Giles was one of many illustrious figures to pull up outside Russborough House (Mick Jagger, Jackie Kennedy, Coco Chanel and Fred Astaire were others). And Alfred and Clem were, of course, Lord and Lady Beit — one of the most dashing couples of their day.
Now, I can’t claim to drive a Jaguar. But thanks to the Irish Landmark Trust, which has beautifully restored the Beits’ living quarters at Russborough, I can finally say that I and my family have spent a weekend as guests at a Palladian mansion.
Russborough needs little introduction. Built in the 1970s by Richard Cassels (the architect of Powerscourt House and Carton House), the elegant mansion is famous as the home of Lord and Lady Beit, who bought it in 1952 to house their art collection.
The Irish Landmark Trust is in the business of restoring heritage properties as holiday homes, but this is a masterstroke. Arriving via a private driveway in the dimming hours of a Friday evening, we turn the key and step into a pristinely curving colonnade. This is the Beit Residence, restored along with a smaller garden apartment in Russborough’s West Wing, where the Beits lived their final years. The colonnade leads to a sumptuous series of rooms, and we pass through them like lords and ladies of the manor.
There are four bedrooms in the Beit Residence — two doubles and two twins. All boast fireplaces and antique furniture, but just one — Lord Beit’s bedroom — comes with an en suite and there’s a cast-iron, standalone tub in the bathroom. (There’s also just a single shower, which leads to queues during morning rush hour.) Lord Beit’s room is a big, elegant space and views from the windows stretch right out over the estate.
Lady Beit’s room is just as impressive. It comes with an elegant chaise longue, an antique dressing screen, corner views over both the main house and grounds, and a set of old black and white photographs that could have come from the archives of Life Magazine.
The Beit Residence feels fresh-from-the-packet. The pillows are puffy; the kitchen knives spotless and sharp. Moreover, it never gets cold, which must cost a fortune.
In the sitting room, two olive-green couches and a pair of aubergine armchairs invite you to flop (elegantly, of course) beneath the sash windows.
What I like most though, are the personal effects. In the kitchen, a wicker hamper bears an old label saying ‘Beit’, followed by the address. A dashing portrait of Lady Beit, a relative of the Mitford Sisters, hangs above the fireplace. An antique writing desk bears an old rotary-dial phone.
The kitchen in the Beit residence is a huge space, but why not order in a catered meal? Several menu options are available from light main courses to five-course dinners.
Guests at the Beit Residence get 2-for-1 tickets for Russborough’s guided tour but tours are closed until March, though you can book as a private group. It’s worth it for the artworks. Or at least, those that remain.
“That painting means a great deal to me for two reasons,” as Lady Beit once said of Goya’s Portrait of Doña Antonia de Alfred. “Alfred was standing beneath it when he proposed to me, and we were tied up under it during the Dugdale raid.”
Russborough was robbed several times, not only by Rose Dugdale and the IRA, but also Martin Cahill (AKA The General). Thankfully, the paintings were recovered, and the most valuable are exhibited today at the National Gallery. But some impressive pieces remain.
Around the estate, you can follow a parkland walk, or explore the beech maze — but plan your exit before you enter.
The Beit Residence is available to book through the Irish Landmark Trust (01-6704733; irishlandmark.com) from e375 per night, sleeping eight.
This is a wonderful restoration of a goosebump-inducing piece of Irish heritage. Developed with sensitivity and vision, it’s a credit to the Irish Landmark Trust. Some guests may rue the lack of TVs and Wi-Fi (I found the latter annoying), and it’s worth pointing out that we found just one tea towel, and no bath or shower products. But if you like good old-fashioned glamour and properties of character, it’s an unforgettable place to get together.