Public will get to enjoy a privileged space at Hillsborough

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The News Letter, as this column is inclined to keep reminding readers, is the oldest English language daily newspaper in the world.

The second earliest surviving edition dates from October 6 1738, a year after the title was launched (the first 13 months of the paper are all lost).

That tattered edition has the following notice:

‘Last Tuesday the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Hillsborough waited on the Rev. Presbytery of Bangor, in Order to have a dissenting Minister, whom his Lordship recommended to the Presbytery, settled at Hillsborough: It is not doubted but that the Presbytery will do what they reasonably can to gratify his Lordship’

The Viscount Hillsborough was father to Wills Hill, who later became viscount (and indeed was made a marquess) and who served as Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1768 to 1772.

During that time, he played host to Benjamin Franklin, who had become a spokesman for the interests of inhabitants of colonial America.

There is an apocryphal story that the men did not get on, hastening the rupture a few years later when America declared independence from Britain, changing history forever.

This was around the time that the current Hillsborough Castle was built.

For the last 100 years this site of major history has been a government and royal residence and inaccessible to the public.

Next spring the 100 acre grounds of the castle will open to the public, making it a prominent visitor attraction.

It is happening under the guidance of the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), which took over the running of the property from the Northern Ireland Office in 2014.

The opening is, like that of Buckingham Palace and other once closed key state properties across the UK, something that will greatly widen public enjoyment of privileged spaces.

It will also make add to the Ulster tourist experience, and draw more people to the beautiful town of Hillsborough.