Mount Stewart is both one of Northern Ireland’s most popular attractions and one of its most interesting historical sites.
The huge and magnificent gardens, rated among the best in Europe, are a large part of the appeal to visitors.
But the large and elegant house, where the celebrated Stubbs painting ‘Hambletonian, Rubbing Down’ hangs, is at the heart of the overall property and estate.
Now it has had an £8 million restoration in which many previously unseen rooms will go on display.
The rich history of Mount Stewart and its place at the pinnacle of British society is evident in the experience of the Hitler historian Sir Ian Kershaw, who noticed a figurine of an SS stormtrooper on a tour of the house in 1991, when he was in Northern Ireland to lecture at Queen’s University.
He found out that it was a memento from the visit of Hitler’s foreign minister von Ribbentrop in 1936, in a bid to secure a peace agreement (the 7th Marquess of Londonderry was an influential advocate of such from the British perspective).
At the time of the visit, Sir Ian was writing his mammoth biographies of Hitler, which took a decade to complete, but seeing the figurine and learning about von Ribbentrop’s visit inspired him later to write a book about the marquess, entitled ‘Making Friends With Hitler’.
That is only one of the most dramatic in many Mount Stewart stories. Previous occupants of the estate include Viscount Castlereagh, the statesman who helped negotiate the post-Napoleonic settlement in Europe.
Mount Stewart has been the home of a fascinating family, and when they still owned the house it played host to distinguished guests up to the level of king and queen.
It is pleasing to know that the National Trust, the custodian of so much of the most interesting property in Britain, has invested in one of the jewels in its Northern Ireland crown.
From Monday, everyone will be able to visit and enjoy.