Phoenix Park once contained three official state residences. The Viceregal Lodge, the Chief Secretary's lodge and the Under Secretary's Lodge. The Chief Secretary's Lodge, now called Deerfield, is the residence of the United States Ambassador to Ireland and the Under Secretary's Lodge has served for many years as the Apostolic Nunciature.
Some historians have claimed that the garden front portico of Áras an Uachtaráin (which can be seen by the public from the main road through the Phoenix Park) was used as a model by Irish architect James Hoban who designed the White House. However the portico was built after he had left for the United States. (There is better evidence he used Leinster House as a model.)
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 II 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 the house has undergone occasional bouts of restoration. The first President, Douglas Hyde lived in the residential quarters on the first floor of the main building. Later presidents moved to the new residential wing attached to the main house that had been built on for the visit of King George V in 1911. However, in 1990 Mary Robinson moved back to the older main building. The current occupant, Mary McAleese lives in the 1911 wing.
Though Áras an Uachtaráin is possibly not as palatial as other European royal and presidential palaces, with only a handful of state rooms (the state drawing room, large and small dining rooms, the President's Office and Library, a large ballroom and a presidential corridor lined with the busts of past presidents (Francini Corridor), and some fine eighteenth and nineteenth century bedrooms above, all in the main building), it is a relatively comfortable state residence, and to a size and aspect commensurate with the nation it represents.
All Taoisigh as well as Government Ministers receive their seal of office from the President at Áras an Uachtaráin as do Judges, the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and senior commissioned officers of the Defence Forces. It is also the venue for the meetings of the Presidential Commission and the Council of State.
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 palace nearby in Farmleigh, a former Guinness mansion.
On May 1 2004, during Ireland's six-month presidency of the European Union, Áras an Uachtarain 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. A large security operation involving the Gardaí and the Irish Defence Forces closed off the Áras and the Phoenix Park.
Áras an Uachtaráin is now open for free tours every Saturday.