‘A Really Incredible Discovery’: This Centuries-Old Secret Room Was Just Discovered In Ireland’s Johnstown Castle

Published August 21, 2023
Updated March 12, 2024

The secret room is just the latest discovery at the Wexford County, Ireland castle, as restorations at the site also uncovered a secret room under another lakeside tower last year.

Secret Room At Johnstown Castle

Irish Heritage TrustThe room may have been sealed off centuries ago because of a “tragedy.”

Johnstown Castle in Wexford County, Ireland, looks like the kind of place that contains secrets. Grand, gothic, and over 800 years old, the fortress practically oozes intrigue. Recent restoration work has started to chip away at its mysteries — and has just revealed a centuries-old forgotten room.

“This is a really incredible discovery,” Anne O’Donoghue, CEO of the Irish Heritage Trust, said to Irish Central. “It is highly unusual to find additional hidden treasures in heritage properties and this is the second time that this has happened at Johnstown castle following our discovery of a secret room under the tower at the lake just last year.”

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Episode 84: History Happy Hour, August 2023
Whether it's the discovery of a secret room in an Irish castle or the anniversary of England's infamous Great Train Robbery of 1963, welcome to "History Happy Hour" for August 2023.

As the BBC reports, the secret room was discovered by a carpenter who was working on one of the castle’s windows. After breaking through a section of wall, contractors stumbled upon the small hidden room, which appeared to have been mysteriously sealed up some years before.

But why? The Johnstown Castle manager, Brenda Comerford, speculated that some undefined tragedy may have had something to do with it.

Johnstown Castle In Wexford

Johnstown CastleJohnstown Castle is more than 800 years old and seems to contain its fair share of secrets.

“This room has been covered up for a very long time. It is part of one of the towers and looking around it, on initial inspection we think it was most likely a small turret bedroom,” Comerford explained.

“There is quite a tragic family history associated with Johnstown Castle, so this room could have been sealed off due to a tragedy, which would have happened in times past, who knows? We will need to investigate this further.”

The original castle dates back some 850 years. It was held by a rotation of aristocratic families for centuries before it was taken over by the Irish state in 1945.

These families included the Esmonde family, who built the original castle after the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1169, and the Grogan family, who acquired the castle after the Esmondes were pushed out by Oliver Cromwell.

Under their ownership, the castle suffered one of its most well-known tragedies. At the end of the 18th century, Cornelius Grogan was hanged by the British for his participation in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Despite this, the Grogan family managed to maintain ownership of the castle.

Cornelius Grogan Memorial

David Hawgood/Wikimedia CommonsCornelius Grogan’s execution is one of Johnstown Castle’s most well-known tragedies.

They went on to develop the castle grounds, transforming it into the stunning site that visitors can see today.

But there are plenty of parts of Johnstown Castle that visitors don’t see — and even experts have been surprised to uncover. After opening the castle to the public in 2019, the Irish Heritage Trust launched “substantial” conservation and restoration efforts which have, so far, revealed two secret rooms.

Having found the secret room beneath the lakeside tower, and now the secret room in the castle turret, those involved in the restoration are eager to see what they find next.

“We’re discovering secrets all the time here at Johnstown Castle,” Comerford noted to Irish Central, “and that’s mainly thanks to the support of our visitors, our members at the Irish Heritage Trust and the Department of Heritage who provide the funding so we can carry out these restoration works and secure the future of the castle.”

After reading about the secret room discovered in Johnstown Castle, look through these stunning photos of McDermott’s Castle, the Irish fortress with a haunting secret. Or, learn about Dunluce Castle, the windswept castle ruins on the coast of Northern Ireland.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "‘A Really Incredible Discovery’: This Centuries-Old Secret Room Was Just Discovered In Ireland’s Johnstown Castle." AllThatsInteresting.com, August 21, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/johnstown-castle-secret-room. Accessed April 18, 2024.