Take a short ten minute drive from Wexford town centre along the road to Kilmore Quay, and you will find a rather beautiful castle with gorgeous grounds and an unusual history. Johnstown Castle is not so well known outside of the local area, but well worth a visit on a sunny day.
The castle itself is not open to the public; it is currently being used as offices but there are rumours of plans to open it in the future. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to see and do here. The grounds themselves are spectacular; created in the 1830s by Daniel Robertson, a Kilkenny architect famed for his work at Powerscourt Gardens in County Wicklow. Here at Johnstown, he created a mirror-like 5 acre lake with fairytale Gothic towers rising from its waters. When I happened across the first tower it was all I could do to stop myself dashing to the top, braiding my hair and calling for a prince to rescue me.
The mature woodlands turn up all kinds of surprises, filled with unexpected specimens such as giant redwoods and Monterey cypress alongside more traditional rhododendron, beech, oak and fir. Stroll the lakeside along the statue-lined terrace walk or picnic in the company of peacocks in the sunken Italian gardens. Keep exploring and you will find waterfalls, an old melon yard, a cemetery and most exciting of all, a woodland garden surrounding the ruins of a more ancient castle contained within the grounds, the medieval ruins of Rathlannon Castle. It’s quite wonderful to see how these grounds have maintained their majesty; they have quite a history, home to the prominent Esmonde family before being confiscated during Cromwell’s reign. The estate changed hands many times, even serving as a base for airships during World War I…
…before being gifted to the Nation in 1945.
The castle’s estate outbuildings have been repurposed by the current proprietors, Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority of Ireland ) to house the Irish Agriculture Museum, where you can learn time-honoured methods of crop cultivation, butter churning, poultry and dairy farming, and experience the changing face of traditional country kitchens over the years. I didn’t have a chance to explore the museum when I was there but next time I visit, I will try to drag myself away from the tranquility of those gorgeous gardens for long enough to see the kitchens of yore.