Ireland—and Dublin in particular—is well known for its alcohol-themed attractions; almost everyone coming to the Emerald Isle does so with dreams of a cold pint or a smooth whiskey. As a result, Dublin has no shortage of breweries, whiskey distilleries, and museums to honor Ireland’s hooch heritage.
But the best way to see what all that beer money—and later, all that tax money—can buy is to pay a visit to the far western corner of Dublin’s Phoenix Park and Farmleigh House.
The Farmleigh Estate was first famously acquired as an out-of-town country estate for the wealthy Guinness family—whose primary workaday house was in the glitziest neighborhood of City Centre. When the family moved to even more lavish estates in England, they offered to simply gift the Farmleigh property to the Irish government. Wanting to avoid the expense of maintaining the aging mansion, the State refused the gift, and the house sat empty for years.
In the late 1990s, the government—now flush with Celtic Tiger cash—wished to acquire the property, and found that the price had gone up; the house and ground were purchased in 1999 for a whopping €29 million. In the words of one Phoenix Park tour guide, it was “a very Irish deal, indeed!”
After an extensive—and expensive—renovation and restoration project, the house was opened as a state guesthouse for foreign dignitaries on official visits—inside you’ll see photos of US President Barack Obama learning to use a hurley with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny—and to host other official functions. When international bigwigs are staying here, they are just a stone’s throw away from Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the Irish President.
Thankfully, when there aren’t any queens or presidents in residence, the house and gardens are open to the public for free tours, and are well worth the trek to the far end of the city. Inside, you’ll see the elegant dining room and the official state china (all made locally, including glasses by Waterford Crystal), the grand entryway and staircase built to match the one in the Guinness family’s weekday home on St. Stephen’s Green, the oak-paneled study with a book-activated secret door leading into a secure underground panic room, and an iron-and-glass greenhouse with the old-timey name, “conservatory”—like the potential murder scene in Clue.
Outside, take a look at the Dutch sunken garden (like those at the War Memorial Gardens), get lost in the Victorian walled garden, and walk through the magnolias to a short loop trail around the small lake. Even in winter, when the flowers aren’t in bloom and things are a bit drab, it’s worth a spin. If you get cold or hungry, visit the lakeside cafe for a coffee while you wait for the house tour. Completionists can walk the trails to the far ends of the property to see the Victorian clock tower and the old dairy.
Farmleigh is one of my favorite out-of-the-way attractions, and I highly recommend a trip out there to tourists on an extended stay in Dublin. As far as free tours of former estate houses turned public museum—and there are several in and around the city—Farmleigh is my favorite. If you have some extra time, consider extending your Phoenix Park visit with a tour of this working guesthouse. Alternatively, you can brush up on your campaign speech in the hope of getting invited to stay here yourself someday.
Nuts and Bolts
- The Farmleigh estate entrance is on the west end of Phoenix Park, near the Castleknock Gate. From the Castleknock Gate, take the first right, then another quick right; if coming from the main park entrance on Parkgate Street, head almost all the way through the park, taking a left at the third roundabout and then the first right to the gate. Dublin Bus 46a drops off on the east end of the park, Dublin Bus 37 takes you to the Castleknock Gate.
- Free house tours run through the day on a first-come, first-served basis. Arrive early and book yourself in for the next available tour to avoid sellouts and enjoy the gardens while you wait.
- Tour schedules change through the year and as needed for official functions. Check the Farmleigh website before your visit to confirm that the house will be open on the day of your visit.
- Consider making Farmleigh part of a longer Phoenix Park exploration. Stop by the Visitors Centre near the middle of the park for a free map and schedule of events and yours, or simply take a walk through the wilder, less-visited corners of the park—Furry Glen is a personal favorite wooded area in the southwest corner.
— Cory Hanson (@HansonCory1) January 12, 2016