Sprawling low across the green landscape, this somber greystone villa was built between 1741 and 1751. The designer was Richard Cassels, the same man who designed the much more fanciful Powerscourt House (see p. ###). Today, however, Russborough is known not for its architecture but for housing a small but mighty art gallery. In the 1950s, the house was bought by Sir Alfred Beit, a member of the De Beers diamond family, specifically to hold his massive personal art collection, and it displays one of the most exquisite small rural art collections you’re likely to find anywhere. Although many of the most valuable paintings have been moved to other museums after a series of robberies, you can still view works by Vermeer, Gainsborough, and Rubens. The house can be explored only by guided tour, and there is certainly a lot to see: ornate plaster ceilings by the Lafranchini brothers, huge marble mantelpieces, and fine displays of silver, porcelain, and furniture. Kids will be amused by a fiendish maze, a “fairy trail” on the grounds that tells the story of Russborough’s resident fairy, and sheepdog demonstrations daily at 2pm (in good weather). The grounds also contain traditional craft workshops where you can see artisans in action, including a blacksmith and a candlemaker. The estate’s other main attraction is the National Birds of Prey Centre (www.nationalbirdofpreycentre.ie; 045/857-755), home to hawks, owls, falcons and eagles from different parts of the globe. Check the website for details on how to book a private “hawk walk” through the grounds with a trainer and one of the resident big birds. The centre is open daily July to September; Wednesdays to Sundays April to June; and weekends only October to March.