Building and refurbishment work has started at Johnstown Castle to allow it to be opened to the public for the first time in 30 years in a €7.5 million Government-funded project which includes the construction of a new visitor centre due to be completed early next year.
Major conservation and upgrading works are being undertaken on the castle itself at the same time as building work is taking place on the visitor and interpretive centre which will incorporate a restaurant and car park.
Teagasc, the owner of the property, is overseeing the project in partnership with the Irish Heritage Trust and the Irish Agricultural Museum to secure the future of Johnstown Castle estate and gardens thanks to a Government grant covering the full cost.
Conservation works are being carried out on the three floors of the castle to make it safe and accessible before it is opened to the public.
The visitor and interpretive centre with information on the castle's history is being built behind the agricultural museum next to a new car park.
'We are delighted to report that in 2019, the castle will open to the public for the first time in 30 years', said Tom Doherty of Teagasc.
'We will be offering an exciting visitor experience with access to three floors of the castle and the original servants's tunnel along and a new visitor centre with a cafe and shop. We are also working on a new road layout which will be safer for cars and buses as well as improved paths int he gardens and grounds', he said.
Clare McGrath of the Irish Heritage Trust described Johnstown Castle as Wexford's greatest surviving country estate and a significant building of national importance.
Ms. McGrath said the conservation work allowing greater public access will include essential repairs and electrical work.
'Later, it is hoped to refurbish the main rooms but in the meantime, visitors can see inside the wonderful castle for the first time in many years', she said.
'We are delighted with the interest and passion that local people have in this special place and we hope that 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'.
The Irish Heritage Trust became involved in the project after Teagasc issued a public tender in 2015 looking for a visionary partner to come on board to re-imagine the future of Johnstown which was presented as a gift to the nation in 1945 by Maurice Victor Lakin, a descendant of John Grogan, one of the original owners.
Johnstown Castle estate was first owned by the Esmondes, a Norman family who settled in the county in the 1170's and constructed the tower houses at Johnstown and Rathlannon during the 15th or 16th century.
During the Cromwellian period of the 1640's, the estate was confiscated and changed hands several times before being acquired by John Grogan whose descendants remained in Johnstown up to 1945. It reached the height of its development by 1863 when it comprised of a large demesne of over 1,000 acres.
The castle gardens and the Irish Agricultural Museum will continue to be open to visitors during the construction period.