Have you ever wondered how the Irish State ensures its official symbol is never confused with the Guinness icon? Did you know that when Ireland gained independence in 1922 over half of government revenue was derived from the Guinness family’s empire? Or that when one of the Guinness family members died in Britain, the windfall duties from his estate allowed Winston Churchill to cut income tax by a penny?
Where does one learn about such matters? Not at the Guinness Storehouse but at the State’s official residence for visiting heads of state, Farmleigh. Nestled among the delights of Phoenix Park, this mansion, originally a late 18th century small Georgian House, is open to the public following State purchase from the Guinness family in 1999) and subsequent renovations. It was opened to the public in 2001.
Edward Cecil Guinness, great grandson of the famous brewer Arthur, bought the house in 1873, and commissioned three extensions, including construction of a ballroom, completed in 1896. Whilst a guided tour of the house provides a comprehensive outline of its wonderful interior décor and art, one of the most striking aspects of the talk is the impact of the Guinness family – brewers, preachers and bankers – on Ireland’s economy, society and public finances through their enterprise and philanthropy.
The State has done a superb job on restoring and preserving this house, which contains a most impressive conservatory, a ballroom adorned with a 19th century cut-glass and gilt metal chandelier complete with coronet, and an entrance hall defined by Connemara marble and Corinthian pilasters.
Arguably the jewel in the crown is the Benjamin Iveagh Library, developed by the 3rd Earl of Iveagh (1937-1992). Containing over 5,000 rare books, manuscripts and bindings, the collection includes a primer used by Queen Elizabeth I to learn phrases as Gaeilge. Her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II, who stayed in the house in 2011, would be proud to own such a magnificent, plush library.
Farmleigh contains a range of interior décor styles, Jacobean and Georgian as well as those from the eras of Louis XV and Louis XVI. The State’s official china, unrecognisable to most, is exhibited in the dining room.
Guided tours are available daily and hourly from 10.15am to 4.15pm, except days when it’s closed for State business. Tours are interesting, detailed and free, and the house, which regularly hosts cultural projects and events, feels remarkably modern and vibrant despite its strong preservation with its past. Visitors can also check out the Farmleigh art gallery, or enjoy guided walking tours of Farmleigh and Phoenix Park on Wednesday mornings at 11am. The imprint of the harp endures, in many interesting ways.