Johnstown, Co Kilkenny

Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, used to be on the main road from Dublin to Cork: just north of Urlingford-of-the-buses, it has now been bypassed, and its delights can be appreciated more easily. In particular, it has an elegant diamond where the R435 to Freshford and the R502 to Templemore cross the old N7 from Dublin to Cork.

The north-west corner

The north-west corner

The south-west corner

The south-west corner

The north-east corner

The north-east corner

The south-west corner: one of two buildings (this oen had music coming from the roof)

The south-west corner: one of two buildings (this one had music coming from the roof)

The south-west corner: the silent building

The south-west corner: the silent building

Canal Road, Johnstown

Canal Road, Johnstown

The road to the west, where the tractor is going, is the R502 to Templemore, Co Tipperary (a road that, about half way along, crosses a bog and has one of the worst surfaces in Ireland). But at this point, it is called Canal Road. To the trained historian (and even to this amateur), a name like that is a clue: it suggests that there is, or was, a canal nearby.

And indeed a canal is marked as such on the 1839/1842 OS map and shown on the Griffiths Valuation map, but I haven’t seen it mentioned in anything I’ve read. I understand it to be a cut bypassing a section of the River Goul and to have been dug by order of a member of the Hely family, who owned Johnstown and had their seat at Violet Hill (according to Lewis: there is reference elsewhere to Hely of Foulkscourt, which is nearby).

Maps both old and new show an elaborate network of cuts in the area, perhaps having been used to drain bogs. I understand that Coillte, the forestry authority, owns some of the land and may have damaged a Hely boathouse. The historian Susan Garrett of Johnstown has very kindly promised to send me some information about the canal. But in the meantime, here are some photos of features that may be relevant. Without local knowledge, I can’t be sure what they were for. All of these photos are of a small area quite close to Johnstown, near a sharp bend in the road.

First, here is the River Goul, which seems to be popular with anglers.  This marks the western end of the area of study.

The River Goul north of the road

The River Goul south of the road

Evidence of identification

Evidence of identification (looking north)

Another shot looking upriver

Another shot looking north

Now, back eastwards, starting at the side closest to Johnstown. What looks like a realignment of the road gave me somewhere to park …

A place to park

A place to park

… while turning left to photograph a drain. This looks far too narrow ever to have been a canal, but I couldn’t resist the little bridge.

The smallest bridge

The smallest bridge (looking north)

Panning left (west) shows the far wall of the field, which will be the next stop.

The far wall of the field

The far wall of the field

But before leaving this spot, turn through 180 degrees to face south and see this unidentified stonework. Is there a water channel under the ruin?

Ruined building

Ruined building

A moment ago we looked across at “the far wall of the field”. Here it is, with a convenient parking place (used by the Goul anglers).

The far wall and the parking place

The far wall and the parking place

At this point the road has curved around and is heading roughly north, but at the parking place it makes a sharp left turn to head west. A water channel seems to be heading for the road but doesn’t quite make it.

The watercourse

The channel 1

Venturing into the trees behind the parking place provides another shot of the water …

The channel 2

The channel 2

… and shows that it was probably heading for this bridge …

The bridge (north-east side)

The bridge (north-east side)

… which emerges on the bend here.

The bridge (south-west side)

The bridge (south-west side)

The channel would fit the line shown for Old Canal on the OS map. It is not clear from the map where it went after the bridge, but I think it rejoined the Goul. (It is also possible that goods arriving by road were transferred here to boats and carried to Foulkscourt.) The map also shows a line of blue (not marked as a canal) roughly where The smallest bridge is.

The OS map shows several straight channels in a bog to the south of the road, all connected to the Goul and (probably) to the canal.North of the road, the canal goes quite close to Foulkscourt House (with a little network of watercourses) but neither the canal nor the Goul passes particularly close to Violet Hill, which was to the south-east of the road.

I have failed to find anything written about this waterway, so I await enlightenment from local experts.

By the way, I know there are Canal Roads in Letterkenny and Tralee,  but what about anywhere else? And what sort of canal did Letterkenny have?


14 responses to “Johnstown, Co Kilkenny

  1. Hi paul
    Have not forgotten to get info for you. Just making sure what i have is correct. Back to you over the weekend.

  2. Madeleine Gannon-Crowley

    Wonderful photos. Any idea of records of families living in Foulkscourt in early 1800s?

