Not enough light in Northern Ireland!

With only two and a half weeks to go to the Mount Stewart Festival of Light, lighting designer Walter Holt is busy bringing in shipping containers packed with lighting equipment from England and Scotland.

The spectacular light and sound experience will require hundreds of light sources and around six kilometres of cabling to illuminate hundreds of trees for the impressive event in November.

With such a vast light order for Mount Stewart’s Festival of Light in November, perhaps Walter should consider changing his name from Walter Holt to Walter Volt!

With such a vast light order for Mount Stewart’s Festival of Light in November, perhaps Walter should consider changing his name from Walter Holt to Walter Volt!

Commenting on securing all the kit required to light up Mount Stewart, Walter said, ‘Quite simply there are not enough suitable lights in Ireland for an event of this scale, so we have to ship in extra lights from further a field. The lighting needs to be waterproof and able to withstand a month of Northern Ireland’s autumnal weather!’

The Festival of Light is taking place at Mount Stewart for three weekends in November and the exciting plans will bring the unique grounds to life in a way which has never been seen before. Come along and see the woodland glimmer and glow with spectacular colours after dark, as hundreds of feature trees are illuminated against the night sky and animated light displays perform to music.

The Festival of Light has taken a year’s planning and would not have been possible without the support of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and Ards Tourism.

This exciting new event will run on three weekends in November and tickets are available now through Visit Belfast on 028 9024 6609 or

Tickets are priced £8 for adults, £5 for children, and family tickets (2 adults and 2 children) are £23.50.


A busy week for Sarah!

Well folks, the time has finally arrived – it is my turn to write part of the blog. Rachel has done such a good job so far that I have a hard act to follow, but I will give it a go……..

Firstly introductions, just so you know who I am. My name is Sarah and I am the VSA here. What’s a VSA? I hear you ask; well that is an interesting one. VSA stands for Visitor Services Assistant; this means that my role has lots of interesting aspects. Part of my role is to work alongside Rachel with the planning and running of the events – lucky for me Rachel has got lots of new events planned this year to keep me busy! I would also be responsible for volunteering enquiries, group bookings and weddings – quite a lot of balls for me to juggle in a week, so it is a good thing that I love my job, no really I do!

Recently I have been travelling all over Ireland on behalf of Mount Stewart to promote the fantastic group offer here. In the last couple of months I have attended shows in Enniskillen, Dublin (twice), Antrim and Belfast. It might sound very glamorous but anyone who knows me will know that I am definitely NOT a morning person. The early starts to these shows have meant that I have had plenty of 5am wake up calls! Last week I was lucky enough to spend a day in the fabulous Titanic Belfast, representing the National Trust at the NITB great days out show. I spent the day manning our stand in the conference room with ‘the staircase’, so I was a very lucky lady indeed. It was hard for me not to sit there, listening to a string quartet from the Ulster Orchestra and not imagine Jack walking down to whisk me away – well a girl is allowed to dream! NITB organised this day and invited lots of fantastic places to come and promote things to do. It is really good to know that for such a small country Northern Ireland has so many things going on.

The “Staircase” at Titanic Belfast complete with a string quartet from the Ulster Orchestra – Where is “Jack”

The ‘Staircase’ at Titanic Belfast complete with a string quartet from the Ulster Orchestra – Where is Jack?

Two days later I found myself up again at 5am, only this time I was Dublin bound, well not quite Dublin, just below it in a place called Dalkey. This place was described to me by our lovely propagator, Alan, as Dublin’s answer to the ‘Bay of Naples’ and he wasn’t wrong. It was gorgeous, it was a beautiful crisp spring day just the kind of day that you want when you have a 3 hour train ride followed by a 15 minute walk up a steep hill to do (this is before you start work!) The event today was organised for travel trade operators who bring international parties into the isle of Ireland. Today’s surroundings were grander than the ballroom (if that was possible), as we were at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. This stunning hotel was one of the nicest places that I have ever been. We were treated to a delightful 3 course lunch when we got there (I was so stuffed that I didn’t eat anything for the rest of the day). We were piped into the dining room while the chefs, carried platters of beef complete with sparklers out for us all to see. This plus the castle setting gave you the full baronial feel, (I could get used to this lifestyle – Lady Sarah has a nice ring to it don’t you think?!) After a feast fit for a king we made our way upstairs for the afternoon’s workshop. The basic premise of this is speed dating for tour operators. The operators have their desks and you have a list of who they are and what tours they do, you then go and queue up to sell them the experience that you have to offer.  You have a limited time with each operator to try and keep it fair with each ‘appointment’ lasting 6 minutes before they ring a bell and you have to move on to the next one. After 3 hours of this I was finding it hard to remember what I was saying, I felt really sorry for the tour operators as they had had a full 8 hours of it. After this finished I strolled back down to get my trains and so started the return leg of my journey home. To say that I was glad to see my bed was an understatement.

The Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, Dalkey.

The Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, Dalkey

I was back into work on the Friday morning ready to welcome a group of corporate volunteers from DEL, who have come to help in the gardens as part of ‘Be a Saint Day’, this is the 4th year that we have supported this event. Business in the Community and Volunteer Now, encourage some of the large companies to come and get out from behind their desks and help good causes, all over Northern Ireland. The gardens here are world famous but they do take a lot of looking after to keep them in tip top shape. Jonathan is always pleased to have them help, and they all like him so after a welcome from me I can leave them in his safe hands and head off to meet a bride and groom about there wedding here later on in the year. This weekend saw the house opening again after being closed for the winter, and then St. Patrick’s Day. I then have two weddings this week, all of this can only mean one thing – the season has started again.

I really do love my job!


Mount Stewart’s 5th Wet Nose Day event wins charity award in national competition

Whoever said never work with animals was wrong. In my limited experience they are a pleasure.

On Friday 8 March we welcomed Phil Sketchley, Chairman of National Pet Month, who had flown in from CRUFTS in order to present Mount Stewart with an award for last years Wet Nose Day. Further to a facebook appeal we had some beautiful four legged models who braved the damp morning looking immaculate and behaving impeccably. The line-up included Ralf the Giant (and still growing) Schnauzer, Agility Poodles Jay and Chi-Rho, Davey from Assisi, Carys the Corgi, Rusty the Greyhound (who didn’t look rusty at all), Marley the Tibetan Terrier, Rufus and Ranger the Labs, and the beautiful Shelties – Rosie, Taylor, Lewis and Zoe. They kindly brought along their humans for the occasion, all of whom were fairly well behaved themselves.

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The award presented to Mount Stewart was for ‘National Pet Month’s Best 2012 Charity Event’ in recognition of Win and the team’s hard work on Wet Nose Day 2012 which ran in partnership with Jubilee Vets. This is not the first time that we have won this award in fact Win’s cabinet must be starting to groan under the weight of trophies.

Pet Nose Day provides local pet charities the opportunity to showcase their good work on a day jam packed with fun activities and demonstrations. Last year the event attracted 1,700 human visitors and over 2,000 dogs. That’s quite a disturbing ratio when you think about it.

This morning’s photocall gave us the opportunity to celebrate the award and to look forward to this year’s event.  After the photos the dogs took their owners for a walk and we retreated to the warmth of the Bay Restaurant for one of Win’s home baked Banana and Chocolate Cupcakes. Yes, my job is very hard.

Gareth then took Phil to visit Jubilee Vets new facilities in Newtownards before Win dropped him back at City Airport in order to get him back to CRUFTS. Thank you to both Phil and Gareth for sparing the time to come along today. We are grateful to Jubilee Vets for their ongoing support and partnership on this event and look forward to working with them again in 2013.

National Pet Month this year runs from 1 April – 6 May 2013 and the highlight will (obviously) be Pet Nose Day at Mount Stewart on Sunday 21st April. Four legged friends please feel free to bring your humans. Watch this space for further details.

Thanks to Win for all her hard work on this event. And for the cakes! 🙂


Events Programme 2013

People often wonder why I am in if there is not an event taking place that day. I try not to take it personally.

Whilst it would be nice to turn up on the day of an event and all run swimmingly, events do take a lot of planning and with a very busy calendar for 2013 there is plenty to be done at this time of year. Sarah and I have our work cut out.

First up is our Antiques and Art Fair taking place over the Spring Bank Holiday on 4, 5 and 6 May. This event ties in so nicely with the history of the House and the collection, and also with the strength of the local antiques industry. The key thing is programming it so that that it offers something for everyone. We are delighted to have received funding from Ards Council in order to bring in a ‘celebrity’ from the Antique world – TV presenter and Antiques expert Paul Martin.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin

Paul is no stranger to Mount Stewart having visited last year whilst filming Britain’s Hidden Heritage. Those who saw it will remember him striding enthusiastically around the property led by our marvellous house guide Peter Stark.

For those who didn’t see it here is a link to the episode:

Whilst the Antiques event is taking up the majority of my time at the moment we do need to look further ahead. Sarah and I are already busy working on the logistics of Hallowe’en (note to self: must start planning costume).

The Cemetery Bride. (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but it is really Rachel Hart, Events Manager)Another question that keeps me awake at night is how Santa will arrive at his new home for December 2013 – the Temple of the Winds. I’m thinking we install a Funicular. With only 319 days to Christmas these things need to be finalised, the sooner the better.

Next time I must tell you about another new event that has received generous funding for 2013 – the Festival of Lights. This will be a Son et lumière – that’s a sound and light performance for those from Essex like myself. This event will expand on Walter Holt’s marvellous tree illuminations. We will be working with a local composer to create animated sound and light performances at key points around the lake. We are taking inspiration from brilliant events such as The Enchanted Forest in Pitlochery. Over the past ten years this has built a strong following and in 2012 they received over 30,000 visitors over the course of the event. No pressure! Here’s a video to whet your appetites. Anyway, until next time….