By Dan Walsh
Sunday was a brilliant autumnal day. The sun was shining brightly, pleasant at around 14 degrees with a perfect calmness, and with the Covid-19 restrictions at Level 3, I washed my hands, wore my face covering, and observed social distancing amongst the natural environment meandering the ancient walkways in the grounds of Johnstown Castle.
It was a relaxing experience. Everywhere looked magnificent, the trees and shrubs swapping to their autumn coating, the lakes were reflecting the sky, the ducks were swimmingly sublime, the birds were taking off and returning, obviously they had food on their mind, and the fish… well, I didn’t see any… they were foraging in the deep and keeping their heads under water!
And while the place was busy, generally the families and the kids, a notable absence of more mature citizens, there was an atmosphere that makes you think… perhaps, we don’t slow down enough and soak up the beauty that exists in our county on a day that the ‘sunny south east’ expression was true to its meaning.
As Liam Gaul wrote in his local history classic publication Johnstown Castle and I quote; “The grey architectural pile of the castle dominates the scene like a sleeping giant with so many tales to relate of conquest, eviction and patriot allegiance. The long occupancy from Norman knight and Cromwellian soldier to the demise of Lady Adelaide Fitzgerald resulted in the castle and estate being gifted to the Irish State in 1945.”
As I wandered through the grounds today, the thought that struck me was reflection on the generosity of Lady Fitzgerald in the first place, and secondly, that the Irish State had the wisdom to retain the property and transform it into a public space promoting relaxation, tourism and everything that is positive about strong mental health. The fresh air and the freedom.
On December 28th 1944, Dorothy Violet Jefferies of Carrigbyrne, Adamstown (The Settler) and Maurice Victor Lakin of Horetown, Foulksmills, and the Minister of Agriculture, signed an act of agreement “whereby the lands, tenements, hereditaments, and premises formerly part of the family estates were given to the nation.”
Seventy-five years has passed since the ink dried on that sacred covenant, the lakes have been iced over on many winter occasions, the castle has stood tall and is now open to visitors, and in recent times, a whole new visitor experience has been added for the pleasure and convenience of us all – a visit to Johnstown Castle is an experience that is never forgotten.