Bringing Places to Life

Photo of Johnstown Castle with lake view in front

Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens nominated for prestigious International Tourism Award

November 11th 2020: The majestic Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum and Gardens, in County Wexford has been nominated for the British Guild of Travel Writer’s International Tourism Awards.

The fairy-tale neo gothic Castle which opened to the public for the first time in its history just last year is the only Irish visitor attraction to secure a nomination in the prestigious British Guild of Travel Writers (‘BGTW’) International Tourism Awards 2020. The BGTW International Tourism Awards (‘ITA’) scheme recognises excellence in tourism projects.

In 2019 Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum and Gardens was opened featuring a 200-metre servant’s tunnel, a new world-class visitor centre and café plus a playground and stunning lake walks. Situated in 120 acres, the property saw the completion of €7.5m investment by Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine which was overseen by The Irish Heritage Trust. This investment enabled the estate to deliver a stunning destination visitor offering in Ireland’s south-east, enticing international and national visitors.

Following a visit to this historic property, Travel writer, Isabel Conway nominated Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens for their new tourism offering, calling it "a national treasure" and saying it truly merits being nominated for an International Tourism Award.

At Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum and Gardens, visitors are invited to enjoy a three-in-one experience with tours of the ornate gothic revival castle on offer, a self-guided experience at the Irish Agricultural Museum as well as the Daniel Robertson designed gardens. The lush parklands, which are adorned with three lakes bordered by woodland walks, offer the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the views or explore the abundance of wildlife and nature on offer.

I nominated Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens as a national treasure as at last, it is fully accessible to the public for the first time in its history. This jewel of Ireland's Ancient East has had a roller coaster fascinating history dating back to the arrival of the Normans, offering a snapshot into the privileged lives of the gentry who occupied the sumptuous neo-gothic mansion that evolved from the original turreted building.  No stone was left unturned in this new visitor attraction including the restoration of the castle, to make this a world-class, successful tourist attraction and local amenity including a lovely visitor centre, gift shop and café. The Irish Agricultural Museum in buildings used for soil research over decades explores rural life in Ireland and houses a fascinating collection of 19 permanent exhibitions” said Isabel Conway.

“I felt there is no better example of community spirit pulling together with the Irish Heritage Trust's expertise than this important Irish landmark. I was delighted to nominate Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum and Gardens for a British Guild of Travel Writers Tourism Award of excellence,” she continued.

Destinations and attractions can only be nominated for these awards based on merit and can only be voted for by international travel writer members of the BGTW. The Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens nomination has gone through a rigorous screening process to make it to the 2020 voting stage.

Commenting on the nomination, Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of The Irish Heritage Trust, an independent not-for-profit which manages and cares for the property said, “We are delighted to be nominated for this international award recognising the huge success to date of Johnstown Castle Estate Museum & Gardens which would not have been possible without the significant involvement of many supporters since our opening. These include the local community, our team of over 120 dedicated volunteers and our 6,000 plus members. Our work at The Irish Heritage Trust is guided by the principles of ‘People, Place and Participation’ because we believe that the greater the number of people who build relationships with special places, the stronger those properties will be into the future”.

The next stage of the awards process is a private guild member voting opportunity to choose a shortlist for the four categories: Best UK and Ireland Tourism Project; Best Europe Tourism Project; Best Wider World Tourism Project and NEW for 2020 – ‘The Armchair Award’ which will be hosted online by very well-known veteran BBC presenter best known for the travel programme ‘Wish You Were Here’ Judith Chalmers.  The winners will then be announced at the awards ceremony, which will be held in London in 2021.


Old drawing of Johnstown Castle, Wexford


The Irish Heritage Trust is delighted to have received two grants from the Heritage Council’s “Community Heritage Grant” for the conservation of two significant archives at its properties, Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum & Gardens, Wexford and Strokestown Park and the National Famine Museum, Roscommon. A total of 313 applications were made to the Heritage Council of Ireland for the Community Heritage Grant, and the Trust has been awarded two of the 68 that were successful.

