Farmleigh House

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Originally a small Georgian house…

… built in the late eighteenth century, Farmleigh was purchased by Edward Cecil Guinness in 1873. The first major building programme was undertaken in 1881-84 to designs by Irish architect James Franklin Fuller (1832-1925), who extended the house to the west, refurbished the existing house, and added a third storey. In 1896 the Ballroom wing was added, designed by the Scottish architect William Young (1843-1900).

With the addition of a new conservatory adjoining the ballroom in 1901, Farmleigh had, by the early years of the twentieth century, all the requisites for gracious living and stylish entertainment. Its great charm lies in the eclecticism of its interior decoration ranging from the classical style to Jacobean, Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Georgian.


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The Entrance Hall

Six columns of Connemara marble, with Ionic capitals and pedestals as well as respondent pilasters of Portland stone, support the coffered ceiling of the Entrance Hall. The focal point here is the chimney piece of carved and inlaid marble, probably a nineteenth-century copy of an original, though the plaque may date from the eighteenth century. The mouldings over the doorways to the left and right of the hall are well executed with open-topped segmental pediments. The doors are of veneered mahogany on the hall side and of oak on the other.

The classical motif continues at the Staircase to the rear of the hall. Corinthian pilasters rise from first-floor level to a strongly projecting cornice. San Domingo mahogany is used for the Staircase on which the wrought iron balusters were made to correspond exactly with those on the staircase of Iveagh House, formerly the Earls of Iveaghs’ city mansion.


The Dining Room

The door to the left of the hall leads to the Dining Room, which is lined with boiseries in the style of Louis XV. There is some spectacular woodcarving in this room, of particular note is the chimney piece, supported by a pair of female herms, with a clock at its centre surmounted by a grotesque face. Bronze figures of Bacchantes are placed in the shell-topped niches on either side of the fireplace, while beneath them are late Victorian oak buffets. The London firm of Charles Mellier & Co., supplied the interior here (apart from the ceiling which was designed by the architect J.F. Fuller).

The room was designed to facilitate the four late seventeenth-century embroidered panels, purchased by Edward Cecil Guinness in London in 1874. They came from the collection of Queen Maria Cristina of Spain. Three of the embroidered panels have been identified as the planetary gods, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. These panels are likely to be part of a larger set of seven panels relating to the Roman deities. One such panel, apparently from the same set and depicting Mercury, is in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The fourth panel above the fireplace is thought to depict a personification of Africa and to be part of a further set, depicting the continents.


The Boudoir

The main entrance to Farmleigh was originally on the north side of the house (in part of what is now the Library) and this was probably a reception room where guests either dined or withdrew after dinner. By 1873, when Edward Cecil Guinness bought the house, the entrance had been changed to the south of the building and this room was the entrance hall. It subsequently became a boudoir and reverted in later years with the Guinness family to a reception room while keeping its appellation as ‘boudoir’. (Generally the boudoir was a ‘private’ room for the lady of the house, decorated in a light and elegant style. Her ‘public’ room was the drawing room, just as the gentleman’s study was his ‘private’ room and the library his ‘public’ room.).

The Boudoir is oval in shape with two niches, one each side of the door into the Corridor. The niche to the right of the door as one enters contained a jib door into the Oak Room but the space between the rooms now holds a safe accessed from the Oak Room.

The ceiling plasterwork dates from about 1790 and is in the Adam style, with husk chains and classical motifs in medallions surrounding the central decoration of a fan-like or bat’s-wing motif, which is itself echoed in the heads of the niches. The unusual medallion motifs here are similar to those in a ceiling in 35 North Great George’s Street, Dublin which has been attributed to Francis Ryan or Michael Stapleton and dated to 1783. It is in particularly fine condition and clearly articulated without excessive applications of paint.

During the OPW restoration work, it was possible to examine the original decorations and colour scheme of the Georgian house here because the ceiling heights had been changed in the Guinness alterations. Particular attention has been paid in the selection of fabrics for this room to reflect its character.

An item of particular interest is the pair of engraved brass lock-plates on the door into the corridor which are similar to some in Iveagh House where they are original to that 1736 house! They are the only examples of these at Farmleigh and it is presumed that they got here through Fuller who also worked at Iveagh House.


The Nobel Room and the Blue Drawing Room

These inter-connecting rooms are part of the Georgian house but were significantly re-modelled by Fuller in the 1880s, and again in the 1890s by William Young. The delightful saucer-domed ceiling in the Nobel Room is in the style of the 1820s and its plasterwork of vine-leaves, grapes and vases filled with fruit and flowers indicates that it may have been a dining room. A clever touch is the window over the fireplace, which creates a living landscape painting of the garden beyond. The room celebrates the achievements of the four Irish Nobel Laureates for literature.

The Blue Room is an ante room to the Ballroom. The ceiling was copied from that in the Oval Room, though it is not at all as finely executed as the original. The three arched doorways in these rooms were created out of windows in the old house when Young added the Ballroom in 1896.


The Ballroom

It has been said that Farmleigh’s Ballroom is a good example of turn-of-the-century social architecture. The Guinness’ guests could not fail to be impressed with the superb decoration in the style of Louis XVI with swags, wreaths, musical trophies, urns, sphinxes, and Corinthian pilasters. The rich decoration is executed in plaster that is applied to wood panelling, and the whole room, including the ceiling, is painted off-white to resemble plaster. The chimney piece is also made of wood and this, together with the overmantel, the ceiling, and the elegant portieres, were all part of an integrated scheme designed by Young. The Edinburgh-based interior design company Morrisons probably supplied the portieres as they had done so for the Young-designed ballroom at Iveagh House.

Hanging from the centre of the ceiling is a magnificent late nineteenth-century cut-glass and gilt metal chandelier complete with coronet. Purchased specifically for the Ballroom, it is on loan from the Guinness family. There is a story that the oak floor was made from disused barrels at the brewery but that has never been confirmed!


The Conservatory

From the Ballroom, doors lead into the Conservatory, which was used as an extension of the entertainment space. Erected in 1901-2, it was supplied by Mackenzie and Moncur of Edinburgh, on the recommendation of Young. Exotic plants and flowers were grown here, and have been re-introduced by the Office of Public Works. Hot water pipes that ran around the perimeter were covered up by cast iron grilles, which have been restored. The marble floor, which is original, is tiled in the traditional eighteenth-century pattern of carreaux octagons.

This room posed one of the most difficult conservation problems for the OPW at Farmleigh, as it was in a dangerous condition when the State took over the house. It was completely re-glazed and new structural supports for high-level metal work were introduced. As a result the character of the Conservatory has been retained and its life span increased for at least another 100 years.