Previously unseen art to be unveiled in Hillsborough Castle reopening

Art will be unveiled to the public for the first time this week when Hillsborough Castle opens to the public.

The royal residence and stately setting for political deal-making has undergone a £24 million five-year refurbishment.

Undated handout photo issued by Heritage Lottery Fund NI of Hillsborough Castle in County Down, the Queen's official residence in Northern Ireland, as art will be unveiled to the public for the first time this week when Hillsborough Castle opens to the public.

Undated handout photo issued by Heritage Lottery Fund NI of Hillsborough Castle in County Down, the Queen's official residence in Northern Ireland, as art will be unveiled to the public for the first time this week when Hillsborough Castle opens to the public.

The Anglo-Irish country house in Co Down was built by Wills Hill, second Earl of Hillsborough, in the mid-18th century.

Curator Dr Christopher Warleigh-Lack said: "While the focus has been in other places such as Stormont for instance, a lot of the private negotiation and the reflection took place here at Hillsborough Castle.

"Of course, a number of the key moments during the peace process such as the Anglo-Irish peace agreement in 1985, the Hillsborough Agreement for instance, they were all signed here.

"We very much want to tell those stories to our visitors, it is much, much more than a royal residence."

The charity Historic Royal Palaces took over management of the Georgian castle in 2014.

Renovation work at the gold sandstone property has been going on for several years.

Tours of the house will allow visitors to take in the artistic, political and royal history.

Laura McCorry, head of Hillsborough Castle and gardens, said part of the Royal Collection of art was housed at Hillsborough.

She said: "There is some art on display that has never been seen before by the public."

The castle had been elegantly and beautifully restored, she added.

The stories of members of the local community is reflected in some of the content.

Ms McCorry added: "We will be offering political stories that really dive into the history of what took place here at some of the key political times in our history."

For younger visitors, bug trails through the acres of gardens will provide a distraction.

The outdoor refurbishment included the restoration of the Yew Walk, Moss Walk and other elements. A four-acre walled garden provides fruit and vegetables for the estate and features an 18th century layout.

Garden manager Claire Woods said: "It is a redevelopment and a re-imagining of a walled garden."

The walls created a micro-climate and protected the fruit trees.

The castle was Government house, the residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland, until 1973. Since then it has been the home of the Northern Ireland Secretary.

The castle opens to visitors on April 18.