Rathfarnham Castle - Open House Dublin 2022
Journal •

Rathfarnham Castle

It is architecturally significant on two main accounts. Firstly, as a very early example of a  Renaissance period ‘fortified house’ in Ireland.  And secondly, for a series of exquisite Georgian  period interiors by Sir William Chambers and  James ‘the Athenian’ Stuart. 

Built about 1583 for one of the most important  ‘New English’ clergymen and politicians in Elizabethan Ireland, Adam Loftus, it was a spacious and comfortable residence and reflected his high status in the Kingdom. The design was radically  modern for the time, based on the latest architectural thinking and designs emerging from France  and Italy in particular. 

Rathfarnham Castle was designed with a spear-shaped bastion located on each corner of the  massive central block. Each of these bastions was equipped with a series of musket loops allowing a garrison of soldiers to protect the approaches to the building if need be. As one of the key English  officials driving the so-called ‘Elizabethan reconquest’, and considering Rathfarnham’s proximity  to the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, home to the Gaelic lords O’Byrne and O’Toole, Adam  Loftus had reason to be fearful. 

Radical remodelling of Rathfarnham Castle took place in the eighteenth century under a series of  later owners as the building was transformed into a fashionable Georgian villa set within an  extensive demesne landscape. Perhaps most  notable are the works commissioned by Henry  Loftus, the Earl of Ely (d.1783). Larger windows were opened and a bow extension added to the eastern side of the building allowing light into the large, fashionable interiors which had all been remodelled in a classical style. Rooms by both Stuart and Chambers were inserted in the late 1760s and early 1770s and are  regarded as some of the finest in Georgian Dublin. 

Since coming into State care over thirty years ago, an extensive series of conservation and  refurbishment works have been carried out at Rathfarnham Castle under the direction of the OPW.  The latest phase of works focussed on the renovation of four basement level rooms where it is  believed the original sixteenth century kitchens were located. These rooms are currently being used  as exhibition spaces. 

A busy cultural programme sees concerts, exhibitions, talks and other events take place at the Castle today. Rathfarnham Castle is open all year to visit. 

Rathfarnham Castle is managed on behalf of the State by the Office of Public Works (OPW)

Photo credits: David Davison


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