Gemma Grant continues her series on the Castles of Ireland

Hillsborough Castle, isn’t, as the name suggests a castle, but more of a grand house, ‘The Grandest House in County Down’, to be exact. The grand house was built during the Georgian period, beginning its life in the 1770s as a mansion fit for, and built by, Wills Hill, the Marquis of Downshire.

It would later go through further remodelling in the following two centuries, emerging as Hillsborough Castle, home of the Secretary of State and official residence of the Windsors, when they come to the North of Ireland for a visit.

Today’s edifice sits on 100 acres of meticulously kept gardens, offering woodlands, waterways, specimen trees and wide varieties of plants. A tour of the house will take today’s visitors through a variety of imposing rooms, from Throne Room to the Stately Drawing Room. Each offering its own unique historical contribution to the history of the castle and providing an array of paintings, furnishings and curiosities adorning the rooms from floor to ceiling.

An array of VIPs have made the trip, from the Dalai Lama, the Prince of Japan to Eleanor Roosevelt, to name but a few.
The modern day show piece was acquired in 2014 by the Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity charged with the task of looking after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.

Their remit was to restore the castle and gardens to its former glory, making it not only a working residence for the Secretary of State for the North of Ireland, but to open Hillsborough Castle to the paying public.

Before the 2014 acquisition, the residence was bought by the British government in 1925, for the princely sum of, today’s equivalent, £1.3 million. Its intended use was to house the North’s Governor, making it his official residence, following the Partition of Ireland in 1921.

The Governor’s post replaced the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland who had previously resided in Dublin Castle and the Governors’ new premises, Government House, Hillsborough, remained their official residence for some fifty years.
The original family, the Hills, had previously rented out Hillsborough Castle in 1909, before selling completely to the British government. The Hills lineage goes back to the Plantation of Ulster of the 1600s. Moses Hill was the landless second son of an English West Country family. He joined the British army, gaining the rank of officer in 1573 and left to seek his fortune in Ireland.

He fought alongside Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, who landed in Ireland in 1599. Devereux was sent in to quell the Tyrone Rebellion, led by the chieftains, O’Neill and O’Donnell, who rose in opposition to the Tudor conquest of Ireland.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own