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Government’s guesthouse fit for a Queen?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN – The most expensive home in Ireland was unveiled to the public last weekend by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as the country’s first official guesthouse for visiting VIPs and a center for cultural events.

The palatial Farmleigh demesne in Dublin’s Phoenix Park — a former home of the Guinness brewing family, the Earls of Iveagh — has cost _41 million (c. $42 million).

The state bought Farmleigh for _23 million in 1999 and it has since undergone a lavish refurbishment to bring it up to modern five-star splendor.

Originally it had been suggested it might be used as an official home for Taoisigh in the same way that the British Prime Minister lives in 10 Downing Street and Chequers and the US President has the White House and Camp David.

Ahern said the new guesthouse “upholds our traditions as a people who place a unique value on hospitality and welcoming strangers and friends.

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“I think it is very unlikely that there are many similar city center facilities of this standard anywhere else in the world.”

Until now, visiting VIPs had to be accommodated in hotels.

The first official guests are expected to be a high level 300 strong delegation led by the Chinese premier that is due to visit later in the year.

But another VIP guest may be Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. There has been speculation about a groundbreaking visit by the Queen since the beginning of the peace process and the dropping of the territorial claim to the North from the constitution.

The last visit by a reigning British monarch was prior to independence when King George V came to Dublin in 1911.

The estate will be open to the public at weekends throughout August.

There had been concern in government circles about possible criticism of the huge cost when public services like hospitals are under strain. However, Irish media comment has been largely positive.

Farmleigh was the last privately owned residence in the park that also contains the Zoo, the headquarters of the Ordnance Survey Office and the official homes of President Mary McAleese and the US Ambassador.

The house was lent free to the Government 25 years ago when Ireland hosted its first EU heads of state meeting. All that the then Lord Iveagh asked for in return was that some of the special extra telephone lines be left installed. At that time there was a waiting list for phones that last years for people.

When the Government purchased Farmleigh it had six reception rooms, 20 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms. It stands on 78 acres of parkland, 25 of them laid out in formal gardens and has its own lake.

Now the opulent house has a swimming pool, satellite communications, a fitness center and a state of the art security system. It will showcase Irish art and design.

Many of the bedrooms would fit a modern day apartment inside them.

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