Yikes! I’m illustrating ALL THIS!!!!!! Johnstown Castle, Wexford.
Imagine a fairy tale about an enchanted castle. Closed and forgotten for decades, its huge iron gates shut and locked every nightfall. The only sounds are the call of the peacocks.
But now the immense castle is coming back to life. Within its grounds, an artist has been working away, to be released at dawn when her magical painting of this grand palace is complete and the gates can be thrown open to the public.
To start at the beginning…when Johnstown Castle invited me to paint a large illustration of the castle on the wall of their new visitor centre, I jumped in the car and headed down to Wexford for a midsummer mini-adventure.
Neo-gothic splendour in Wexford
Johnstown Castle, near Wexford town, is the greatest surviving country estate in the county, never before open to the public. This impressive ‘house’ was the first property of this vast scale commissioned in Ireland by a non-titled family (the Grogans). Back then, in the early 1800s, the gothic revival was the hot new thing.
I’m sure their no-holding-back mega-mansion wowed all their visitors. The Grogans were flaunting it, bigtime!
Now the entire demesne - glorious gardens, romantic ruins, extensive woodlands, Irish Agricultural Museum, and the house itself - has been restored and is ready to be discovered. With the official name of Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens to sum it all up.
This is the latest property to join the Irish Heritage Trust portfolio of historic sites. The ornamental gardens, including sunken Italian garden, are magnificent, designed by the same person who created Powerscourt. (Daniel Robertson). And the original residence, a 12th century Norman tower house, still stands. There’s more... lakes, a servants' tunnel, waterfall, statues...the works!
And strutting their stuff as if they own the place, dozens of very vocal proud peacocks.
So many peacocks, I was having Technicolor dreams about them.
The castle itself was such a treat to draw, with its detailed stonework, imposing turrets, battlements, crenellated parapets (showing off here – me and the house) and variety of medieval-inspired windows. I learned so many new techniques for scaling up and creating impact.
Admiring the view.
The Morgan Connection
As part of the restoration being carried out with the Irish Heritage Trust, Pearl O’Sullivan, a specialist painting restorer, was working away while I was there. Fascinating to see her artistry and pick up an idea or two! So if you visit, do take time to study the lovingly restored artwork.
Among the paintings, Pearl revitalised - this really quite blingtastic portrait of Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan and family. Hmmmm...a distant relation perhaps?
Proud owners, the Morgans. Notice any resemblance? The hair maybe? Taste in clothes?
Fairytale Johnstown forest
My home for the stay was in a little cottage on the grounds, a bit of a trek from the castle itself (the estate is huuuuuuuge!).
Every night the creaking iron gates of the demesne would be locked; I’d take my ring of rusty ancient keys and walk down a long, winding lane through the woods. Past the lake, tailed by noisy peacocks, and watched by foxes, rooks and owls, to my wee cottage in the trees.
Wonderland by day, little Red Riding Hood forest by night.
Not only is my illustration supersized on the wall of the visitor centre it can also be purchased as a linen tea towel from their gift shop.