Castletown, in the words of Kevin B. Nowlan, former Professor of Modern History, is an Italian palace set on the banks of the River Liffey.
At the time it was built, contemporary commentators expected it to be no less than ‘the epitome of the Kingdom, and all the rarities she can afford’. It is indeed not only the greatest of Irish houses, but also home to a significant collection of paintings, furnishings and objects, many associated with the house since the eighteenth century. This is extraordinary, considering that most contents from the house were dispersed at various auctions, the largest one held at Castletown over three days in April 1966. It explains why Castletown was considered a leading conservation and restoration project after the Hon. Desmond Guinness bought it in 1967 and, with the help of the Irish Georgian Society, opened it to the public. He himself had been able to acquire a significant number of original contents – including important family portraits, statues, furniture and the set of three Murano glass chandeliers – from Lord Conolly-Carew before the auction, which he then returned to Castletown. Over the years, many benefactors generously gave or loaned other important items, contributing to the exquisite collection on display today. Their generosity and kindness is acknowledged in the house and is recorded in Castletown: Decorative Arts, the detailed catalogue of our collection published in 2011.
Most items in the collection today belong to the Castletown Foundation, which between 1979 and 1994 owned and managed Castletown. When the house passed into state ownership, the collection was given on long-term loan to the Office of Public Works (OPW). In the more than two decades since, the OPW has been working closely with the Castletown Foundation on the presentation of the house and, together, they have secured additional items for the collection, both through purchase and generous loans. For example, in 2014 OPW identified, purchased and repatriated a pair of fine French corner cabinets which had been commissioned by Lady Louisa Conolly. They are now back in the Red Drawing Room where they used to be.