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Mount Stewart Review
The grandest stately house near Belfast, this was the country estate of the Marquesses of Londonderry, whose fame, or infamy, became known around the world thanks to the historical role played by the second Marquess. Known as Castlereagh, this Secretary of Ireland put down the Rising of 1798, helped forge the Act of Union, and killed himself by cutting his own throat. Mount Stewart was constructed in two stages where an earlier house had stood: George Dance designed the west facade (1804–05), and William Vitruvius Morrison designed the Neoclassical main part of the building (1845–49), complete with an awe-inspiring Grecian portico facade. The seventh Marchioness, Edith, managed to wave her wand over the interior—after a fashion: Chinese vases, Louis-Philippe tables, and Spanish oak chairs do their worst to clutter up the rooms here. Still, the house does have some noted 18th-century interiors, including the Central Hall and the grand staircase hung with one of George Stubbs's most famous portraits, that of the celebrated racehorse Hambletonian, after he won one of the most prominent contests of the 18th century—this is perhaps the greatest in situ setting for a painting in Ireland. During 2014 the National Trust, which manages the property, is carrying out a major £7 million conservation and renovation project at Mount Stewart. Some rooms normally open to the public will not be accessible, although the work will open new doors to areas which have never been seen. Visitors will be able to watch some of the restoration program—scheduled for completion in March 2015—taking place during guided tours. On the grounds, don't miss the octagonal Temple of the Winds, a copy of a similar structure in Athens, and the remarkable bathhouse and pool at the end of the wooded peninsula just before the entrance to the grounds. The Mount Stewart Garden Guide costs £2.50 and shows the scale and diversity of the 18 named garden walks—you'll need more than one day to explore them all. Opening times often change here—it's prudent to phone ahead or log on to the website for the complete schedule. The house is open from noon every day and there is a choice of tours and times for the guests to choose from.
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