Castletown House, Celbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, is a Palladian country house built in 1722 for William Conolly, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. The Castletown House was designed to reflect its owner's power and to serve as a venue for political entertaining on a large scale. It formed the centerpiece of an 800-acre (320 ha) estate. At the time Castletown was built, commentators expected it to be ‘the epitome of the Kingdom, and all the rarities she can afford’. Sold to developers in 1965, the estate is now divided between State and private ownership. Let’s see what things can we can discover here.
The Castletown House
William Conolly (1662–1729), Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Castletown House was meant to exemplify its owner’s influence and immense wealth. Castletown became synonymous with architectural excellence, fine style, and lavish entertaining that rivaled the viceregal court in Dublin.
It was designed by Edward Lovett Pearce and is one of the finest features in the house. Two stories high, it immediately gives an impression of grandeur that is evident throughout the house. The polished limestone floor with its checkered design and the Kilkenny marble fireplace reflect William Conolly’s desire to build the house solely of native Irish materials.
The Portland stone staircase at Castletown is one of the largest cantilevered staircases in Ireland. It was built in 1759 under the direction of the master builder Simon Vierpyl (c.1725–1811). The solid brass balustrade was installed by Anthony King, later Lord Mayor of Dublin. The four seasons are represented on the piers and either side of the arched screen.
The dining had played an important part in the hospitality offered at Castletown from the start, but a purpose-built dining room was only created in 1768. The ceiling in this room, derived from Inigo Jones’s Banqueting Hall at Whitehall, is based on the ceiling in the Leinster House dining room designed by Isaac Ware.
It dates from the 1760s and connected the newly created Dining Room with the kitchens in the West Wing. The walls of the pantry are decorated with nineteenth-century photographs of the Castletown servants and illustrated public addresses to the Conolly family from their tenants.
Its wood-paneled walls, tall oak doors, and corner chimneypiece between the windows are a piece of the ‘Volunteer fabric’. This room was used as a bedroom in the late nineteenth century and then as a breakfast parlor in the early twentieth century.
It is one of the most important rooms in Castletown. It is the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room left in Ireland. During Lady Louisa’s time, it became popular for ladies to collect their favorite prints and then arrange and paste them onto the walls of a chosen room along with decorative borders.
In the 1720s, when the house was first laid out, this room, along with the rooms on either side, probably formed William Conolly’s bedroom suite. It was intended that he would receive guests in the morning while sitting up in bed or being dressed in the manner of the French court at Versailles. In the nineteenth century, the room was converted into a library and the mock leather Victorian wallpaper dates from this time.
Originally laid out as a picture gallery with portraits of William Conolly’s patrons on display, its function and layout changed under Lady Louisa. The Pompeian-style decoration on the walls dates from the 1770s and was inspired by Montfaucon’s publications on the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and by Raphael’s designs for the Vatican. It was also frequently used for theatrical performances, often involving members of the family and their acquaintances.
The Boudoir and the adjoining two rooms formed Lady Louisa’s apartment. The Boudoir served as a private sitting room for Louisa and subsequent ladies of the house. The painted ceiling, dado rail, and window shutters possibly date from the late eighteenth century and were restored in the 1970s by artist Philippa Garner.
It provides a fine example of an early Victorian bedroom. Like the Boudoir, it forms part of an apartment with two adjoining dressing rooms, one of which was upgraded into a bathroom with a sink and bathtub. The principal bedrooms, used by the family and honored guests, were on this floor. Bedrooms on the second floor were also used for guests and children, while the servants slept in the basement.
The gardens of Castletown House were designed in the 18th century in the French Baroque style. Castletown Gardens in the 18th century were not designed with formal flower gardens, instead formally laid out landscapes in the French Baroque style were popular at the time. The historic landscape of Castletown has survived to the present day—modern visitors can wander along the river walks of Lady Louisa Conolly (resident in the house and responsible for decorating it in the 1760s and 1770s) and see the remains of her bathing house.
The Castletown Demesne
The parkland, includes meadows, waterways, and woodlands with man-made accents carefully inserted into nature for the walker to discover and enjoy a classical temple, a gothic lodge, and clusters of once rare imported trees dotting wide open spaces, still ponds, cascades, and watercourses. All enhance the pleasure of outdoor activities around an extensive network of paths which were restored in 2011–13 by the OPW with support from Fáilte Ireland.
Castletown Demesne won the Green Flag Award 2017 and 2018 from An Taisce and the best park Pollinator Award under the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan for both years.
The Batty Langley Lodge
Situated in Lady Louisa’s time, the lodge served as a cottage where she could take tea in the summer. The planting of shrubbery and fruit trees around the lodge reflected her ideal of rustic simplicity.
The Conolly Folly or Obelisk
This singular piece of Irish architecture stands 140 feet tall with a soaring obelisk supported by a series of arches beneath. It was commissioned in 1740 by Katherine Conolly to mark the boundary of the Castletown demesne, but it stood on part of the Carton estate.
The Wonderful Barn
This unusual corkscrew-shaped building was built in 1743 to close the vista to the east of Castletown. The only similar building in Ireland is the bottle tower near Rathfarnham in County Dublin, also incidentally a Conolly estate
The Courtyard Café
Situated in the restored eighteenth-century kitchen wing, the Courtyard Café is run by Brambles. Pop in for a coffee before your tour or relax over lunch after exploring the parklands.
Castletown is home to a significant collection of paintings, furnishings, and objects d’art. Highlights include three eighteenth-century Murano-glass chandeliers and the only fully intact eighteenth-century print room in the country.
The parklands of a Palladian-style mansion located in Celbridge, Co Kildare, are open to the public all year, the perfect reason to stop by.https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/castletown-house-and-parklands/