At first glance, the Strokestown Park House looks like most other 18th century Irish estates. But when you enter this house – the world that the Pakenham Mahon family lived in from 1600 until 1979 – you’ll notice a marked difference.
For three centuries, family members have lived and died here, and an amazing number of original possessions remain on the property and available for inspection. This creates a sense of family continuity that makes a visit to the estate special. The children’s area exhibits are especially poignant, featuring items such as 1930’s copybooks filled with notes and a variety of children’s toys.
Built by Thomas Mahon in the 1730’s and designed by German architect Richard Castle, the Palladian house contains 45 rooms, including a kitchen equipped with the last gallery in Ireland – from which the lady of the house once supervised the preparation of the family’s meals with a minimum of involvement.
On the first floor, you’ll notice that the rooms are laid out and furnished in formal reception style, in contrast to the children’s spaces – the bedrooms, nursery and schoolrooms on the second floor look well used, comfortable and relaxed.
The South Wing is home to an elaborate and vaulted stable, and within its yards you’ll find the Famine Museum, perhaps the most riveting exhibit on the estate, usually of greatest interest to visiting Irish Americans who want to learn more about the plight of their ancestors.
Plan your trip to accommodate at least an hour in the museum. There are many interesting documents, letters, and period cartoons related to the famine, and you won’t want to rush through them. This museum provides intimate details of how the Pakenham Mahon family, as landlords, viewed and responded to the crisis when their own tenants laid it at their doorstep. The documents on display reflect their attitudes and actions, especially relating to mass emigration, with great emotional honesty.
Before you leave, spend a relaxing time in the Walled Gardens, open to the public after years of extensive renovation. The grounds include a croquet lawn and tennis court, shaded walkways, and a lily pond. Also interesting to garden enthusiasts is the herbaceous border – the longest in all of Ireland and the UK.
Strokestown is located about 23km east of Longford, on the N5 (Dublin to Westport route). Strokestown Park House is located on the outskirts of the town and is well signposted.