On a recent visit to Northern Ireland, Andrew and Katherine Loyd had tea at Hillsborough Castle, a rambling two-storey Georgian mansion and the official residence of the Minister of State for NI and for the Royal Family when they are in residence. The property was gifted to the Government by the last Marquis of Downshire and makes excellent residence for Government Ministers and members of the Royal Family, being located only 30 minutes from the centre of Belfast but also being situated in a glorious 100 acre park, providing a lot of privacy and of course security. The castle is not overly large and in fact it has a very cosy feel with small state rooms and some comfortable but very un-grand bedrooms upstairs. Hillsborough itself is a charming old town with some lovely Georgian homes and the castle sits discreetly off the north end of the main street.
The grounds are quite something with huge sweeping lawns, a large lake, a meadow and some wonderful trees, particularly along the Yew Tree and Lime Tree walks. A few other features include a wonderful sundial, a Greek temple, Lady Alice’s Temple and the Ice House. The gardens have a very informal feel with a scattered planting of trees and shrubs and more tidily planted woodland around the perimeter. The tennis court has been grassed over due to lack of use and we couldn’t help but feel that it must be a wonderful place for ministers and members of the Royal Family to relax during their visits. The castle hosts a lot of Government and charity events throughout the year and is very much the home of the Minister of State and his family. The current art collection is being reviewed and a lot of new pictures have been recently loaned to give the house a fresh look. We were very impressed by its low key feel and lovely light rooms, with wonderful views across the gardens.