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Thursday 5 December 2019

Launch of new book on heraldry of Johnstown Castle

The cover of 'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle'
The cover of 'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle'

Maria Pepper

A new book has just been published which covers an obscure and colourful aspect of Wexford's most famous castle.

'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle: A Wexford Estate's Armorial History' explores the various coats of arms used by the owners of the estate over the centuries, and will be a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of Wexford history enthusiasts.

'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle', by Peter Henry, contains more than 50 photographs of coats of arms visible at the castle and contained in old manuscripts. An essay on the estate's heraldic history delves into the arcane but fascinating way in which coats of arms were used by the owners over the generations. The book also contains images of several of the owners, some of which have never been published before.

The oldest Johnstown coat of arms discussed is that of the Esmonde family, who first built a castle there in the 13th century and stayed until the Cromwellian conquest in the 17th century.

The estate eventually passed to John Grogan in the late 17th century, and it stayed with his descendants until it was given to the State in 1945. Visitors to Johnstown will have seen the coats of arms in stone at the main entrance to the castle. These represent John Grogan and several of his descendants. With the help of this book, people will now be able to tell which shield represents which castle proprietor.

The inside of the castle was opened to visitors earlier this year for the first time. Many of the rooms contain heraldic decorations connected to Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan, the man who built the castle as we know it today. With the aid of 'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle', a visitor can identify these and find out what the various parts of Mr Grogan Morgan's complicated coat of arms signified.

The book takes a short detour to the midlands. Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan's daughter Jane married the Earl of Granard, from Longford. Jane is buried at the Catholic Church in Newtownforbes, Co. Longford, and over the entrance to the mausoleum is the coat of arms of her husband. At its centre is a small griffin - a reference to his Wexford wife.

Jane's daughter Adelaide became Johnstown's last great proprietor. She is better known to posterity by her married name, Lady Maurice FitzGerald. She didn't leave much of a heraldic legacy, according to the book. The only surviving coat of arms from Lady Maurice FitzGerald's time is on a tiny livery button, which those taking the castle tour can see on display in one of the rooms.

Peter Henry is a former sub-editor at the People Newspapers, Wexford and is currently the editor of the Sligo Weekender. Many of the photographs in the book were taken by another former sub-editor at The People, Michael Harpur, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Peter said: 'A few years ago I attempted to identify the coats of arms at the entrance to the castle. Very quickly I'd collected a lot of information about them and discovered other Johnstown-related coats of arms hidden in manuscripts in the National Library. I thought it would be good to collate all of the information into a book, especially as nothing like this had been done before for Johnstown Castle.

'Heraldry is quite an esoteric subject. But I think that visitors to Johnstown and anyone curious about the estate's history will find 'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle' interesting.'

Peter said: 'I'm very grateful to Matt Wheeler, Anne Wheeler and Brenda Comerford at Johnstown Castle for their help with the project. It wouldn't have been possible without them.'

The book will be launched at the new visitor centre at Johnstown Castle this Saturday, November 23, at 3 p.m. Copies will be available to purchase for €18. The book is also available on eBay.

Wexford People

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