The Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland has received a National Lottery windfall of almost £5 million to throw open its doors to the public.
Hillsborough Castle, which is also the residence of the Secretary of State, is expected to attract 200,000 visitors every year by 2019 following major conservation work.
The £4.8 million award from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will be used to install new visitor facilities and conserve many of the features of the 100-acre estate, which is made up of historic buildings, gardens and parklands in Co Down.
“This unique heritage attraction will become a must-see attraction, allowing visitors to learn more about its fascinating history, enjoy a leisurely stroll through the beautiful gardens or tour the historic State Rooms,” said Anna Carragher, UK trustee and chairwoman of HLF in Northern Ireland.
The new project will be led by independent charity Historic Royal Palaces (HRP).
Inside the castle, visitors will be able to tour the State Rooms, including the newly conserved and re-presented Throne Room, Drawing Room and Staircase Hall - learning more about their use as a venue for royal visits, political discussions and entertaining.
The tour will also give visitors an insight into life for those living and working in the “back-of-house” areas.
Outside works will be carried out to conserve the historic features of the Walled Garden, including its original quadrant layout and central pool, and enhance its original planting.
The Lost Garden, which had become overgrown and difficult to access, will be reinstated and new paths, bridges and trails installed to allow visitors to fully explore the extensive grounds.
Patricia Corbett, head of Hillsborough Castle, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the HLF has chosen to support our exciting plans for Hillsborough Castle.
“This major project will enable us to open up this fascinating and beautiful historic site to the widest possible audience.
“Work to create the new facilities is already well under way and we look forward to welcoming many more visitors to Hillsborough Castle in years to come.”
Hillsborough Castle, which is located in the village of Hillsborough, is not a true castle but a Georgian country house built in the 18th century.
Many of the crucial talks leading up to the signing of the Belfast Agreement took place there.
It was also used in January 2010 for talks between British prime minister Gordon Brown, Irish taoiseach Brian Cowen, the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Last year a well-preserved human skeleton which could be 1,000 years old was uncovered in the grounds.
Archaeologists found it during excavation work ahead of a redevelopment project.