These archive conservation projects are now underway with our dedicated and specialised teams on the ground and we look forward to sharing the progress of this work, as part of the Irish Heritage Trust’s “Conservation in Action” programme. Please check our social media for updates on the work which will be completed before the end of November.

The Irish Agricultural Museum (IAM) Archive at Johnstown Castle, Wexford, was awarded a grant of €15,000 from the Heritage Council of Ireland to improve the preservation, conservation and access to the Archive which is currently inaccessible to visitors.

The Irish Agricultural Museum Archive is one of Ireland's great, but little known treasures. The archive holds one of the most comprehensive collections of documentary material related to Irish agricultural machinery in Ireland and offers an invaluable representation of Ireland's agricultural history and heritage. The primary threat to the archive is the unsatisfactory environmental conditions and fragile state of the rare estate maps, both of which inhibit their positive public use, research and interpretation.

The grant will support upgrading the archive equipment which will greatly facilitate in safeguarding the collection of 6,000 books, a rare collection of 19th-century estate records, maps, and 1,000 agricultural records for future generations. Paper conservation of seven rare estate maps and architectural plans of the Johnstown Castle estate will be carried out by Dr Pat McBride of The Paper Conservation Studio. A new display case will allow the archive, and newly conserved estate records, to be showcased to the public in the Museum for the first time, and for many years to come.

"We look forward to safeguarding the Irish Agricultural Museum archive collection which will significantly help in preserving this rare collection for future generations. The general public will have access to the archive through temporary displays in the Irish Agricultural Museum and we look forward to creating greater visitor engagement with the archive, both locally and nationally. The project will also build awareness and understanding of Irish agricultural history", says Dr. Emma O'Toole, Collections and Interpretation Manager at the Irish Heritage Trust.

At Strokestown Park, a grant of €8,000 has been awarded for the “Professional conservation of 90 paper leases in the Strokestown Park Archives, as part of the professional cataloguing and preservation of the documents”. The Archive at Strokestown Park is a rare example of an intact Estate Records Collection dating from the late C18th to the mid C20th centuries. In 2019 a professional archivist, Martin Fagan, was appointed to process the collection with the aim of making this resource publicly accessible to researchers.

Conservation work will be carried out by an ICRI accredited conservator, Benjamin van de Wetering of The Ox Bindery. The aim is to make these C18th-C19th leases accessible to the community of historical researchers who will be encouraged to use these newly opened records as a historical source. These will also be interesting for academics, who will extract quantitative data on tenant-occupied land on a typical landed estate prior to the Famine. "This fascinating resource will be of great interest to local or family historians who will find references to tenant names and townlands for a period in Irish history where few census records survive", said Archivist Martin Fagan who is working on the project. "These C18th-C19th leases, used in conjunction with Estate Rentals and 100 previously-conserved leases, will provide researchers with a unique overview of small-scale landholding on the estate prior to the upheaval and depopulation of The Famine", he continued.

The National Famine Museum at Strokestown will open as a new state-of–the-art Museum in late 2021 thanks to funding from Fáilte Ireland and private philanthropy. An example of a conserved lease will be displayed in the new museum. /

This project received funding from the Heritage Council and the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage in 2020.

People strollng along path beside Royal Canal in sunshine

Launch of National Famine Way Passport/Guide


  • Printed passport, map and guide with 27 stage stamps
  • Local communities to benefit with expected €2 million economic impact
  • Trail available 365 days a year for walkers and cyclists

10th September 2020: A new interactive outdoor experience the National Famine Way, was launched today by the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park with the establishing of a unique National Famine Way Passport/Guide and OSI Trail Map.

