National Trust to reopen first of its historic houses in Northern Ireland

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By Rebecca Black, PA

The National Trust is set to reopen the first of its historic houses in Northern Ireland.

The Argory in Co Armagh will open on Wednesday for the first time since the nationwide lockdown in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesman for the National Trust said it is hoped more of the properties will be opened in the coming weeks in a phased approach to reopening.

One-way systems and measures to ensure social distancing have been put in place as well as hand sanitising gel.

The Argory is one of seven sites run by the National Trust across England and Northern Ireland to trial the challenges of reopening historic properties.

It follows the opening of gardens and parkland in June on a pre-booking system, which has seen more than one million visits.

Visitors will also need to book tickets to go inside the properties.

Argory general manager Edward Mason said his team are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the property, which belonged to the MacGeough Bond family until it was passed to the trust in 1979.

"Visitors will be able to enjoy a free-flow tour of the ground floor of the house including the drawing room, featuring items treasured by Mr Bond and displayed as he remembers it from his childhood; dining room, currently laid for afternoon tea using Salisbury china from the 1930s, and the billiard room," he said.

"Safety is priority and we have reorganised the rooms in the house for an easy flow one-way system to allow social distancing.

"Traditionally we have offered guided tours of The Argory, so we are really looking forward to hearing what visitors think of the new free-flow system which allows them to explore the rooms at their own pace."

John Orna-Ornstein, the National Trust's director of culture and engagement, said the charity is taking a cautious approach to reopening properties.

"It is just over 16 weeks since we closed all our houses back in March because of coronavirus and we know people have been really keen to get back inside and see their favourite properties and collections once more," he said.

"But it is right that we take a cautious approach, so we ask visitors to remain patient a little longer while we work through how best to make sure everyone who wants to visit is safe and enjoys themselves."

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