CHILDHOOD MEMORIES REVIVED FOR FORMER RECTOR'S DAUGHTER
Members of the Open Door organisation received a preview tour of Hillsborough Castle last week. The house and gardens will be open to the public for guided tours through the months of May, June and August Pics by Arthur Alllson Pacemaker
THE daughter of a former rector of Hillsborough was among the visitors at the village's world famous castle for the first tour of the season last week.
The castle has seen tense peace talks, US presidents and Royal visits but for 87-year-old Bunty Hawkins it brought back memories of trips every Sunday with her father, Canon Matchett, when she was a child.
"He had his own key to the side gate and I remember going along with him every Sunday,' she said. "I remember the garden too — picking daffodils to decorate the church at Easter."
Bunty was part of a group from the Open Door organisation in Hillsborough which received the first tour of the castle this year.
Public tours have been offered at the castle for just a few months of the year since then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam introduced the idea 12 years ago.
One of the big attractions which visitors will see are the signatures of Prince William and Kate Middleton in the visitors book.
Members Sheillagh Stephenson and Agnes Catrey of The Open Door Club pictured on the preview tour of the Castle and grounds
The front door — which was originally the back door of the stately home in the 18th century when the main road to Moira ran there — leads into the state entrance hall.
Two shiny spades used by members of the Royal family when they are called upon to plant a tree stand at either side of the fireplace, while the stuffed head of an Irish elk stares balefully out from the top of the door.
The candlestick room where residents once collected their candles for the night is next on the tour.
It now houses the guest book and leads on to the smaller red dining room where the Queen and Irish president Mary McAleese first met and took afternoon tea together.
The grander state dining room is next on the tour.
Designed to showcase local products, all the carpets are from Ulster Carpets in Portadown, glassware from Tyrone Crystal as well as unique place name settings carved in the shape of the Giant's Causeway.
The throne room plays host to ceremonies and amongst other events it was where Lisburn and Newry had their city status conferred on them in 2002.
Meanwhile, Lady Grey's sitting room may be one of the smallest rooms but it is no less significant, having hosted seismic talks between then US President George Bush and ex-PM Tony Blair.
But the highlight for many people is the gardens which contain the largest rhododendron in Europe. Blooming vibrant pink, the plant drew a crowd of admirers.
The red dining room which overlooks the plant contains a photograph of it in full flower to let visitors during the winter months see it at its most spectacular.
Fortune Acheson, 91, said the rhododendron was one of her favourite parts of the tour.
Other features of Hillsborough Castle include the Yew tree walk planted in 1895, a sandstone ice house and lake.
The castle is set to host an exhibition of the Queen's hats in August.
The gardens are open for tours from 10.30am every Saturday throughout the months of May, June and August.
The tour lasts around one hour and the last tour departs at 4pm.
Tickets for adults are priced at £4, senior citizens and students are charged £3.50 and family tickets for two adults and up to four children cost £15.
To pre-book a tour telephone 92 689406 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.