22 January 2024
Window Conservation at Johnstown Castle
Described as one of Ireland’s most prestigious heritage properties, news of a secret room discovery at Johnstown Castle made headlines around the world in August 2023. The discovery was made during a window conservation project at the Wexford castle, part of ongoing works by the Irish Heritage Trust.
Testament to Ireland’s rich history and architectural heritage, Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens has become a beloved visitor attraction in Ireland’s ancient east. In addition to the castle, the estate also features the extensive Irish Agricultural Museum, sculptured walks, and a Victorian walled garden. Among the many features, the castle windows stand out as intricate works of art.
Historical Significance of Johnstown Castle
While the first castle on the estate was a tower house built in the late 12th century, Johnstown Castle as it stands today was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has witnessed centuries of change from being home to the Esmonde, Grogan and later the FitzGerald families, to becoming an agricultural research centre, and more recently, a leading visitor attraction. Designed by renowned Architect Daniel Robertson, its architecture reflects a Neo-Gothic style featuring turrets and towers making it a captivating visitor experience.
Importance of Window Conservation
Windows play a crucial role in preserving historical structures and the building’s authenticity. In the case of Johnstown Castle, the windows are not only functional but also boast intricate craftsmanship that reflects the era in which the castle was constructed. The preservation of these windows, numbering 74 in total, is essential not only for aesthetic reasons but also to maintain the historical integrity of the castle.
Challenges in Conservation
Conserving historical windows comes with its own set of challenges. Exposure to the elements, aging, and even past restoration attempts had contributed to the deterioration of the original materials. In the case of Johnstown Castle, conservationists faced the task of balancing the need to protect the windows with the imperative to maintain the authenticity of the structures.
The Restoration Process
The restoration of Johnstown Castle’s windows involved a meticulous process with a design team from conservation consultants Anú Heritage and architects MRA along with contractors from National Gates and Joinery. The need to combine traditional craftsmanship with modern conservation techniques was the priority.
Skilled artisans and conservators worked to assess the condition of each window casement identifying areas of deterioration and crafting a tailored plan for restoration. The use of historically accurate materials was prioritised to ensure that the windows would retain their original charm.
Secret Room Discovery
Imagine the surprise of the contractors from National Gates and Joinery who, while working on the window restoration, broke through a section of wall in one of the towers and discovered the hidden room. The room might have been a small bedroom but further investigations are underway to uncover why it came to be sealed up… watch this space!
The windows are just one of many conservation and restoration projects that continue at Johnstown Castle. 2023 saw the completion of the east wing for corporate events and further works on the gardens and glasshouses. Works are also underway at the Head Gardeners House.
Why Irish Heritage Conservation Matters
We could assume we don’t need to explain why heritage conservation matters, but best take nothing for granted. It matters because it helps safeguard the cultural, historical, and natural assets that help define us. It contributes to economic development, education, community, and sustainability while fulfilling our responsibility to protect and pass on this heritage to future generations.
At the Irish Heritage Trust, we are committed to preserving Ireland’s rich built and natural heritage. As we gaze through the beautifully restored castle windows, we hope the stories etched in glass, timber and stone will endure for many generations to come… and maybe share a few more secrets along the way.
Contractor National Gates and Joinery
Conservation Consultants Anú Heritage
Architects MRA Architects
Photography Andrew Campion Photography
Funding Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, and property funds
Site Ownership: Teagasc