Even though it was a little damp on our visit – well, it rained – we still thoroughly enjoyed the gardens and lake walks. At about four kilometres, it will take you about an hour. But you’ll be so busy looking at the ornamental gardens, towers, castles, statues, and lakes, you won’t notice the time. The 140 different species of trees, swans, pheasants, and peafowl will also keep you entertained.
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Gardens and lake walks
Access to the gardens and lake walks is via the Visitor Centre. The best, the views of Johnstown Castle, is kept til the end of the walk!
First up is the Lower Lake – at 14 acres, it’s the largest inland freshwater lake in Wexford.
The five-acre Castle Lake will bring you to the Statue Walk and two follies – a round Fishing Tower and a square tower. You can imagine the ladies of leisure strolling along the terraced statue walkway, with a fabulous view of Johnstown Castle across the lake.
The nearby Garden Lake is home to yet more swans and moorhen and sits next to the Walled Garden. The Walled Garden dates to 1844 and, as was usual, features an ornamental garden and kitchen garden. The ornamental garden no doubt kept the castle in fresh flower displays, while the vegetables from the orchard graced the dining tables. All very Downton Abbey! Restoration of these gardens is still underway, by the way.
The gardens were designed by renowned architect Daniel Robertson, who also designed Wexford’s Wells House and the gardens at Powerscourt, Co Wicklow. Hence the romance of the trees, the statues, the walkways, the lakes …
The castle itself is in amazing condition and equally impressive from all sides. It was originally built by Geoffrey de Esmonde, a knight who came to Ireland with Strongbow in 1169. It passed through several owners, including one of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers, until the last private owners, the Fitzgeralds. Gifted to the State in the 1940s, guided tours are available to take you through the Gothic Revival castle.
Irish Agriculture Museum
I confess we didn’t do the Castle tour, but we did visit the Irish Agricultural Museum. Whilst tractors, farm machinery and implements are not my thing, you’d have to be impressed by the innovation on display.
I did enjoy the Bicycle Display (I do remember the High Nelly!). And there’s a lovely display of Farmhouse Kitchens dating from the 1800s, 1900s, and 1950s. The Great Famine exhibition is very impressive. It sets the Famine in the context of the potato blight that hit Europe and the US at the same time. It shows how potato production fell during the Famine years and how economic policies impacted the population so badly.
Really, there’s something for everyone in this Museum. If, like me, harvest machinery and horse-drawn carriages leave you cold, there’s loads of social history to learn from. And, if you have a machinery nut in your life, they’ll surely enjoy the ploughing and power exhibitions, the hydraulics, and harnesses!