In the heart of Hillsborough village lies Northern Ireland’s only Historic Royal Palace.
The Castle is the official residence of the Royal family and Secretary of State and behind its doors lies an array of regal paintings, state rooms and historic artefacts.
However, Hillsborough castle is far from a stuffy museum, it is a functional family home steeped in tradition and now members of the public can walk the corridors of history and soak up the majestic rooms with a behind the scenes guided tour.
When Historic Royal Palaces took over running Hillsborough Castle last year, they embarked on a major renovation of both the house and the gardens.
Work is already well underway in the State Hallway, which has undergone an eight week project to paint the walls to look like stone. Work has also begun in the Candlestick Hall and the Terrace., where gravel has been replaced with sandstone.
The Royal family have a keen interest in the renovation project, which is expected to take five years to complete.
The Castle’s curator, Dr Christopher Warleigh-Lack, explained: “The royal family see Hillsborough Castle very much as a home. The Queen would have spent a lot of time here as a young girl in the 40s and 50s.
“The royal family have a lot of input into the renovation and Prince Charles sees all the designs and we work with him on ideas.”
One of the most iconic rooms in the Castle is the Throne Room, which is easily identifiable by its twin thrones and beautiful regal tapestry.
“The thrones are chairs of state, which were made in 1925 when it became a government house,” explained Dr Warleigh-Lack. “It had been thought the tapestry was created in 1953, however, it has now been discovered that it was actually made in 1937 for Edward VIII but was put in storage following his abdication, It was then brought back to life for Queen Elizabeth in 1953.”
The Throne Room plays host to numerous events throughout the year, including citizenship presentations and even weddings.
“We recently began hosting weddings in Hillsborough Castle,” explained Visitor and Events Manager Debbie McCamphill. “We are licensed for weddings and cater for groups in the State Rooms. There are also two cottages on site where guests can stay.”
Local people are being encouraged to pay regular visits to Hillsborough Castle over the next five years to see the progress that is being made as the renovation work continues. “This is a new challenge for us,” continued Dr Warleigh-Lack. “We want to share the story of how the monarchy and palaces have helped to shape society. We want to open up the castle and tell its story.”
As well as renovating the house and the gardens, plans are also underway for a new car park and tourist centre, which will also include a coffee shop and gift shop with specially designed gifts.
Members of the public can enjoy a guided tour of the house, which lasts for approximately one hour. The guided tours run every weekend throughout the summer until September 28. A guided tour of the house costs £7 for adult and £5 for children, with family tickets available for £18. Tour groups can also enjoy an extra treat of afternoon tea in the fabulous State Room, which is available on request.
The gardens are also open daily from 10am until sunset for unguided access. Tickets for the gardens, which cost £3.50, can be purchased at the Visitor Information Centre in the Court House. For further information on Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, visit the Booking Office in the Square, contact 9268 1300, email email@example.com o9r log onto www.hrp.org.uk.