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Hillsborough Castle, the Royal Residence in Northern Ireland

Hillsborough House. Image: Flickr

Hillsborough Castle was originally built in the 18th century as a simple country house for a noble family. Today, it is the official royal residence in Northern Ireland. It was also here that many of the formal and informal stages of the Peace Process took place.

Wills Hill, the first Marquess of Downshire, commissioned the building of Hillsborough Castle as a modest country house for his family in the 1770s. Situated in the center of the Hillsborough village, the Georgian house is in view of the original Fort and the Court House. The Hills were then among the largest landowners in Ireland while family members held important positions in the government: Wills Hill himself was Comptroller of the Royal Household during the reign of King George II and Secretary of the American Colonies during the 1770s.

At the turn of the 19th century, the grand country house was extended. The great Library, Billiards Room, estate offices, a Muniments Room, and improved servants’ quarters were added. The Hill family eventually spent less time at Hillsborough Castle and by the turn of the 20th century, it was leased to a private tenant. It was acquired by the Imperial Office in December 1924 for £25,000, becoming the Government House since then.  A great fire in 1934 nearly devastated the house but considerable rebuilding was done, which restored the country house it to its present glory.

The Hillsborough Castle Lake. Image: Northern Ireland Office

In the 1960s and 1970s, Northern Ireland was plunged into what was known as the ‘The Troubles’. Northern Ireland was  placed under direct rule from London in 1972-3. The post of Governor was abolished and Hillsborough Castle became the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which it still remains today. Hillsborough served as the venue for such crucial events as the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, decommissioning talks in 1999, and the negotiation of the devolution of policing and justice powers in 2010 (The Hillsborough Agreement). Elements of the informal negotiations leading up to the ‘Good Friday’ agreement were also held at Hillsborough.

As a royal home, members of the Royal Family who visit Northern Ireland since 1922 would stay at Hillsborough Castle. It was at Hillsborough where Queen Elizabeth II and Irish President Mary McAleese held a meeting in 2005.  


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