Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m enormously grateful to you all for coming such a long way to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It’s incredibly good of you…
It also gives my wife and I great joy to be with all of you today in Northern Ireland for the official re-opening of Hillsborough Castle.
There has been, as you can imagine, a long journey to get to this point, but I could not be more pleased that we have finally reached the finishing line! It was five years ago, in April 2014, that Historic Royal Palaces assumed responsibility for the Castle and Gardens at Hillsborough – one of those places that many have heard of and yet few had ever visited...
The task of the dedicated team at Hillsborough and at Historic Royal Palaces was to open up the Castle and to tell its stories more widely, while inspiring visitors through the beautiful interiors, gardens and displays of art.
The investment in the project has been vast and the transformation quite extraordinary. Generous donations have helped to refurbish and transform the State Rooms, restored elements of the gardens, created a fine and productive Walled Garden that is still in the process of development, produced new visitor facilities and an impressive new Clore Learning Centre. Over seven hundred contractors and craftspeople have been involved in the renovation, with twenty different craftspeople working on refurbishing the State Rooms alone!
Now I am only too aware of the time and trouble that has gone into this transformation and I must congratulate each and every one of you for the part you have played in this historic project. I am particularly proud, if I may say so, that my Prince’s Foundation has been involved in the project – creating The Pavilion in the Walled Garden.
The Pavilion is the result of a collaboration between my Foundation, Historic Royal Palaces and the Historic Environment Division in Northern Ireland. I would like to thank in particular the Historic Environment Division’s team at Moira Yard, who allowed my Foundation the use of their workshops and provided our students with tutoring. I must also thank the team from Historic Royal Palaces who helped facilitate the building work.
This training project was the first Live Build project undertaken as part of the Traditional Building Skills Programme, run in partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust and I would much like to offer my warmest congratulations to the students for their hard work and achievements.
The eight students who worked on the project come from across the United Kingdom and from a variety of trade backgrounds. These same students are now currently working on another live-build at Dumfries House and progressing towards their National Vocational Qualification level three in Heritage Skills.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my hope that this programme, and the wonderful building produced, can serve as a means of engendering support and enthusiasm for traditional building craft skills in Northern Ireland. These are vital skills that are at risk of being lost – in turn endangering the future of our built heritage, let alone the much-needed design and construction of our future heritage through the maintenance of a living tradition.
My Foundation, therefore, looks forward to continuing our work in Northern Ireland and to growing the collaboration between these three institutions.
I must take this opportunity as well to express my warmest thanks to all those who have contributed and have made this project possible – in particular to Bronagh Lynch and Dawson Stelfox, of architects Consarc; Catherine Fitzgerald and Mark Lutyens for landscape design; Alec Cobbe, for the designs for the State Rooms; Robert Craig from contractors F3; The many crafts people who have brought their brilliant artisan skills to realise the design team’s vision – from stone carving to silver smithing; Also, the Historic Royal Palaces staff at Hillsborough Castle who have made an extraordinary effort to complete the project whilst operating a functioning visitor site and home, with a special mention, of course, for Patricia Corbett and Stephen Martelli; Again, the financial contributors to the project – specifically: The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Mr. Mark Pigott, The Clore Duffield Foundation, The Foyle Foundation and The Wolfson Foundation; The Northern Ireland Office, of course, for their assistance as the castle was opened to the public; To the Hillsborough Castle Advisory Board for its informed and objective counsel at every stage of the project; And finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, my greatest thanks must go to the local community in Hillsborough for their support of the ambitious project, their tolerance of occasional disruption and for their always friendly welcome.
For me, Hillsborough has always been a special place: a place whose many stories reflect the complex history of this island. Thanks to the fine restoration work that we are marking today, future generations will have the chance to hear and experience these stories for themselves in restored and re-presented surroundings. It is my particular hope that, as they do so, they will come to a renewed understanding of our past and a renewed resolve for our future.
As we look to the future therefore, I hope Hillsborough Castle and Gardens can now well and truly be placed on the map and serve as both a destination and indeed an inspiration for all on the island of Ireland to enjoy!
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, and now nothing would give me greater pleasure than to unveil this plaque to declare the re-opening of good, old Hillsborough Castle.