Castletown House is Ireland’s largest and earliest Palladian style house. It was built between 1722 and 1729 for William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. The facade was designed by the Italian architect, Alessandro Galilei; Irish architect Sir Edward Lovett Pearce added the wings.
Castletown was built with two wings – connected by Ionic colonnades – flanking the Renaissance-inspired central block of the house. The wings contained the kitchens on one side and the stables on the other. This “Palladian” style originated in Italy with the 16th century architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80), and came to prominence in England in the early eighteenth century.
The house remained in the hands of William Conolly’s descendants until 1965. Its future became uncertain but it was saved in 1967 when (along with 120 acres of the demesne lands) it was purchased by the Hon. Desmond Guinness, founder of the Irish Georgian Society. The house was opened to the public and restoration work began, funded by the Irish Georgian Society and private benefactors. In 1994 the house was transferred to State care and is now managed by the Office of Public Works.
Through restoration, conservation, acquisition of parkland and development of visitor facilities, one of the most important houses in Ireland (and one of significance in terms of European architectural heritage) is being preserved for future generations.
Access to the house is only by guided tour. The tour covers all aspects of the history of Castletown House from 1722 right up to the present day. The diverse and fascinating Conolly family members who lived in the house are explained, and visitors get a chance to view the fine architecture, original furniture and vast collection of paintings within Castletown. The House is available for school tours and private groups throughout the year; advance booking is essential.
The Berkeley Costume and Toy Collection is a fine collection of 18th and 19th century costumes, toys and dolls. Countess Ann Griffin Bernstorff, the Irish artist and collector, assembled the collection as a private enthusiasm. Covering a period of some 80 years from 1740–1820, the exhibits range from rare and delicate artefacts to simple and robust playthings, and everyday garments of the past, many of which were once owned by Irish families. The costumes are on view during one’s tour of the house; unfortunately, the toys have been moved to the second floor, which is not open to the public.
Open daily 16 Mar-5 Nov: 10.00 am–6.00 pm (last admission 5.00 pm). More limited opening times in Nov & Dec. See website for detailed guided tour times.
The restored 18th century Parklands are open to the public daily (free admission).
Celbridge, Co. Kildare.
Tel: 01 6288252.
Adults €10 (the price includes the guided tour); concessions. Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.