were covered up by cast iron grilles, which have been restored. The marble floor, which is original, is tiled in the traditional eighteenth-century pattern of carreaux octagons.
The Clock Tower combined the Victorian desire for mixing the aesthetic and practical and is a well known landmark. Rising to about 37m in height, it is clearly visible above the estate’s mature tree. The view from its balcony is breathtaking.
It was erected in 1880 but its architect is unknown. The walls are 1.22m thick at ground level reducing to 0.76m at top. The bells were cast in 1879-80 and each one bears a Latin inscription. The clock remains in perfect working order after more than a century and, until recently, it was wound every day by hand.
The focal point of the Pleasure Grounds is the lawn at the back of the house, which rises gently up to a large circular fountain with single high water jet. It is the view framed in the over fireplace window of the Nobel Room which beautifully connects the interior of the house with the exterior ornamental grounds.
The fountain and lawn are enclosed by magnificent mature trees including a 200-year-old beech tree, cooper beech and lime trees.
Sunken gardens in various formal styles were popular in the early twentieth century. This one is in the Dutch of Early English style and was created some time after 1907, probably by Edward Cecil Guinness. An ornamental gate leads into the rectangular garden, which was designed with three descending brick terraces leading to an oval pool in the centre, with a marble fountain of carved putti figures. Fine topiary peacocks and spirals surround this fountain on two levels.
The Walled Garden covers about four acres and is sloped ideally towards the south. A fine pair of highly decorative wrought iron gates lead into a diagonal walk with double herbaceous borders backed by high yew hedges. South of the main crosswalk is a small orchard and potager, while north of it there is a small rose and lavender garden.
A stone temple was created as a focal point of the garden in 1971: it has six antique columns of Portland with a copper roof and ornamental weather vane.
The building of the dairy was a serious business in Victorian times. As part of the country house economy, the dairy became also a garden feature, a small building often strategically placed close to the house but away from farm buildings and their accompanying odours.
It nestles among trees in a picturesque setting at the side of the lawn and is clearly visible from the house. Faced with red brick from Cork, with stone trimmings, it is almost rectangular in plan and one storey high. The front of the building has a gable to one side in which are a Gothic-style pointed doorway with a corresponding hood moulding which echoes the shape of the glazed light over the door. Stepped back slightly from the gable side of the front is a five-light window with five beautifully executed stained glass panels in the upper sections. They depict idyllic pastoral scenes of cows and one of a milkmaid carrying her stool being greeted by a gentleman who raises his hat in a salute. Each scene is bordered with coloured glass.
And here are some photos of the lovely park:
And some buildings:
In one of the former farm building, there is a gallery, usually hosting exhibitions. During our visit there was an exhibition of a local man collection of Lego sets. He’s been buying them all his life and some of them has almost antique value.
You can see the house only with a guided tour, costing 5 euro and you must book it in advance here. Kids under 12 go free, till 17 for 3 euro. The park can be visited every day of the year free of charge.
Here’s the Farmleigh location, if you decide to visit: