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National Trust welcomes visitors back to its historic houses and collections

  • Houses across Northern Ireland will start to reopen from 24 May

  • The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience will also reopen on 24 May

  • As Trust places reopen to the public, Director General thanks members, donors and government schemes for their support during closure

  • Staff and volunteers have been working behind the scenes to get houses and collections ready for visitors

  • Conservation work in Trust houses and collections has continued during the pandemic with focus on a Year of Treasures

National Trust houses and other properties in Northern Ireland have started to reopen their doors to visitors from last week following the NI Executive’s easing of Covid restrictions.

Staff and volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes to get properties ready to reopen safely with social distancing in place.

Some small properties or places which can’t accommodate social distancing will reopen later once Covid restrictions are lifted or when repair or redisplay work is completed.

Jonny Clarke, Assistant Director of Operations for the National Trust in Northern Ireland said:

“This is a big moment that we have all looked forward to for months as we welcome people back safely, to spend time together at their favourite properties.

“We were delighted that many of our parks, gardens and countryside locations had remained open for people to enjoy access to the outdoors during lockdown, but we know how much our members and supporters have been looking forward to returning to see our houses and collections again.”

The West Stairs at Mount Stewart, County Down. Hanging in pride of place on the staircase is the famous masterpiece by George Stubbs of Hambletonian, Rubbing Down in a new gilt frame. Hambletonian was a hugely successful racehorse which won virtually every race it ran. On the ground floor is a collection of ceramics including a fine Compagnie des Indes part dinner and dessert service, opulently decorated with the Cowan coat of arms. These date back to the beginning of the family’s fortunes when Alexander Stewart married wealthy heiress Mary Cowan.

Hilary McGrady Director General at the Trust adds:

Our places are nothing without our visitors there to enjoy them and our staff and volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes, cleaning chandeliers, polishing floors and dusting books, to get everything ready.

“It is a matter of huge relief, pride and gratitude that the places in our care can start to reopen following closure due to the pandemic. Not a single place will be lost to the public. The cultural treasures that are our shared inheritance are waiting – for everyone.”

During the pandemic conservation work has continued at a number of the Trust’s houses, and visitors will be able to see results of some of the work that has taken place. The reopening of houses also coincides with the Trust’s focus this year on its collections and the one million items it looks after, with many properties featuring in a new book celebrating 125 treasures in the charity’s care.

Castle Ward, County Down

The drawing room at Castle Ward.

This unique 18th-century mansion (reopening 28 May), is famed for its mixture of architectural styles, one half in the GothicK the other in the Classical. When visitors return, they will be able to see the results of efforts by staff and local volunteers locked down in the property during the pandemic, as they used the time to revitalise the historic interiors.

The work during lockdown included cleaning historic brass and copper ware so that it dazzled once again, the polishing of 18th century floorboards, the beating down of luxury carpets and rugs, and the delicate cleaning of the historic crystal chandeliers.

But conservation was only one part of the story, with the curation of the historic interiors being reviewed as well. The team sought to put this time to good use to redisplay the Collection held within the house, so that a different take on the interior can be seen by visitors when the doors can once again open.

Mount Stewart, County Down

The Black and White Stone Hall at Mount Stewart, County Down. In the Black and White Hall are pieces of armour captured from the Imperial Guard by the 3rd Marquess, General Charles Stewart, the distinguished and flamboyant `Soldier Marquess¿ who fought under Wellington. Across the Hall is a white marble ideal head of Helen of Troy by Antonio Canova. One of the leading sculptors of the age, he presented this bust to Lord Castlereagh after the Napoleonic wars.

Visit the house of the Marquess of Londonderry (reopening 24 May) on the shore of Strangford Lough and take in two of the magnificent artefacts selected as part of the 125 Treasures of the National Trust - Hambletonian by Stubbs and Portrait of Frances Anne Vane Tempest and her son George, by Thomas Lawrence.

The Dining Room at Mount Stewart, County Down.

Whilst you’re here, take a wander along the trails enjoy the carpets of beautiful bluebells surrounding the Folly, swing by the lake and meet the adorable family of cygnets and ducklings or take a peep in the newly reopened Squirrel Hide and see if you can spot one of the new spring kits.

Florence Court, County Fermanagh

The Entrance Hall at Florence Court looking towards the door with its tripartite doorcase. An entablature with a frieze of triglyphs runs around the hall with rusticated Doric pillars.

One of Fermanagh's famous historic houses, Florence Court (reopening 5 June) is the creation of three successive generations of the Cole family, who were powerful Fermanagh landowners with roots in the plantations of the 17th century.

The staircase at Florence Court showing the inner hall with pediment and pendant frieze and the cantilevered staircase with fluted pearwood banisters and polished yew handrail.

Take a tour to learn about the generations of the Earls of Enniskillen that lied here and discover a fascinating collection of Irish furniture, and some of the best Rococo plasterwork in Ireland.

Springhill, County Tyrone

The Gun Room of 17th century "Planter" house, Springhill. The room is named after its collection of guns and swords and is dominated by oak panelling.

Springhill House (reopening on 29 May) will be offering free flow self-guided tours for the first time. This will provide visitors with an opportunity to explore the new layout of Springhill’s ground floor for themselves, including a ‘book of the month’ in the Library and the Dining Room dressed for dessert, which highlights the lived in history of this much loved family home.

The Drawing Room of 17th century "Planter" house, Springhill, is bright, has a high ceiling and forms one of the two wings, of the property, built by Col. William Conyngham in about 1765.

Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

The full Visitor Experience will reopen on Monday 24 May. Visitor Experience tickets include guided walks with award-winning storytellers, reserved on-site car parking adjacent to the Visitor Centre, access to the exhibition, shop and café and use of all facilities.

Hilary McGrady concludes:

“We could not reopen so many of our places or carry out essential conservation without the patience and support of our members, visitors, donors and government schemes throughout this pandemic. And we are enormously grateful to our volunteers for the roles they have played, and will be playing again, as they return to our properties. We are also enormously grateful for the support we have had from public-funded schemes.

“All the support we have received has made the difference to the National Trust being able to continue its work and ensure that our places remain here for everyone to enjoy.”

Entry arrangements for houses will vary so please check property web pages before visiting


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