The 14-page National Famine Way Passport/Guide highlights local historical landmarks and allows walkers and cyclists to record their progress with 27 stage stamps along the specially developed route. The Trail details the ill-fated journey of 1,490 famine emigrants who walked from Strokestown Park to ships in Dublin in 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine. A completion certificate is awarded at the end of the Trail at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum.

The National Famine Way is an accredited 165km Heritage and Arts Trail from Strokestown Park, Co. Roscommon through six counties to Dublin, mostly along the Royal Canal. With its captivating layers of history and culture, the Trail is designed to be accessible for families, schools, casual walkers and cyclists, through to famine and historical enthusiasts. It offers a safe, recreational option available 365 days a year in a self-guided and paced format with signposting and trailheads along the route.

The new Passport/Guide is centred around the walk of one of the original famine walkers from Strokestown Park - 12 year-old Daniel Tighe - who remarkably survived the horrific journey to Quebec, Canada on one of the worst famine ships. Award-winning author Marita Conlon-McKenna has written vignettes reimagining Daniel’s journey in 1847 and connected to over thirty pairs of bronze children’s shoes interspersed along the route.

The National Famine Way is an integrated County collaboration between the National Famine Museum, Waterways Ireland and County Councils along the route. The Trail is topped and tailed by iconic museums – The National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum / Jeannie Johnston Replica Ship. The Passport/Guide explains the historical and cultural landmarks, broken down into distinct sections from 1km to 15km, through Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare, Fingal, ending in Dublin City Centre.

Describing what walkers and families are likely to experience, John O’Driscoll, General Manager of the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park said: “We look forward to welcoming official walkers starting from the National Famine Museum where they can get a real understanding of the Famine. We are delighted that we are now offering a Passport/Guide and OSI Trail Map to accompany this thought-provoking Trail where the #Missing1490 embarked on their journey. Walkers/cyclists are also given a ship ticket and information on one family whose footsteps they will follow, making the Trail especially evocative. As the Trail is over 165km long we envisage that many walkers and cyclists will wish to complete sections of the trail over time. The official Passport/Guide includes a 10% discount to the entrance price of the National Famine Museum as well as the Jeanie Johnston Replica Famine Ship/ EPIC The Irish Emigration and other Museums along the route”. *

Acknowledging the commitment and support of numerous partners in the project, Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust, which cares for Strokestown Park and the National Famine Museum, said: “We would like to thank Roscommon County Council for their generous support and vision for this significant project which is designed to make history and heritage accessible in an engaging way.  In addition, the commitment over the last ten years of Waterways Ireland in creating the Royal Canal Greenway by investing over €5 million, means that the National Famine Way is now available to everyone. This Heritage Trail not only links two significant Irish Museums but also makes the connection between Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and Ireland’s Ancient East. In addition to the health, historical, cultural and arts impact, the Trail also has the potential to open up rural Ireland and offer an economic boost to local communities with cycling hire, cafés, bars, shops and accommodation all benefiting with an expected economic impact of over €2 million spent along the route.”

Commenting on the historical and cultural importance of the initiative, Caroilin Callery, of the Irish Heritage Trust and National Famine Museum added, “As walkers and cyclists experience the natural beauty of the National Famine Way Heritage Trail, the Passport/Guide and OSI Map incentivises them to explore lesser-known sections by slowly unfolding the rich local history wrapped in the journey of famine emigrants. They will also be reminded of our history, through a mix of evocative storytelling, song, art installations and cultural centres along the route. The Passport/Guide brings the historical journey of the 1,490 Famine emigrants alive by allowing them to follow in their footsteps 173 years later.

To book your participation along the route, or for more information please go here:

*Although walkers and cyclists can avail of the Trail for free, the passport is on sale for €10 and available online and from the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park.  In addition to the passport stamping, guide and map it also offers discounted access to Strokestown Park House, Croke Park Museum, the Jeannie Johnson Famine Ship and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum.

