The doors of Johnstown Castle were thrust open last week as members of the public were welcomed inside to get a rare glimpse of the interior and learn more about future plans.
An estimated 1,200 people paid a visit to the castle during the two open days staged by Teagasc, who will soon begin a project to restore and open the building to the public. The event gave people the opportunity to learn about the history of the landmark and hear more about plans for its future.
This project will be staged by Teagasc in partnership with the Irish Heritage Trust and the Irish Agricultural Museum with the help of €7.5 million in Government funding. Though the groups have yet to seek planning permission for the ambitious plan, they aspire to have it complete by 2018.
‘A lot of work has taken place over the last number of years. We required a change in the Johnstown Castle Act which left the castle to the state for agricultural use,’ explained Head of PR with Teagasc Eric Donald. ‘We have now managed to secure funding from Failte Ireland and the Government to go ahead with the project.’
In the last number of months, Eric says they have been looking at potential plans and making decisions on how to make the first step. During the recent open days, the unveiled their plans to the public.
The project will see conservation works carried out on the three floors of the castle to make it safe and accessible before it becomes open to the public. An interpretive centre with information on the castle’s history and local stories will be positioned behind the agricultural museum next to a new carpark.
‘We want to have the carpark nestled into the landscape without imposing on the castle and the beautiful grounds,’ explained Eric.
The plan also includes new entrance arrangements. At present, there is one entrance used for the state agencies based on the castle grounds, while another is used by visitors to the castle.
‘We plan to alter the entrance to facilitate those coming to visit the castle. The visitor entrance is through the lovely old arches but unfortunately, buses can’t make it through them. There is also a safety issue when you have a large volume of traffic coming in through the old arches,’ explained Eric. ‘We plan to retain the old entrance with the arches while installing a new entrance for visitors beside it.’
According to Eric, the plans were met with a largely positive reaction from the many people who came to the open days.
‘I think there was a lot of goodwill towards it. A lot of people I met had relatives who worked in the castle in the past so some great stories came out of it,’ he said. The reaction was really positive. It was a really important exercise to open the doors and let people come in and see what’s going on.’
The next stage in the process is applying for planning permission and if granted, work will commence as soon as possible with an estimated completion date of 2018.
Commenting on the initiative Kevin Baird, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust said:
‘We are delighted with the interest and passion local people have in this special place and we hope as the project develops everyone will find ways to get involved at the property to help us care for Johnstown Castle and share it with everyone.’
In 2015, Teagasc issued a public tender looking for a visionary partner to come on board with them to re-imagine the future of Johnstown Castle. The Irish Heritage Trust was announced as the successful applicant.
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/vision-of-the-future-for-johnstown-castle-34911296.html)