Plans are afoot to increase public access to Hillsborough Castle, as it changes hands from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to an independent charity in a money-saving move.
The castle will come under the guardianship of the Historic Royal Palaces charity from April next year in a change described as “an exciting new chapter in the history of Hillsborough Castle”.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the move will be more efficient for the taxpayer.
“Hillsborough Castle has a unique place in the history of Northern Ireland and the government is determined to ensure that its potential is fully realised, for the benefit of the whole community,” she said.
“Plans are now well under way to pass the operation of Hillsborough Castle to Historic Royal Palaces, who have an impressive track record in running similar properties.
“Their team brings a wealth of expertise and specialist skills to care for, conserve and maintain this wonderful heritage asset.”
The 19th century castle will remain the Royal residence in Northern Ireland and continue to provide residential and office accommodation for the Secretary of State.
It is a listed building and was the principal seat in Ireland of the Marquesses of Downshire for over 200 years before passing into public ownership in the 1920s.
The NIO has had responsibility for the running of the castle since 1972.
Michael Day, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces who have managed the Tower of London and Kensington Palace, said they look forward to working at Hillsborough.
“Historic Royal Palaces is delighted to be working with the NIO to explore how Hillsborough Castle, with its fascinating history and glorious gardens, can be opened up for the benefit of the wider community.”