18 Apr

Irwin M&E showcases heritage experience at Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle opens to the public today after a £20 million restoration and refurbishment project that will open the site to the widest possible audience. The 100-acre project is set to improve the Castle’s visitor experience and increase the potential for larger visitor numbers, primarily through increasing the amount of car parking and making general access improvements.

The team from Irwin M&E has been working on site at Hillsborough Castle since August 2017, after winning the contract to supply the full mechanical and electrical services installation for the upgrade works, including a new visitors’ centre.

Hillsborough Castle was built in the 18th century by the Hill family, who also gave the town of Hillsborough its name. The house has hosted numerous world dignitaries and serves as the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland.

The project was made up of several separate buildings, spread over an extensive site including the Upper Stable Yard, the Lower Courtyard, the Clore Learning Centre and the Operations Base.

The courtyard area at the lower end of the estate was redeveloped into a multi-functioning space with café, shop, visitor information, ticketing and meeting spaces for visitors, schools and groups arriving by car and coach.

“Irwin M&E has a strong track record in the Heritage sector and Hillsborough Castle is another great project to add to our portfolio” commented Keith Stewart, Managing Director. “We also carried out major works at Mount Stewart, a project that attracted huge public interest, particularly during the television series that followed the progress of the restoration; and at Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin.  

Our team has built up many specialist skills required for working on heritage buildings. For example, working on the recycling and refurbishment of original heritage lighting, such as picture lights and free-standing lamps. At the Castle, these were retrofitted with new cables and plugs as well as low energy LED light bulbs”.

Mitigating fire risk

As recently witnessed with the fire in Notre Dame, mitigating fire risk is one of the most important elements of upgrade works in heritage buildings. Part of Irwin M&E’s work at Hillsborough Castle included moving wood chip burners and oil boilers out of the castle and other existing buildings. These could represent a significant fire risk, so new high efficiency gas-fired boilers were installed in external purpose-built plant rooms. Extensive pipework was also laid below ground to pipe hot water to the castle and upper visitors’ centre. Laying the pipework for the hot water was a significant challenge as the buildings are spread out over a large site, which meant laying hundreds of metres of underground pipework.

Fire, Security and IT cabling is interconnected throughout all buildings, utilising thousands of metres of cable to link each building, including some 3000m lengths between buildings.


A core focus of work on heritage projects is making sure that the products and technologies they use will future-proof the buildings for as long as possible. New solar panels were installed on the roofs of the plant room of the lower visitors’ centre and operations base. Air source heat pumps were also installed and these work in tandem with the gas-fired boilers to provide an energy efficient heat source.

“It seems fitting that the Castle opens its doors to the public today, on World Heritage Day” commented Keith Stewart. “It was great to be part of team working on the upgrade of the facilities at Hillsborough Castle and to know that this beautiful building can be enjoyed by the public for years to come”.

© 2021 Irwin M&E Limited