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Monday 27 January 2020

Launch of new book on Johnstown Castle coats of arms

Orla Boyle, Peter Henry and Rebecca Hill at the event
Orla Boyle, Peter Henry and Rebecca Hill at the event

Maria Pepper

Peter Henry, the author of a new book 'The Heraldry of Johnstown Castle' was thanked by curator Matt Wheeler for sharing his knowledge and shedding a light on the mystery surrounding many of the emblems and coats of arms around the estate.

At the launch of the book in Johnstown's new visitor centre, Mr Wheeler said: 'We have known about these heraldic emblems in Johnstown and admired them for many years and we've had a few vague theories about what might they might mean'.

'You came along about three years ago and you spent a lot of time decoding some of the mystery surrounding them, shedding tremendous light on their meaning and some of the families who were entitled to display them,' said Matt.

'You have been able to decode and demystify that hidden bit of history for us. It was a voyage of discovery really for you and us', he said, thanking Peter on behalf of Johnstown Castle volunteers who were led on a tour of the estate by the author to have a look at some of the heraldic features.

Mr Wheeler said it was a pleasure for himself and his wife Anne to discover some of the emblems afresh through Peter's eyes.

'Everytime you came down we found a new emblem that we had missed'.

'I'm delighted you were able to set aside a big chunk of time to collate all the information into one user-friendly book like this and to share your knowledge with everyone, including local historians.'

'It is a beautifully produced book and I'm sure it will be a great success'.

The author said he has had an interest in heraldry from his college days. He first took photographs of coats of arms in the castle and tried to identify emblems at the entrance in early 2016.

A colleague in work suggested he get in touch with Matt Wheeler 'who could not have been more helpful' when he approached him.

'We see heraldry almost daily but don't think much about it. Here, in Wexford, there are two coats of arms we see all the time: the three ships of Wexford town, which dates to the early 17th century and maybe earlier; and the county coat of arms, which isn't so old - it goes back to 1988.

'So, while heraldry is used for counties and towns, it's also used for people. And that's what we see here at Johnstown, coats of arms representing the people who owned the estate, the Esmondes before Cromwell, and the Grogans and their descendants afterwards. Other names who married members of the Grogan family are represented, so we see Reynolds, Jervis, Knox, Coote, Fitzgerald, Rowe and Forbes. We also see Morgan, after Hamilton Knox Grogan acquired his late cousin's name - and more importantly, his money'.

Peter carried out research in the manuscript room of the National Library where he was shown to 'an entire trolley full of material' in which he discovered emblems of the families in seals, letterheads and other documents.

Another source of archive material was the records of the Ulster King of Arms and the College of Arms in London.

Peter said he had taken one small aspect of the castle's history and focused on that.

'Now that the castle is open for the first time and more people's curiousity is piqued, I hope that other avenues of research will be pursued.

'There are so many aspects: political, personal, architectural, cultural. What would be especially interesting would be to get to know the people behind these coats of arms and try to get at their personalities, to learn about their pastimes and interests'

Peter, a former sub-editor with People Newspapers, Wexford and now editor of the 'Sligo Weekender', said he was very grateful to Matt Wheeler, Anne Wheeler and Brenda Comerford at Johnstown Castle for their help with the project.

'The castle is on the way to becoming Ireland's top south east attraction. I'm glad to have made a small contribution to making Johnstown great again'.

The book is on sale in Johnstown and Wexford Book Centre and is also available on eBay.

Wexford People

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