  3. Madeleine

    Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of 1837 should be available free in some online places. It includes this:

    FARTAGH, or FERTAGH, a parish, partly in the barony of CRANAGH, but chiefly in that of GALMOY, county of KILKENNY, and province of LEINSTER, 8 miles (S. W.) from Durrow, on the mail coach road from Athy to Cashel; containing, with the post-town of Johnstown (which is described under its own head), 3205 inhabitants. A priory for Canons Regular of the order of St. Augustine was founded here in the 13th century by the Blanchfield family, which, after its dissolution, was granted by Queen Elizabeth to a member of the family of Butler. The ancient chapel is still remaining, and contains a large table monument with the recumbent figure of a warrior, and formerly of a female by his side, supposed to be members of the Fitzpatrick family; and another tomb with a female figure, having a singular bead dress. A few yards to the west of this building are the roofless remains of an ancient round tower, still 96 feet high and cracked from the doorway to the summit The parish comprises 6353 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and valued at £4067 per annum, which, with the exception of a very small portion of wood and a little waste, is good arable and pasture land. Near Ballyspelln is a quarry of fine limestone used for tombstones. The principal seats are Violet Hill, the residence of Gorges Hely, Esq.; Melross, of C. Hely, Esq.; andEllenville, of Mrs. Hely. Fowks Court, formerly the residence of Chief Justice Hely, and now the property of his descendant, G. Hely, Esq., was a very handsome seat, but is now in ruins. […]


  4. very intresting photographs and some information. im surprised their’s no picture of the square. i was told the square is protected. can you gives me more information of the area please

  5. Arnold

    My website is about waterways so, although I do have photos of the square, they don’t belong on this site. There is a photo on the Wikipedia page. If you don’t mind large files, I can email a photo to you. bjg

  6. Norma Laurence

    Lots of information and pictures too. I’ve just recently discovered my GGrandmother was born in Johnstown c1842. Could you suggest where I could look for more information. Although I am aware your site is about waterways I feel sure you must have a wealth of information at your fingertips. I would be very grateful for any help.

  7. I’m not a genealogist, but you might start with a look at the National Archives website, which includes a list of links to other sites. Griffith’s Valuation may be useful. I’ve heard people speak highly of Genuki, but I’ve never used it myself. There are lots of genelaogical services around, some of which might be mistaken for official bodies; here is a government website. And the Johnstown Historical Society may be able to help, although its facebook page hasn’t been updated recently. bjg

  8. Hello i like many are trying to find family from Johnstown. My Grandfather was Thomas Murphy, and his 2 sisters one was named Lena and the I have no idea,were I understand from Johnston. My grandfather married. Mary Jane Sweeney moved to Dublin and resided on a Thomas a Street.
    Any more info greatly appreciated.
    Thank you
    Frances Sweeney

  9. If anyone comes up with anything I’ll let you know. bjg

  10. I am looking for a family member who had a farm in Johnstown. He had a farm with water running through his land. Early 1930s. The name Joseph Culley.

  11. Hello Susan Garrett;
    I understand that you write to Cindy MacDonald on Facebook in regards to my grandmother Margaret Quinlan. Yes, her mother was Bridget Stapleton of Urlingford. I was there last August. My name is Ruth Margaret Lallier. I very interested in knowing about the family history. My email is [redacted: I will send it to Susan Garrett if she asks for it. Ed]
    Thank you

  12. GAREETT Family main street Johnstown JOHNSTOWN
    James Gareett 1844 1916 and Anne Moore ….. 1945
    Both National School teachers Johnstown


    James Gareet and Anne Gareett nee Moore and Seamas are interned at Fertagh Round Tower.

    There are no grave markers can anyone assist to confirm location.

    Seamas was also a school teacher Johnstown and with the Wexford Volunteers re war of independence
    I am part of the extended family. The Gareetts are my Great grand parents,

    [email address hidden]

  13. My m0ther was bor n here Julia Murphy

    Angela 0 dwyera

  14. Frances Sweeney

    I believe my grandfather Thomas Murphy and his sister Helena( or Lena) and perhaps another brother lived there in the kate 1800 early 1900. My grandfather was a builder who married Mary Jane Sweeney. In 1904. Moved to Dublin. Auntie Lena married Fred Hill and moved to Bury. Does any one know if these folks? Thanks Frances Sweeney

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