Near the center of Dublin’s Phoenix Park—the largest enclosed park in Europe—a stately manor that was once the country home of the British Viceroy is now the home of Uachtarán na hÉireann, the President of Ireland. Over the years, this property has undergone many additions and refurbishments to better serve its purpose as Irish-house-in-chief, and the luxurious home and gardens today are more than worthy of hosting everyone from international dignitaries to the Presidential dogs.
When the current President isn’t hosting foreign heavy hitters at the house—officially known as Áras an Uachtaráin (AW-rus on OOKH-tha-rawn)—it is open to the public for free tours, and worth a visit if you happen to be enjoying a weekend in Phoenix Park. I finally made time for this tour on a recent Saturday morning to check off one of my last Dublin must-dos.
The guided tour began at the Ashtown Castle Visitors Centre—not at the front gate of the house. I was surprised to see that the main entrance of the house faces away from the central Phoenix Park road and the best-known public view of the house—just like another Presidential home I know.
The one-hour tour of the house covered most of the opulent main floor, visiting the State Dining Room, State Reception Room, State Corridor, and other ceremonial State Rooms. The guides were careful to point out the architecture, interior decor, and crafting that are Irish-made—the Waterford Crystal and Killybegs rug weaving were among my personal favorites.
The highlight of the tour, for me, was a much less glamorous visit to the President’s Study. I’ve never seen the desk of an international statesperson before; I didn’t know what to expect before shuffling into the very lived-in office. Shelves of books extended to the ceiling, among them the complete proceedings of Dáil Éireann, the Irish Parliament, from its first session to the present day; end tables were decorated with gifts from Irish and international bigwigs; the desk was that of a busy paper-pusher, piled with file folders and documents—no wonder photos aren’t allowed inside—and personal effects, including a birthday card from President Obama.
The only room in which photos are allowed is the Presidential Garage—my own name for it—home of the not-Irish-but-pretty-ritzy Presidential car: a 1949 Rolls Royce with St. Patrick’s blue interior. Apparently it was a favorite of late Irish President Eamon de Valera, a leader in the 1916 Rising and subsequent Irish Civil War who became a lifelong politician after independence in 1922.
We didn’t see the President himself, nor any world royalty, but we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Presidential dogs Bruno and Shadow on our way back to the Visitors Centre.
I would strongly recommend a visit to the Áras to Dubliners and Irish visitors—maybe when you’re in the Big Smoke* for a GAA** semifinal at Croker***—as this is your state house, after all. I felt on the tour that short-term visitors without an intimate experience with Dublin or Irish history would miss some of the subtleties of the visit; the reference to “Devo” relaxing with a drive around the estate in the auld Rolls would bring a smile to any Irish face, but little more than a bored blink from most international tourists.
The guided tour of the Áras does provide a nice historical backdrop of Phoenix Park itself, so anyone looking to do an extended Saturday exploration of the park—and you should if you have time—should try to get in for an early tour. For those who might only have time for one free opulent former-manor-turned-statehouse tour, I would probably recommend a visit to Farmleigh House on the west side of the park.
*Dublin, which was once choked with industrial pollution
**Gaelic Athletic Association, Ireland’s traditional sports governing body
***Croke Park, headquarters and national stadium of GAA matches
Nuts and Bolts
- Free visits are arranged on Saturdays only from the nearby Phoenix Park Visitors Centre at Ashtown Castle; guided tours are arranged on a first come, first served basis on the day. Check the schedule on the President’s website for current tour schedule; space is limited so try to arrive early to avoid sellouts.
- Save some time before or after your tour to see the exhibits in the Visitors Centre, particularly the historical maps and diagrams of the park in the various stages of its development.
- To see more of the house before your visit, check out the nifty virtual tour thanks to the President’s official site.