Historic houses and castles

Rathfarnham Castle

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Rathfarnham, Dublin,
T: +353(0)14939462
E: rathfarnhamcastle@opw.ie

Rathfarnham Castle is an Elizabethan period fortified house built for the Archbishop-Chancellor Adam Loftus in 1583. It was substantially remodelled in the eighteenth century and transformed into a fashionable Georgian residence.

Rathfarnham Castle began life as an Elizabethan fortified house. The Archbishop-Chancellor, Adam Loftus (1533- 1605), commissioned the building in 1583. He wanted the Castle to be a grand and impressive home which would reflect his high status in Irish Society. He also needed it to be easily defended against attack from hostile Irish families such as the O'Byrnes based in the mountains to the south. The design was radically modern for the time and based on recent continental thinking about defensive architecture. The angled bastion towers located at each corner of the building were equipped with musket loops which allowed a garrison of soldiers to defend all approaches to the Castle.

Extensive remodelling and redecoration of Rathfarnham Castle took place in the eighteenth century under a series of later owners. Perhaps most notable were the efforts of Henry Loftus (1709-1783) who commissioned work by the famous architect Sir William Chambers. There are also several rooms which have been attributed to the important architect and designer James 'Athenian' Stuart. Much of the neo-classical design and decoration which characterises the building today can be attributed to these two important figures.

The Loftus family left Rathfarnham Castle in the nineteenth century and it was ultimately sold to the Blackburne family who lived here until 1911. The Society of Jesus then acquired the building and for much of the remainder of the twentieth century it was used as a Retreat House for lay visitors as well as accommodation for trainee Jesuits attending college in the city. Following the departure of the Jesuits in the 1980s, the Castle came into the care of the Irish State and a great deal of restoration work has been carried out since. Most of the rooms have been restored to their eighteenth-century state and several are furnished with a collection of fine eighteenth and nineteenth-century pieces from continental Europe, Britain and Ireland.