When Queen Elizabeth II heads over for a visit to Northern Ireland, her stately holiday home will be all spick, span, and awash with security once more. We are talking about Hillsborough Castle, located right in the middle of the charming town of Hillsborough in County Down. In which town, right behind the tourist information and market hall, you’ll find huge, ornately wrought gates …
Actually, nice as it is … the whole thing looks a bit hemmed in here. So, let us take a walk and have a look at Hillsborough Castle from the extensive gardens and landscaped grounds. Ah, much better …
Having said that – the interior is quite interesting too, and it is open to visit when the building is not in official use. Entrance is by guided tour only. More details can be found on the website of Hillsborough Castle.
But what, actually, is Hillsborough Castle … just an impressive big pile of stones?
First of all, it is not a castle. You will find a fine, but not fortified, Georgian country house. Built in the 18th century for the Hill family, also known as the Marquesses of Downshire. It stayed in the family until 1922, then the 6th Marquess upped sticks and sold the house and nearly 100 acres of grounds to the British government. Quite impressive grounds they were, too – the gardens were landscaped and developed at the same time as the house was built. And both complement each other well.
Too good a thing to let go to seed … so the British government used Hillsborough Castle as the official government residence in Northern Ireland. On a day-to-day basis it is the residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland … doubling up as Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Northern Ireland when visiting the region. On occasion, it is also used as a B&B for important international visitors.
On a more historical note – from 1924 until 1973 it was the official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland. And it is the last resting place of Mo Mowlam, part of her ashes were scattered here. She is remembered not only for her work in Northern Irish politics, but also for opening the extensive grounds to the public as a sign of the Peace Process.
Exploring the extensive grounds can be fun – there are some very “romantic” parts, complete with artificial grottos and so on … unfortunately a d=few of the less well-kept follies are now off limits to the visitors:
And in a very bucolic corner of the grounds you will find a lake, wooded areas and clearings … that are actually hosting some interesting artwork (that is less noticed that the “Ossian” bust on the front lawn). It is quite an enchanted area. And the place to have a leisurely picnic too.
Unless … there important visitors in town. Because quite near this spot is the helicopter landing pad for Hillsborough Castle.
Note that most details of Hillsborough Castle are actually missing from Google Maps (see below) … and they manage to have it in the wrong place too. Hillsborough Castle should actually located to the left of the Tourist Information in this map … seems there is some confusion with Hillsborough Fort, too (also worth a visit, but quite different).