Castle Works

The works taking place inside the castle are wide-ranging and continue apace this summer. This is a view of one of the old kitchen rooms in the basement level which are currently being replastered. To learn more about this exciting project, call into the museum reception.


The Return of the Johnstown Swifts

High on the wall of the courtyard wall are specially designed nest boxes for swifts. Swifts, like swallows and house martins, arrive in the spring after a long journey from Africa before departing in August (earlier than swallows). Unlike swallows and house martins, swifts never land and continually fly 24 hours a day – they are the fastest bird in the world in level flight!

The only time they land is when they nest. After the young birds have fledged, they make their first migration to Africa and don’t return until here they are at least two years old. They then look for a partner but may not breed and nest for another year or so.

Swifts tend to nest in holes in walls or buildings but modern building regulations mean that potential nesting places for them have dwindled - hence, why we’re trying to give them a helping hand.

Our first swifts took up residence in the far left-hand box (Box 1) in 2013 and produced one chick. In 2014 we believe that the male adult bird died and the female found a new mate. They produced two chicks, three in 2015 and 2016 and two in 2017. A new pair arrived in 2016 and chose the right-hand box (Box 4) and they bred in 2017 and had two chicks.

Both our breeding pairs of swifts have now retuned from their long journey back from Africa and have been busy re-arranging their nest boxes. Our first egg was produced in Box 1 on 16 May. We will watch their progress with interest.

The Changing Face of Museum

Construction has begun in earnest at Johnstown with the refurbishment of the castle and the creation of a new visitor centre in the lower yard of the museum (pictured here). Despite the increased level of activity, the site remains fully open for all visitors to enjoy the well-earned spring sunshine.


Donation to Irish Famine

Muslim Assistance to Ireland during the Great Hunger.

Possibly the only uplifting aspect of the tragedy of the Great Hunger was the charitable response to the disaster by thousands of private individuals throughout the world who were neither Irish nor Catholic.  The geographical scope of this intervention was extensive, with the two first groups to contribute at the end of 1845 being in Calcutta in India and in Boston in the US.

The vast majority of this relief was donated in the wake of the second, more deadly, failure of the potato blight in 1846.  This wave of benevolence included a large donation from the Sultan of Turkey, Abdülmecid I. Born in 1823, Abdülmecid had become Sultan in 1839. Regardless of his youth and upbringing, the Sultan showed himself to be a progressive, who desired to forge closer relations with western Europe. His policies included abolishing slave markets, allowing non-Muslim places of worship to be built, establishing modern universities, and – as early as 1858 – decriminalizing homosexuality.



One of the young Sultan’s most impressive acts of generosity occurred in 1847, when he offered to donate £10,000 towards Famine relief in Ireland. If he had been allowed to do so, it would have made him the largest individual benefactor.  However, only a few weeks earlier, Queen Victoria had donated £2,000 to Ireland and diplomats in Constantinople persuaded Turkish officials that it would offend British royal protocol if anybody gave a higher amount than the monarch.  Consequently, the Sultan’s donation was reduced to £1,000 – still a generous sum, but far less than what had been originally envisaged.

The Sultan’s part in assisting the Famine poor was known at the time within Ireland, with a number of newspapers commenting on it.  A (bad) poem was even published to commemorate his intervention:

  • God bless the Turk! God bless the Turk!
  • God bless the Turk! For this Christian work,
  • May his noble shadow never be less!
  • May Mahomed guard him,
  • And Allah reward him …
  • Let Ireland be grateful,
  • And pay back the alms
  • That His Highness bestowed.

It is hard to calculate the impact of Abdülmecid’s donation, but without the charity of the Sultan and thousands of other men and women who had no direct connection with Ireland, the death toll resulting from the Great Hunger would have been even higher.

For more on private charity see, Christine Kinealy Charity and the Great hunger. The Kindness of Strangers (Bloomsbury, 2013).