Castletown is Ireland’s most significant Palladian country house. Built for ‘Speaker’ William Conolly, Ireland’s wealthiest and most powerful early eighteenth-century’ politician, in 1722 it was intended that it would be an ‘ornament to the country’. Conolly’s vision was realised by the architectural skills of first Alessandro Galilei and then Sir Edward Lovett Pearce leading to the creation of what one eighteenth-century visitor to Ireland described as the only house in the country to which the term palace can be applied. William Conolly died in 1729 leaving Castletown to his irrepressible widow Katherine who managed the house in great style. It was, however, only in the 1760s that the Castletown interiors we know today, the Lafranchini staircase, the dining room, the William Chambers designed state rooms, the print room and the famous long gallery took shape under the stewardship of the speaker’s great nephew Thomas Conolly and his wife Lady Louisa.
The Irish paintings and furniture at Castletown today mostly date from their time and are amongst the most important collections of the wonderful products of late Georgian Irish decorative arts on show anywhere in the world. Together with the built fabric of the house, notably the ‘pompeian’ style long gallery, the print room and the wonderfully stuccoed staircase hall they make up an important and vital part of Ireland’s cultural patrimony.
The Conolly family remained in residence at Castletown until 1965. In the following year Desmond Guinness (an emeritus director of the Castletown Foundation) and the Irish Georgian Society rescued the house and a portion of the surrounding estate from potential demolition and residential redevelopment. Instead the house, and its surviving contents, was opened up the public for the first time. In 1979 ownership of the house passed to the specially established Castletown Foundation, a charitable educational trust. In 1994 ownership of the house was transferred into the hands of the Irish state, allowing a major conservation programme to begin both in the house and in the adjoining designed landscape. The Castletown Foundation however continues to own most of the contents, and and continues to act in an advisory role in partnership with the Office of Public Works.