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The original house was designed by park ranger and amateur architect, Nathaniel Clements in the mid eighteenth century. It was bought by the administration of the British Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to become his summer residence in the 1780s. His official residence was in the Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle. The house in the park later became the Viceregal Lodge, the "out of season" residence of the Lord Lieutenant (also known as the Viceroy), where he lived for most of the year from the 1820s onwards. During the Social Season (January to St. Patrick's Day in March) he lived in state in Dublin Castle.

The house was left empty for some years, until the office of President of Ireland was created in 1937. In 1938, the first President, Douglas Hyde lived there temporarily while plans were made to build a new presidential palace on the grounds. The outbreak of World War 2 saved the building, which had been renamed Áras an Uachtaráin (meaning house of the president in Irish), from demolition, as plans for its demolition and the design of a new residence were put on hold. By 1945 it had become too closely identified with the presidency of Ireland to be demolished, though its poor condition meant that extensive demolition and rebuilding of parts of the building were necessary, notably the kitchens, servants' quarters and chapel. Since then, further restoration work has been carried out from time to time.

Various visiting British monarchs stayed at the Viceregal Lodge, notably Queen Victoria and Geroge V. American presidents hosted here include Presidents John F .Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton all of Irish descent. Other famous visitors to the Áras an Uachtaráin have been Princess Grace of Monaco and her husband, Prince Rainer; King Baudouin of the Belgians; King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia; Pope John Paul II; Prince Charles, and Prince Philip.

Guests do not normally stay at the Áras. Although it has ninety-two rooms, many of these are used for storage of presidential files, for household staff and official staff, including military aides-de-camp, a Secretary to the President (somewhat equivalent to chief of staff in the white house, except it is a permanent civil service (position) and a press office. The Irish state recently opened a guest residence nearby in Farmleigh, a former Guinness mansion. On 1 May 2004, during Ireland's six-month presidency of the European Union Áras an Uachtaráin was the Venue for the European Day of Welcomes (Accession Day) in which ten new members joined the EU. All 25 heads of government attended the flag raising ceremony in the gardens of the palace.

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