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Conservation & Development Works on Track for spring 2019 Opening

A brand new visitor experience at an ancient heritage attraction in Ireland’s south-east is set to open to the public in 2019. Johnstown Castle, Wexford’s greatest surviving country estate, is currently home to the Irish Agricultural Museum in the estate’s stable yard – providing a nostalgic journey through Irish farming and social history. To date, however, the Gothic Revival castle itself has never been open to the public; this is all set to change as the new Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens experience is to open to the public in spring 2019.

The Irish Heritage Trust, an independent charity, was announced in 2015 as the successful applicant to work with Teagasc, the Irish Agricultural Museum and the local community to develop a new and exciting visitor experience at Johnstown Castle which includes the famous Daniel Robertson Ornamental Gardens.

At present, the €7.5 million project works are underway at Johnstown with an entirely new ‘3 in 1’ attraction set to be unveiled at the castle, museum and gardens. A new visitor centre is being built in the castle courtyard including an extensive shop specialising in local products and a 120 seat café with terrace. The castle at Johnstown is undergoing conservation works required to allow public access and to safeguard the castle’s future including essential repairs and electrical work. The castle tour will include the adjoining 86 metre original ‘servants’ tunnel’, believed to be the longest in the country and also opening to the public for the first time.

Commenting on the progress at what is set to be one of Ireland’s foremost tourist attractions, Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust said, “Johnstown Castle is a hugely significant building of national importance and we look forward to bringing it back to life.  This is a hugely exciting addition for Irish Tourism and Ireland’s Ancient East and is set to be one of Ireland’s foremost tourist attractions.

The Johnstown visitor experience will also offer access to the stunning lower lake area to meander and explore, a new playground, as well as new parking and entrance arrangements with ample car and coach parking. Charming garden walks will be available in the tour experience as well as the existing Irish Agricultural Museum. The Museum’s exhibitions explore the collection of folk, farming, rural history and objects from the turn of the 18th century until the middle of the 20th century.

“This is a vast and exciting project at Johnstown and we are delighted to be completing this initial phase of work. We, along with the Irish Heritage Trust look forward to providing a warm welcome to all our visitors both returning and new to this wonderful ‘3 in 1’ attraction in 2019,” said Tom Doherty, Chief Operations Officer of Teagasc.

The Irish Heritage Trust was established in July 2006 as a joint initiative between government and the voluntary sector. The Trust has had great success in developing other heritage projects and bringing places to life over the years including Fota House and Gardens in Cork and Strokestown Park and The National Famine Museum, Roscommon.

The works taking place inside Johnstown Castle and the construction of the new visitor centre are wide-ranging and continue apace; despite this, the works do not impact the facilities currently open to the public. The Irish Agricultural Museum and Tearoom along with the Johnstown Castle Gardens, Shop and Tea Room will be open until 4 pm daily (November - February).


Johnstown Castle Lakes

Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum & Gardens in Ireland’s south-east is not only a hugely significant historic site of national importance but a place of great romantic charm and tranquillity. The spectacular lakes, walled gardens and sculptures all offer the beautiful setting for the great 19th century castle designed by the Victorian architect Daniel Robertson who is responsible for many projects in Ireland including Powerscourt in Co. Wicklow.

Johnstown’s romantic charm can be enjoyed on the glorious lake walks on the estate which are open all year round. The Castle lake is the middle of three lakes and was the first to be constructed in the late 1830s-40s as part of Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan's grand vision for the Estate, working in partnership with renowned architect Daniel Robertson of Powerscourt Fame. At almost five acres it is home to numerous waterfowl. Around the fringes of this lake are two follies, including a fishing tower, also seven statues which were completed at the same time as the lake. They are entirely in keeping with the romantic vision being brought to life by both owner and architect.

The works taking place inside Johnstown Castle and the construction of the new visitor centre are wide-ranging and continue apace with opening set for spring 2019. Despite this, the works do not impact the facilities currently open to the public at the Irish Agricultural Museum and Peacock Tearooms along with the Johnstown Castle Gardens.


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.


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).