10 Aug Ballyfin, County Laois
One of Ireland’s most sumptuous houses, Ballyfin was built in 1826 by the 9th baronet Sir Charles Coote to replace a former, plainer dwelling. Most of the architectural and design work was done by Richard Morrison, a pupil of James Gandon.
The sober exterior of the house gives no clue to its magnificent interiors, where glossy inlaid parquetry floors mirror the vaulted ceilings with their remarkable plasterwork. The drawing room, or Gold Room, is richly embellished in the style of Louis XV. Marble columns surrounded the domed central hall, or rotunda, the lilac-coloured ceiling of which is decorated with ornate plasterwork motifs.
Ballyfin was created in an age when the cost of materials and craftsmanship were obviously not principal considerations for the designers. Sir Edward Lutyens was hired to landscape the gardens, which feature a large lake facing the house. The graceful conservatory at the side, dating from 1850, is attributed to Richard Turner, the designer of Palm House at Kew Gardens, London. Today the house is owned by the Patrician Brothers.
Near Ballyfin is Roundwood, an elegant country house built in 1740 for the Quaker Anthony Sharp. At one time there were so many Quaker tenants on the estate that it was known as Friendstown after the Quakers’ name for themselves. The house was bought by the Irish Georgian Society in 1970 and is now run as a country house hotel.
Ballyfin is a real hidden gem that is worth a visit on your tours of Ireland.