The National Famine Way Passport/Guide and OSI Map is an integrated inter County collaboration between Waterways Ireland and county councils along the route: Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare, Fingal and Dublin. It has been developed by Strokestown Park House, the National Famine Museum, and the Irish Heritage Trust in partnership with Waterways Ireland and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. This project was part funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development under the Outdoor Recreation improvement scheme


In May of 1847, the worst year of the Famine, 1,490 people from Strokestown in Co. Roscommon walked 165kms from Strokestown to Dublin and were then transported to Liverpool.  They then boarded some of the worst “coffin ships” which took them on a nightmare journey to Quebec in Canada – only half of those who set-off arrived in Quebec.

The group of walkers, who subsequently became known as the “Missing 1,490”, were tenants of the local landlord Major Denis Mahon who offered them the grim choice of emigration (through “assisted passage”) or starvation on their blighted potato patch farms or a place in the terrifying local workhouse. The story of the #Missing1490 has led to a research programme by the University of Toronto to uncover the life stories the ‘#Missing 1490’ which is slowly following family threads in America and Canada.

Strokestown Park and the National Famine Museum

Archival documents discovered in Strokestown Park House reveal that 1,490 men women and children were “walked” under the close surveillance of the Mahon estate bailiff John Robinson along the canal towpaths, from Strokestown to the Quays in Dublin and then on to Liverpool where they boarded four different ships for the perilous voyage to Quebec.  Since 2015, Strokestown Park House & The National Famine Museum has been managed by the Irish Heritage Trust, an independent not-for-profit organisation. 

Take the Trail


The Irish Heritage Trust is to host the historical exhibition "A Forgotten Polish Hero of the Great Irish Famine: Paul Strzelecki’s Struggle to Save Thousands" at its properties during the summer and autumn 2020.  This exhibition by the Polish Embassy in Dublin explores the fascinating life and achievements of one of the great humanitarians of the 19th century, whose contributions to Irish Famine relief have yet to be widely known and commemorated.  The tour of the exhibition begins at the National Famine Museum, Strokestown Park, Roscommon from 1st July to 4th August.  

“The Irish Heritage Trust is delighted to display this exhibition at the National Famine Museum and at our other historic properties in the summer and autumn; Fota House & Gardens, Cork  (15th August – 4th October) and Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum & Gardens, Wexford, (17th October – 29th November),” said Dr. Emma O’Toole, Collections & Interpretation Manager at the Irish Heritage Trust. The exhibition is in English and entrance is included in the entrance fee to the property.

Count Paul (Paweł) Strzelecki, a world-renowned Polish explorer and scientist, volunteered to work in Ireland to combat raging Famine over a three-year period (1847-49) as the main agent of the British Relief Association (B.R.A). Despite suffering from the effects of typhoid fever he contracted in Ireland, Strzelecki dedicated himself tirelessly to hunger relief. His commitment was widely recognized and praised by his contemporaries, and this exhibition endeavours to bring his achievements and legacy back into the public eye.

The content of the exhibition was commissioned by the Polish Embassy from leading experts in the field – Prof. Peter Gray (Queen’s University Belfast) and Assoc. Prof. Emily Mark-FitzGerald (University College Dublin) – and includes several rarely seen images of Famine relief and charity, drawn from collections of major museums and libraries in Ireland, Britain, Australia and the United States.

In order to alleviate the critical situation of famished Irish families and especially children, Strzelecki developed a visionary and exceptionally effective mode of assistance: feeding starving children directly through the schools. He extended daily food rations to schoolchildren across the most famine-stricken western part of Ireland, while also distributing clothing and promoting basic hygiene. At its peak in 1848, around 200,000 children from all denominations were being fed through the efforts of the B.R.A., many of whom would have otherwise perished from hunger and disease.

