Prince Charles & Camilla open refurbished Hillsborough Castle & unveil portrait of the Prince

Today, Prince Charles and Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall visited Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland to reopen the royal residence to visitors after extensive work. The royal couple also unveiled a portrait of The Prince of Wales at the castle.

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A five-year plan to refurbish the castle has recently been finished, hoping to revive the estate and open up the building and its gardens to many more people than had previously been possible. It has cost £24 million.

Built in the mid-18th century by Wills Hill, second Earl of Hillsborough, Hillsborough Castle was acquired by the Government as the residence for the Governor of Northern Ireland and, thus the official residence of The Royal Family. The building and gardens will open to the public on 18th April, just in time for Easter.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall began with a tour of the new Lower Visitor Centre to see just what tourists will get to see. They also met with representatives from Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that looks after the castle, along with other important sites like The Tower of London and Kensington Palace, and those involved in the actual work of restoration; more than 700 people were involved in the work, with 20 working on the state rooms – the working rooms of the residence – alone.

Charles and Camilla also hosted a small reception on the terrace, where the couple, who celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary today, unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion.

The Prince gave a speech about the work, calling Hillsborough a ‘special place… whose many stories reflect the complex history of this island’. Indeed it does; Hillsborough Castle was where the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 was signed, and saw the first ever meeting of the heads of state of the UK and Ireland in 2005, when The Queen met Irish President Mary McAleese in the Red Room.

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He said: “There has been, as you can imagine, a long journey to get to this point, but I could not be more pleased that we have finally reached the finishing line!

“It was five years ago, in April 2014, that Historic Royal Palaces assumed responsibility for the Castle and Gardens at Hillsborough – one of those places that many have heard of and yet few had ever visited…

“Now I am only too aware of the time and trouble that has gone into this transformation and I must congratulate each and every one of you for the part you have played in this historic project. I am particularly proud, if I may say so, that my Prince’s Foundation has been involved in the project – creating The Pavilion in the Walled Garden.”

The Prince’s Trust helped with the creation of the summer house, using it as an opportunity to provided students with tutoring in such crafts. The students are currently working towards their NVQ in Heritage Skills.

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This project formed part of The Prince’s Foundation’s ‘7 for 70’ projects; to coincide with his 70th birthday, the Foundation launched the initiative to identify and undertake seven high-impact community regeneration projects throughout the UK.

Charles continued: “So Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my hope that this programme, and the wonderful building produced, can serve as a means of engendering support and enthusiasm for traditional building craft skills in Northern Ireland.  These are vital skills that are at risk of being lost – in turn endangering the future of our built heritage, let alone the much-needed design and construction of our future heritage through the maintenance of a living tradition.”

The royal visitors then went on a tour of the Walled Garden, meeting with the gardening team of the estate and local volunteers and school visitors, who were planting vegetables in the new beds. Food produced here will be utilised in the castle’s cafe.

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Inside, the Royals took a tour of the state rooms; this includes the dining room, the throne room (where Prince Charles conducted the first investiture at Hillsborough in 2014) and the drawing room.

Interestingly Prince Charles often features in the tour when referring to the clocks at the castle. All of them are kept running on time and in use because he hates to see a ‘wasted’ clock!

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The Duchess undertook a solo engagement at the new Clore Learning Centre in the castle’s stable block. Wearing a deep green, and a shamrock brooch, she met schoolchildren who will be working on paper crafts with residents from a local residential care facility in Lisburn. The Centre will be used as a creative and educational space for schools and the community.

camilla, the duchess of cornwall visits the clore learning centre to see craft activities (clarence house)

Back at Hillsborough, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall unveil a portrait of Prince Charles by local artist Gareth Reid. The piece was commissioned by HRP and shows an informal Charles seated in a wicker chair wearing a light suit, looking off into the distance.

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