It is a long time since I last visited Farmleigh House and Gardens.
Farmleigh is the official Irish state guest house. It was formerly one of the Dublin residences of the Guinness family. It is situated on an elevated position above the River Liffey to the north-west of the Phoenix Park, in Castleknock.
The estate of 78 acres (32 ha) consists of extensive private gardens with stands of mature cypress, pine and oak trees, a boating pond, walled garden, sunken garden, out offices and a herd of rare native Kerry cattle. It was purchased by the Government of Ireland from the 4th Earl of Iveagh in 1999 for €29.2 million. A state body—the Office of Public Works (OPW)—spent in the region of €23 million restoring the house, gardens and curvilinear glasshouses, bringing the total cost to the state to €52.2 million. Farmleigh was opened to the public in July 2001.
The estate was purchased from The 4th Earl of Iveagh by the State in 1999. The official purpose for the €29.2 million purchase, and subsequent expenditure of €23 million in refurbishment, was that it would be used for state purposes. Specifically, it is designated as “an official State guest house for visiting heads of State and dignitaries. Some notable visitors have been hosted at Farmleigh including the Chinese Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the King of Malaysia, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Governor-General of New Zealand, and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. However, the estate only hosted seven visiting dignitaries in 2006 (the most in one year), six in 2008, and only two the following year. Also in 2009, 246,000 members of the public visited the estate.
In 2006 it was announced by the Office of Public Works (OPW) that the Steward’s Lodge which is located in the grounds of Farmleigh had been renovated. It was speculated at the time that the lodge was to become an official residence of the Taoiseach. Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen used the lodge for this purpose on occasion, staying at the lodge while in Dublin. His successor, Enda Kenny, has also stayed on occasion at the Steward’s Lodge.
Today Farmleigh is operated by the OPW and the estate and gardens are largely open to the public, with the house closed except for organised tours. Seasonal events, such as craft and food markets, are held on the grounds. The estate has also been used as the venue for the RTÉ proms, a public concert series that took place each summer in a large marquee erected on the grounds.