Located near the Blessington Lakes in County Wicklow, Russborough House is one of Ireland’s most famous stately homes. An excellent example of Palladian architecture, it’s also said to be the longest house in Ireland, as its frontage stretches for over 200 metres. The building was built for Joseph Leeson, the 1st Earl of Milltown between 1741 and 1755, and was designed by Richard Cassels. Not only does the house have a very impressive exterior, but its interior contains some extremely ornate plasterwork by the Lafranchini brothers.
A monument to the Leeson family
Originally from Northamptonshire, the Leeson family moved to Ireland in the second half of the 17th century, where they became involved in both property development and brewing. These Dublin based businesses enabled the family to build a sizeable fortune which was passed down to heir, Joseph Leeson, who went on to become an MP, and eventually Earl of Milltown in 1763.
Russborough House was built for Joseph Leeson in the mid 18th century and remained in the family until the sixth earl when, upon the death of his widow, it was bequeathed to a nephew, Sir Edmund Turton. It was then sold on to Captain Denis Bowes Daly in 1931, who kept it for just over twenty years before selling it to Sir Alfred and Lady Beit. Once in their possession, they installed their own private art collection and established the Alfred Beit Foundation to manage the property in 1976. Two years later the mansion and its collections were opened to the public, although the Beits remained in residence until their deaths; Sir Beit in 1994 and Lady Beit in 2005. The property was damaged in 2010 by a fire, which caused part of the roof in the west wing to collapse, although luckily none of the artwork was damaged.
A veritable feast of artwork
Throughout its history, Russborough has been home to two fine art collections. During the 1750s several painting were specially commissioned to hang on the walls at Russborough, including a series by Claude Joseph Vernet entitled ‘Morning’, ‘Midday’, ‘Sunset’ and ‘Night. These were displayed in the stately home for 260 years, along with Vermeer’s ‘Lady writing a Letter with her Maid’.
Following the purchase of Russborough by Sir Alfred Beit, many more paintings were added from his own private collection, with works of art by such Masters as Goya, Vermeer, Rubens and Gainsborough. Unfortunately some of these works proved to be too much temptation for thieves, with paintings having been stolen on four occasions, and Vermeer’s ‘Lady writing a Letter with her Maid’ being stolen on no less than two separate occasions.
Take a guided tour or a horse and carriage ride
If you’d like to find out more about the history of Russborough House, take one of the guided tours which will give you all the information you need about the three families that spent their lives in this splendid property. You’ll also get the chance to walk around the magnificent gardens and lakes, explore the HaHa, the icehouse and the Japanese Bridge, and just generally take time to enjoy the stunning scenery. Horse and carriage rides are also available, and the beautiful walled garden is open every Wednesday and Saturday during the summer months.