The 400-acre Montalto Estate – where the Battle of Ballynahinch was fought in 1798 – will be open to the public for the first time in its history today.
The private demesne is located in rural Co Down, a short distance from Ballynahinch, and has been owned by the Wilson family since 1995.
The rebirth of the estate as a tourist attraction represents a major private investment creating up to 30 new jobs.
The visitor experience includes public access to the estate’s gardens featuring an exotic plant collection initially created by Sir Arthur Rawdon in the late 1700s.
The estate boasts a number of trails with an emphasis on getting all of the family out walking.
On those trails, two of the newly built features which are sure to go down well with children are a giant treehouse and a witch’s cottage.
The journey begins from a purpose-built centre, designed in keeping with the look and feel of the estate.
It includes a welcome area which maps out the estate’s rich history, a 120-seat cafe, and a shop that offers a mix of estate produce, local craft products and many other unique and exceptionally designed items.
Meanwhile, over 2,400 bottles, of various shape, size, age and purpose, have been found on the estate since renovation works began and over 1,000 of these are on display in the ticket and information office.
Very much a family-run business, owners Gordon and June Wilson who bought the estate in 1995, have their son David in place as the managing director of the estate, while son-in-law Keith Reilly is the operations director.
Having initially lived in the house, the family turned it into an exclusive luxury venue for business and corporate clients. In 2012 this expanded to include the award-winning wedding venue – The Carriage Rooms at Montalto.
David Wilson said: “The estate itself is such an asset and we were only using such a small percentage of it.
“It seemed such a shame and waste not to let everybody enjoy it.
“For the first time we are inviting people to step inside [the estate], explore our walks and trails and discover for themselves the magnificence of this beautiful site.”
Mr Reilly said: “There’s a lot of work involved in maintaining 400 acres.
“People are always surprised that our team of gardeners isn’t as big as maybe they would expect but it’s about getting the right people. We’ve a small, but strong and committed team.”
The estate dates back to the early 1600s.
In pre-plantation times the estate belonged to Patrick McCartan but due to his involvement in the Irish rebellion in 1641 his lands were confiscated and purchased by Sir George Rawdon in 1657.
Around 1765 Sir George’s descendant Sir John Rawdon, First Earl of Moira, built the existing Montalto House. Sir Arthur Rawdon aka The Father of Irish Gardening had amassed a large collection of exotic foreign plants at Moira Castle.
Many of these were transferred to Montalto when his grandson, Sir John Rawdon, moved onto the estate.
The Battle of Ballynahinch in 1798 was fought on the grounds of Montalto Estate on Edenavaddy Hill.
A print of the painting by Thomas Robinson, which hangs in the National Gallery Dublin, entitled ‘The Battle of Ballynahinch’, hangs in the Montalto Estate welcome centre.
Today the 400-acre private estate is owned by the Wilson family who purchased it in 1995.
They set about returning the estate to its former glory which included major renovation works to reinstate the house and many other parts of the estate to its present condition.
There are over 300 Alpine plant varieties in the Alpine Garden while over the past three years 30,000 trees have been planted across the estate.
The Alpine Garden and Winter Garden will be accessible to visitors at all times but as the others are working gardens these may not always be accessible.
One of the eye-catching man-made features within the estate is a tree house incorporating a children’s play area which was built on site.
The cafe at Montalto has been designed to capture the essence of the estate with trees, flowers and shrubbery prominent throughout the interior.
Dogs are welcome but must be kept on leads outside of designated, fenced-off areas.
The opening hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Access to site including car park, welcome area, cafe and shop is free. The gardens, trails and walks are priced at £7.50 for adults £5 for children over five. Discounted rates are available for online bookings.