Once, you were interested in the house: its gracious form, austere beauty. You wanted to know its history; to learn about the men and women who called it home. You may even have envied their good fortune.
But you barely notice the house any more. It stands where it’s always stood, aloof, imposing. A backdrop for photographs; centre point for the grounds that unfold around it.
It’s the grounds that appeal now: 78 acres in the centre of a city. Trees and fields and wildflower meadows; a working farm. (You can’t imagine how wealthy you’d have to be to own 78 acres of countryside in the city.)
You head towards the house, stop to look at the horses grazing beside an oak tree. One of them steps away, limping slightly on his back leg. In the distance, a herd of black cattle: Kerry cows, rare and lovely.
You walk behind the house, enter the walled garden. Sunflowers dot the perimeter, purple alliums line the path. You search out the old greenhouse; admire its intricate ironwork; sit for a moment with your back to the sun.
You move across the lawn to the Sunken Garden, meet a gardener working on the borders. You chat about the fine weather, the long evenings. You remember to mention the horse and he tells you he’s a retired showjumper. “His back legs hurt sometimes,” he says. “From hitting the fences.”
He sees your stricken face. “Don’t worry,” he adds. “The vet looks after him well.”
You wander through the trees, pause in front of a wooden sculpture. Its curving form is strong and sensual, a mix of grace and solidity.
You think of the house and its gardens. You think of the horse in his showjumping prime.
You think grace and solidity as fine an aspiration as any.
Farmleigh House and estate is located in Phoenix Park, Dublin. It was once the home of Edward Cecil Guinness, first Earl of Iveagh, and great-grandson of Arthur Guinness. The estate was purchased by the Irish Government in 1999 and is used to accommodate visiting dignitaries. When not in use, the house and grounds are open to the public.
Farmleigh was originally a small Georgian house, but was extended several times in the late 1800s. The house contains artworks and furniture collected by the first Earl of Iveagh, as well as the Benjamin Iveagh collection of rare books, bindings and manuscripts.
The grounds contain a mix of Victorian and Edwardian features, including a walled garden, a Dutch-style sunken garden, a clock tower, and a picturesque diary. The estate includes a working farm with a herd of Kerry Black cows.
Several contemporary sculptures are dotted around the estate, including two photographed here: Beech Twist by Kenneth Drew and Convergance by Brian King.