State Papers 1986: ‘Shabby’ Farmleigh was best option to host heads of state

The State-owned mansion in Dublin’s Phoenix Park used to accommodate visiting heads of state was described in 1986 as “slightly shabby” with an interior that was “one of spacious but faded elegance”.

State Papers 1986: ‘Shabby’ Farmleigh was best option to host heads of state

Documents released under the 30-year rule show Government officials were concerned about the lack of facilities to host such visitors in Dublin in advance of two upcoming state visits but believed Farmleigh House was the best option.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs recommended the 36-hectare estate as the best choice as it was close to Dublin city centre and could accommodate large entourages.

Benjamin Guinness (Lord Iveagh) — the head of the Guinness brewing family who owned the 19th century Georgian mansion at the time — had indicated his willingness to allow the use of the house for visiting dignitaries.

Diplomatic staff who visited Farmleigh also appreciated the size of its dining room which could host dinners organised by visiting heads of state.

“Farmleigh would certainly require the cosmetic improvements referred to in the report for which Lord Iveagh’s agreement would be necessary,” noted one official.

He claimed the overall impression of the building interior was one of “spacious but faded elegance”.

“The lighting is poor and the paintwork is in need of renewal in some rooms,” he added.

Carpets on the stairs and rugs in several rooms were “well worn” while the staircase ceiling was “very dusty and dirty.”

However, he concluded: “The location is excellent and with some cosmetic improvements to the interior, it would make a very suitable place to stay for distinguished visitors.”

Farmleigh was subsequently purchased by the State in 1999 for €26.9m.

Records show that the president, Patrick Hillery had suggested that Áras an Uachtaráin should also be considered as a location.

However, a survey found that the accommodation available to a visiting party was “very limited” due to structural difficulties.

“In terms of quality, the accommodation is somewhat below the level expected to be offered to a visiting head of state, although the furnishings could, no doubt, be improved on the occasion of state visits,” a report noted.

It said the main bedroom in the five-room, Queen Victoria suite on the upper floor of Áras an Uachtaráin had a floor which was “sagging badly”, while the décor was described as “sober”.

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