In May 2011, Elizabeth II will visit Ireland. Unlike her predecessors, Powerscourt will not be involved in some way with her itinerary. Elizabeth’s grandfather, George V, visited with his wife Queen Mary in 1911 and according to The Irish Times, Viscount and Viscountess Powerscourt, and their house party, joined the King and Queen at the Phoenix Park races. George’s grandmother, Victoria, travelled to Ireland, and was due to visit Powerscourt in 1853, but the visit did not proceed beyond Bray, due to bad weather. The Prince of Wales visited Powerscourt in 1880’s, and there is a drawing of a military display outside the house, which I cannot now locate.
The most significant visit for Powerscourt was that of George IV, who visited Ireland and Powerscourt in 1821. George IV had recently succeeded to the throne, as his father, George III had died the previous year. However, he had be de facto monarch, as he was Prince Regent since 1811, owing to the illness of his father (“The Madness of King George” was about George III). The drawing rooms on the garden side of the house were redecorated especially for the visit, along with estate improvements – notably the development of the Dargle Drive. Wright, writing in 1823 said that the village had recently undergone many improvements – these may have been prompted by the Royal visit. Mervyn, 7th Viscount recounts two anecdotes about the Royal visit, which took place in the last years of the life of the 5th Viscount. George IV appears to have been an imperious fellow, which comes through in the following story:
A good many of the neighbours were invited to meet the King, among others Col. Hon. Hugh Howard, who resided at Bushy Park, opposite the windows of Powerscourt House. The King, looking out the window, saw the house at Bushy, and turning to Lord Powerscourt said, “Whose house is that opposite? It ought not to be there,” meaning that it did not add to the beauty of the landscape. Col. Howard rejoined, “Oh! But your Majesty, that is my house.” The King said, “I don’t care whose house it is, it ought not to be there.”
Quite what Col. Howard was meant to take from this statement is unclear. The following day, the King was due to visit the waterfall, viewing it from a specially-built platform across the river. A dam had been built upstream to allow for a good flow of water during the Royal viewing. The king declined to go on the visit. He was apparently extraordinarily obese, with stories that his waist was as round as he was tall, with his stomach reaching down to his knees. Whether he was disinclined to take a visit to the waterfall because of this is an open question. In any case, it was just as well, for him, that he did not attend the viewing. When the dam was opened, the large flow of water washed away the platform that he was standing on. The course of the history of the British Empire could have been changed for ever.