This elegant mansion has one of the most beautiful gardens in Ireland.
Mount Stewart is an inspiration; a 19th century house and garden in County Down that has been the setting for many Hollywood films and home to some of Northern Ireland’s richest people.
Tucked away on the shore of Strangford Lough, near the townland of Greyabbey, locals believe Mount Stewart could be the contender, if not the victor, of a competition for the most beautiful garden in Ireland.
The Marchioness of Londonderry Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart was noted as one of the great political hostesses of the time. Prior to her arrival at Mount Stewart in 1919, she had been Coloney-in-Chief of the Women’s Volunteer Reserve (WVR), a volunteer force of women who slipped into men's roles after they had gone to the Front during the First World War.
It was clear Edith was keen to make Mount Stewart her home, particularly the garden. And that she did, transforming a dull ancestral house into a setting important enough to entertain guests like Harold Macmillan and Winston Churchill.
She saw the garden as a vehicle for her artistic expression. It should not imitate nature but be seen as an extension of the house. Playful and fun, it’s full of allegories and images of where she believed herself to be from and who she was and mimicked William Morris wherever possible.
She was fascinated by Irish mythology and worked with family friend and artist Edmund Brock to craft figures inspired by Mary Queen of Scot’s Psalter (prayer book). It was not her only muse; her wide-ranging interests included classic mythology, Italian Renaissance, heraldry, her own family and Spanish influences. A Red Hand of Ulster sits beside an Irish harp in the Shamrock Garden while in the Dodo Terrace, stone carvings represent the animal characters given by Edith to members of her social circle, dubbed the Ark Club – including Winston the Warlock and Harold the Hummingbird. Even her husband, Charles doesn’t escape, considering he’s depicted as Charlie the Cheetah, in recognition of his philandering.
Thanks to Edith’s skill and interest, the garden exploded into color and texture, thanks in part to the mild climate around Strangford Lough that affords surprising levels of planting experimentation.
Last year the house reopened after a three-year £7 million restoration. The building was completely rewired, repainted and transformed to its glory days.
The Central Hall now features sculptures, as it was probably intended to, and cabinets which contain a Chinese export armorial service with the arms of Sir Robert Cowan, whose fortune provided the Stewarts the initial means to acquire the house in 1744.
The staircase remains dominated by arguably the most important picture in Ireland, Hambletonian, by George Stubbs. It depicts a racehorse owned by Sir Henry Vane-Tempest being rubbed down after beating Diamond, owned by Joseph Cookson, at Newmarket in 1799.
The vast drawing room remains much as it was decorated by Edith in the 1930s as does the Stone Hall, where sits a new carpet specially woven and created as a replica of one there during Edith’s tenure.
Four previously unseen rooms are now accessible and all existing rooms have been reinterpreted. There are new collections, artifacts, and paintings on show for the first time including one of the most significant silver displays within the National Trust’s care.
“It was all what I call shredded and it needed a lot of care and attention. Now it’s back to its glamorous, pristine self,” says Edith’s granddaughter Lady Rose Lauritzen, who lives at Mount Stewart. “Back in that time, the house was hosting celebrities, royalty and it was a very political family.”
The Temple of the Winds
Designed by architect James Stuart in 1782-83, this octagonal building was inspired by the Grand Tour undertaken by the 1st Marquess. It is believed the Tower of the Winds in Athens was the inspiration. The location offers unparalleled views across Strangford Lough and towards the Mourne Mountains.
Tir na nÓg
Irish for ‘land of the young,’ this is the burial ground for the Vane-Tempest-Stewarts. Edith and her husband, the 7th Marquess, are buried here as is their youngest child, Lady Mairi Bury. The site is guarded by a white stag statue.
The Mairi Garden
The Stewart family colors are white and blue. It’s no surprise then that the Mairi Garden features a wealth of white and blue flowers, as well as a bronze statue to commemorate Edith’s daughter’s birth in 1921. This is surrounded by bells and cockleshells based on the popular nursery rhyme.
The building and garden were the Irish seat of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry, who played a leading role in Irish social and political life.
The family made their money from linen and in the early days the house was known as Mount Pleasant.
There were long periods of neglect in the 19th century when the owners lived away from County Down. But the 7th Marquess, Charles Vanes-Tempest-Stewart, a well-known Ulster politician, and his wife Edith breathed new life to the house and grounds.