For information on other venues and dates visit


Three people looking up at columns in hall at Fota House

Fota House Receives Museum Standards Award


Tuesday 30th June 2020: On the eve of re-opening Fota House, Cork on 1st July, the Irish Heritage Trust is pleased to announce that Fota House has been awarded full Museum Re-Accreditation in recognition of its high standards in museum management, collections care, education and visitor services. This is awarded by the Heritage Council of Ireland under its Museum Standards Programme for Ireland (MSPI).

Fota House is one of five Irish Museums to be re-accredited with the top award of Full Accreditation this year which requires complying with 34 standards under the MSPI. Four more Irish Museums will be awarded Full Accreditation. Fota House was awarded Full Museum Accreditation status in 2016 and has undergone a comprehensive assessment over the last year in order to maintain this status.

In receiving full Re-Accreditation, Fota House joins the distinguished list of sites and historic properties with full Museum Standards including Farmleigh House, (Dublin) Castletown House (Kildare), Muckross House (Killarney), Chester Beatty Library & National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin).

The MSPI was established by the Heritage Council of Ireland in 2006 to benchmark and promote professional standards in the care of collections and to recognise the achievement of those standards through the Irish museum sector. The programme recognises excellence in caring for collections, museum management, education, exhibition and visitor services

Speaking about the MSPI Re-Accreditation in advance of the re-opening of Fota House, Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust, which owns and cares for the property, commented:

“We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to prepare to re-open the house in a safe manner for all to enjoy once again. The recent news of Museum status from the Heritage Council is a very welcome boost for our team who have worked very hard on the detailed process to attain and maintain this prestigious award. We are delighted that Fota House will offer a new art tour that will highlight our unique art collection, and showcase new acquisitions and temporary exhibitions.”

Speaking about the Fota collection and the importance of this Museum Standards Award, the Irish Heritage Trust’s Collections and Interpretation Manager, Dr Emma O’Toole said:

“Achieving full Re-Accreditation under The Heritage Council of Ireland’s Museum Standards Programme marks a significant milestone for Fota House. It is the culmination of years of work by the Irish Heritage Trust team, by improving our visitor experience through exhibitions, new acquisitions, and conservation projects. Fota House and its collection are of local and national importance, and it is through participating in the MSPI that we have enhanced our ability to preserve and protect these collections for future generations”.

Commenting on the Re-Accreditation achievement, the MSPI Assessor stated: “It is very encouraging to see ongoing progress as the Irish Heritage Trust continues to apply and invest in standards underpinning the MSPI programme. Particularly evident is a strong emphasis on the quality of visitor experience, and a high standard in volunteer management, both of which are contributing greatly to the sustainability of Fota House, with a growing number and range of volunteers…These strengths are supported by a core of excellent collections management and care, underpinning the richness of the offer at Fota House. It is particularly heartening to hear about new acquisitions relating to the history of Fota House, adding depth to the authenticity of the interpretation”.

For more details about Fota House’s re-opening, please click here:

Conservation in Action at Johnstown Castle

During July and August 2019, one of our most valued artworks, the portrait of Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan and his family by the artist E. T. Parris, was conserved by painting conservator, Pearl O’Sullivan. This painting has resided in the castle since its completion in the 1830s and over the years, layers of dust, UV light and gaseous pollutants caused the surface of the painting to become yellowish in colour and the varnish to desaturate, which created a pattern of cracking to appear across the paint surface.

This important piece of artwork was moved from the Dining Room to the Flag Hall, where - over the course of five weeks - discoloured varnish was removed and retouched, which brought the artist’s palette back to the forefront. Visitors to the castle were able to look on and enjoy 'conservation in action' while Pearl conserved the painting by removing layers of surface dirt that had gathered on the painting since it was first created in the mid-nineteenth century.

Pearl painstakingly removed the surface damage, while simultaneously retouching areas that had deteriorated. She then re-varnished the painting using a conservation grade synthetic resin, which will protect the painting, giving it long-lasting stability for up to one hundred years. On completion of this restoration work, during National Heritage Week in August  Pearl gave a talk to members and volunteers, taking them through her discoveries and the different conservation stages involved.

