Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visited one of Northern Ireland’s most famous houses and gardens today as they marked the official reopening of Mount Stewart, following an £8m restoration project by the National Trust.
The Royal couple were met on arrival by Lady Rose Lauritzen and Mr Peter Lauritzen. Lady Rose’s family has lived at Mount Stewart since the 18th century.
The welcome party also included Heather Thompson, Northern Ireland Director, National Trust and Jon Kerr, National Trust General Manager.
TRHs were invited to tour the reinvigorated house and see previously unopened rooms. They also enjoyed some of the many new items that are on display including no fewer than 11 family portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, PRA (1769-1830), perhaps the greatest British portrait painter of the early 19th century.
Amongst the more striking items now on display is the Congress of Vienna Desk which belonged to Viscount Castlereagh when he was British Foreign Secretary at the close of the Napoleonic Wars and is said to have been used at the signing of the Treaties of Paris and Vienna in 1814 and 1815.
TRHs took the opportunity to meet with a number of National Trust staff and volunteers who played a pivotal role in the three year restoration project.
Speaking about the historic visit, Jon Kerr, manager at Mount Stewart said: “It has been a huge privilege to welcome the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to Mount Stewart today and the perfect way to mark the reopening of this famous house which has been restored to its former glory.
“It has taken a team of hundreds of people to bring our vision for this grand house to life including builders, joinery apprentices and expert conservators and curators. So today was a real opportunity to celebrate with some of the team.
“We also couldn’t have done it without our 200 volunteers who have helped with every aspect of the project including the restoration of fabrics and furniture. They will also play a huge role in welcoming many more visitors over the coming months and years. ”
Before departure, the Royal Couple received a gift of plants connected to the world famous gardens at Mount Stewart.
The £8million restoration project at Mount Stewart was funded by the National Trust with support from partners including the Garfield Weston, the Wolfson Foundation, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Royal Oak Foundation, the B H Breslauer Foundation, the Lauritzen Foundation, Friends of National Libraries, NI Museums Council and a range of individual National Trust supporters.
The property stayed open throughout the restoration so that visitors could see some of the conservation in action.
Other highlights for visitors to Mount Stewart will include:
– A selection of rooms open to view for the first time, including family and guest bedrooms. Visitors will be able to find out more about key members of the family, in particular Charles and Edith Londonderry and their daughter Mairi in the newly opened billiards room.
– A world class collection of family portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, recognised by many as the greatest British portrait painter of the early 19th century.
– One of Northern Ireland’s most famous paintings, Stubb’s ‘Hambletonian, Rubbing Down’ has been given a brand new frame. Hambletonian was one of the best thoroughbred racehorses of the late 18th century, having won all of his races, except one.
– A collection of beautiful table silver including ambassadorial silver used by Charles Stewart while British Ambassador in Vienna 1814-22; a set of early 19th century racing cups including three Doncaster Cups, one of which was won by the great racehorse Hambletonian.
 H&J Martin were the lead contractor on this project. H&J Martin were founded back in 1840 and the family owned company has been going strong ever since. H&J Martin have a close affinity with the conservation of historic buildings being responsible for the construction of some of Ireland’s most iconic buildings. Belfast’s City Hall, famous around the world, was built by the company along with other famous city landmarks such as the Central Library (the first free library in Belfast) and the Opera House along with many similar buildings both in Belfast and Dublin. Belfast’s Opera House became the city’s first listed building and H&J Martin has revisited the building twice in recent years, to carry out major conservation works.
H&J Martin’s Chairman Billy Martin MBE stated. “Care for historic buildings is in our blood, everyday our staff pass spectacular buildings which are part of our history as well as the history of the region. We are proud to have been involved in the restoration of Mount Stewart house and we are particularly proud that so much of the works could be carried out by local craftsmen and women, helping to demonstrate the strength of the construction industry in Northern Ireland.”