Watch a short clip of the restoration taking place by clicking here 

Photo of Johnstown Castle with lake view in front


We look forward to welcoming you to Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum & Gardens, Wexford’s greatest surviving country estate, to enjoy the recently restored Gothic Revival Castle which is open for guided tours for the first time. To avoid disappointment please note that Castle tours need to be booked.  The castle tour includes the adjoining 86 metre original servants’ tunnel, believed to be the longest in the country and also opening to the public for the first time. To book, telephone 053 9184671 or click here.

An entirely new ‘3 in 1’ attraction is now open at the castle, museum and gardens. A new visitor centre is open in the castle courtyard including an extensive shop specialising in local products and a 120 seat café with outdoor terrace. No booking is required to enjoy the Ornamental Gardens and Walks or the Irish Agricultural Museum, providing a nostalgic journey through Irish farming and social history.

The Irish Heritage Trust, an independent charity, was announced in 2015 as the successful applicant to work with Teagasc, the Irish Agricultural Museum and the local community to develop a new and exciting visitor experience at Johnstown Castle which includes the famous Daniel Robertson Ornamental Gardens.

The Johnstown visitor experience also offers access to the stunning lower lake area to meander and explore, as well as new parking and entrance arrangements with ample car and coach parking.




Johnstown Castle on RTE Nationwide

We are delighted that RTE Nationwide aired a full programme on Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum and Gardens on Monday 20th May showcasing the new 3in1 attraction and the history of Johnstown Castle and the Irish Agricultural Museum.  Watch here on the RTE Player.

Go to the Johnstown Castle website to book your castle tour to avoid disappointment.

President Higgins Visits National Famine Museum at Strokestown

We were honoured to welcome President and Sabina Higgins to the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park in early July. The President officially opened the newly refurbished National Famine Museum in 2013 (which was opened in 1994 by President Mary Robinson) and was delighted to return to enjoy the fascinating Strokestown Park Famine Archive. Containing over 55,000 documents in relation to the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, it is a complete record of economic, social and estate history over a 300-year period which was discovered by chance by Jim Callery in 1979 and led to the establishment of the National Famine Museum.

President and Sabina Higgins then took a detailed tour of the National Famine Museum with John O'Driscoll, Strokestown Park's General Manager and Jim Callery as well as members of the Irish Heritage Trust Board. The Museum tells the story of the Famine and highlights the parallels between a tragic chapter of Irish History and contemporary global hunger, and President Higgins has spoken to this theme on many occasions.


President and Sabina Higgins reading documents from the Strokestown Famine Archive


The Trust and its partners at No. 11 - Poetry Ireland - have undertaken to restore, revive and enhance this beautiful 250-year old building with a fascinating history which has significant historical and architectural importance.  No. 11 will become a public amenity for everyone to enjoy and a significant cultural hub that will maintain and enhance the public function of the building including a dedicated centre for poetry ‘The Poetry Ireland Centre’, and a permanent home for Seamus Heaney’s Working Poetry Library.

We are delighted that Poetry Ireland and the Irish Heritage Trust have received planning permission for our ambitious plans to restore No. 11 Parnell Square, a historic Georgian townhouse in Dublin's north inner city and open it up for public access.

No. 11 is set to become an integral part of a visionary project to fulfil Dublin City’s ambitions for a cultural cluster with high public footfall in the Parnell Square and will join the world-renowned Gate Theatre and Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, as well as the Dublin Writers Museum, the Irish Writers Centre, The James Joyce Centre and the proposed new City Library in Dublin’s de facto literary quarter.

Learn more here where you can watch journalist Olivia O'Leary, commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, comedian Dara Ó Briain, actor Aidan Gillen, poets Paula Meehan and Paul Muldoon, Marie Heaney and the people behind the restoration of No. 11 Parnell Square tell us why Ireland needs a home for poetry.